Harry Dean Stanton, a craggy-featured character actor whose face is more familiar than his name to many audiences, is equally adept at playing bad guys or more heroic characters. In addition to a near prolific number of appearances as a character actor and in cameos in film and television, Stanton also became a musical performer, using a guitar and harmonica to play mainly covers on the small-club circuit in Los Angeles.
Stanton's longstanding musical group, the Harry Dean Stanton Band, formerly known as Harry Dean Stanton & the Repo Men, isn't a vanity group designed merely to back an actor who plays at making music, but rather a serious endeavor. Through the years, guitar player and vocalist Stanton has performed with numerous big-league artists, including Bob Dylan and Bing Crosby. He frequently plays at a spot called Jack's Sugar Shack, and his audiences continuously include other musicians and singers, among them Chaka Khan, Ringo Starr, and Bono.
Stanton, a native of Kentucky, joined the U.S. Navy in the 1940s and served in Okinawa. Following his discharge he entered the University of Kentucky, where he became a drama student. He later settled in Los Angeles and joined the Pasadena Playhouse. He debuted in movies in 1950 and continued acting in small roles for more than a decade. Larger roles came along in the 1970s with Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Alien, and other movies. In 1983 he appeared in Paris, Texas, a Wim Wenders film. He also appeared on the film's soundtrack from Ry Cooder, singing a haunting Mexicali waltz entitled "Canción Mixteca" entirely in Spanish and delivering an almost nine-minute monologue in "I Knew These People." He also sang one of the film's songs, "Across the Borderline," on Cooder's 1987 album, Get Rhythm. In 1989, he co-wrote and performed one tune -- "The Watch" -- on the Call's Let the Day Begin. Farm Dogs, a band led by Bernie Taupin, pays tribute to Stanton with the song "The Ballad of Dennis Hopper & Harry Dean," which is featured on Last Stand in Open Country, the band's first album. He also appeared on its sophomore outing, Border Drive-In Theater.
In 2011, the city of Lexington, Kentucky honored their native son with the three-day Harry Dean Stanton Film Fest, where in addition to many of his early works, the premiere of Tom Thurman's PBS documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland was screened. In 2013 he was the subject of director Sophie Huber's film Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction. The film featured interviews with collaborators, film footage, and its subject's music making. On Record Store Day in 2014, the Omnivore label issued a single of the actor/singer covering George Jones' "Tennessee Whiskey" as a precursor to the release of the film's soundtrack and other recordings of classic country covers -- as well as a new version of "Canción Mizteca." Also entitled Partly Fiction, the full-length was issued in June. ~ Linda Seida, Rovi