American Morning

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April 9th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

An instrument of change for one Harmonica player

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Bradley Harrison risked everything to make his dream of owning a harmonica factory come true."]

By Katherine Wojtecki, CNN

ROCKFORD, IL (CNN) – “It's the coolest instrument in the world. You can put it in your pocket you can carry it around... it’s a real musical instrument.”

For Bradley Harrison, that musical instrument – the harmonica – became an instrument of change in his own life.

After picking one up at a house party 14 years ago, Harrison decided to leave his job as a restaurant manager to pursue his new passion. With no formal business training and only a high school education he risked everything to make his dream a reality.

“I think they thought I was a pipe dreamer. And that can either destroy you or make you even more determined and it made me more determined to prove everyone wrong.”

Risking it all for a perfect harmonica Video

With that determination, Harrison commuted 90 miles each way, maxed out five credit cards and even slept on the floor in his office.

“I'd work until 2 a.m. and I went to the local store and I bought a sleeping bag and I'd sleep here. I know it sounds sad its not but at the time I was living the high life, so it's all how you look at it.”

Then the economy took a turn for the worse.

“Financially I risked everything. I said I can do this.”

Harrison said that actually helped his business when it came to finding and then hiring his six employees.

“In all reality it has really helped Harrison Harmonics, because now we are in a community in Rockford that has unemployment just under 20%, so now I can get these engineers and all this talent at a much cheaper rate than you would if the economy was doing really well.”

And that staff is his biggest responsibility.

“The things I struggle with today is I have a staff that depends on my talent and I don’t take that very lightly. It really weighs on me. Sometimes it’s hard to go to bed at night knowing I have a payroll to meet.”

So what is it like coming into work everyday at Harrison Harmonicas?

“Its like making cake, I always say. Its just fun its great come on. Sometimes it gets stressful and you just have a little how-down. Michael and I are the only musicians in here so all the other people just relax and enjoy it. It’s a great time.”

But even with that advantage success didn't come easy for Harrison.” I just thought about it and I thought I am going to do this. I am going to make a harmonica factory in the US. I knew it was going to be hard but I didn't know it was going to be this hard.”

But when he played his first Harrison Harmonica for the first time, it seemed easy.

“That was magic. It was one of those magic moments that I feel lucky to have. I don't know if a lot of people get those magic moments, but it’s something that I had in my head that this is what a harmonica should look like for so long.”

A moment made even more magical in a struggling economy.

"If you want something, you go do it. And you chart your life and you figure it out.”

Harrison Harmonicas has been in business now for two years. About two months ago they shipped their first harmonica. But it took a little longer for owner Bradley Harrison to receive his.

"When did I receive my personal harmonica? [Laughs] Probably about 4 days ago is when I received my first harmonica. My customers received their harmonica before I did.”

Filed under: Living
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. FW

    Well done Katherine – such a fantastic inspiring story and extremely well written.

    April 18, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  2. LN

    Great story & Brad is a great inspiration to everyone especially in this economy. Best of luck to Brad for many years of success!!

    April 14, 2010 at 12:42 am |
  3. Chromatonic

    As a harmonica enthusiast & American I say "Go Brad!" – I sincerely hope you make it! It's so inspiring to see someone take on such a huge challenge: start-up business, boutique product from an unknown maker, tiny niche market.... I can't afford one of yours yet, but I'll be saving up for one.

    April 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  4. Dede

    Watched a cool video while playing my harmonica!

    April 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  5. Mark harrison

    What an example of determination and passion. Is this not the real American dream or what. I would love to see this story run again or hear more about it.

    April 9, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  6. Lana Verplank

    It's the 'coolest instrument' made by the Coolest Guy! You are an inspiration, Brad, to make people think very hard about their direction in life. The pride I feel for your accomplishments cannot be put into words.
    Your Harmonica is beautiful! It will improve the music industry tremendously. Your determination and stamina are reflected in this unique instrument.
    I have known this guy my entire life and am so happy for him.
    You have acheived what most people fantasize about. Your courage and strength show in your B-Radical. I hope I learn from you & go after a passion and acheive it!
    Oh, and Brad is a phenomenal player also!!
    Can't wait to see the next line, Brad!

    April 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm |