Influencing musicians such as Santana and his products being used by names like Eric Clapton, John Harrison is a name that people will remember in both the hemp and the music worlds. His achievements were born out of his genuine love for music in the most unique of ways. John Harrison founded his company, A Brown Soun, in 1974. His company was famously named after the way he would “see” sounds – as colors. John Harrison’s company was re-coning speakers for more than 25 years when in the Spring of 2001 Harrison saw a niche in the market and started building his own brand of speakers, dubbed Tone Tubby. John Harrison will be missed by many but his dreams will live on forever in the music he gave life to.
Take a look at this article that was originally in the Marin Independant Journal
A Hemp Speaker Inventor Dies at 59
John Harrison stands in his office on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, in San Rafael, Calif. His company, Tone Tubby, makes speakers with cones made of hemp instead of the usual paper. Harrison died June 24. He was 59.
John Harrison, whose Tone Tubby company in San Rafael supplies innovative hemp speakers to such rock stars as Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, died unexpectedly June 25 at his home in Petaluma. He was 59.
Mr. Harrison apparently died in his sleep of unknown causes, his family said.
After moving to Marin from Atlanta, Ga., in 1974, Mr. Harrison started A Broun Soun, an oddly-spelled speaker re-coning and reconditioning company on Terra Linda’s Joseph Court. He soon became the go-to guy for musicians and studios in need of speaker repair.
“If you owned a recording studio, you knew John real well,” said his longtime friend, former studio owner Pete Slausen. “He was a bubbling, effervescent kind of guy.”
Bill Laymon, bassist for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, praised Mr. Harrison in an email as a “gifted technician” who always radiated positive energy. “The Bay Area music scene has suffered a great loss,” he said.
In rock music circles, Mr. Harrison, who also played keyboards in rock bands, was as well known for his eccentric personality and unbridled enthusiasm as he was for his inventive products.
“John Harrison looks like an unmade bed, talks more than Larry King and says he sees sound as color,” Chuck Squatriglia wrote in a 2010 article in Wired magazine. “He makes speakers out of hemp, and to spend any time with him leaves you thinking he’s smoking some of the product. It would be easy to dismiss him as a lovable, eccentric old hippie. But the man might just be a mad genius.”
That genius emerged a decade ago when, coming home from a Tubes concert, Mr. Harrison came up with the idea to substitute hemp — the industrial fiber from marijuana — for paper in the vibrating cone in speakers of guitar and bass amplifiers. R.E.M.’s Pete Buck said the “hempcone” speakers gave him “the coolest, most authentic early ’60s garage band tone.”
Mr. Harrison tried them out first on Santana, a longtime customer of his speaker repair shop.
“Santana was the first guy in the world to play through hemp and he immediately loved it,” Mr. Harrison said in a Marin Independent Journal article last year. “Eight years later he’s still using the originals.”
Mr. Harrison’s bright red speaker has become such an icon that the proposed Marin Rocks museum in San Rafael is designing a front desk in the shape of a Tone Tubby.
In January 2003, the Tonequest Report, a monthly journal for guitarists, said the use of hemp paper to create speaker cones is “one of the most significant developments to occur in the history of speaker manufacturing.”
But it took a while to gain that kind of respect. In the early days, Mr. Harrison and his innovative speakers were objects of derision outside the West Coast.
“People would say, ‘Oh, those hippies from California, using pot for their cones,’” he said in the IJ story. “But I never bothered with them because we have a superior product, a better mousetrap.”
In 2008, Mr. Harrison took on a partner, Thom Brown, former manager of a prestigious Southern California recording studio, and launched a new line of speakers for car stereos, called Hemphop, and another, Hemptone, for home sound systems.
He is survived by his son, Joey Harrison of Petaluma; a brother, Tom Harrison, of Atlanta; his mother, Gloria Harrison of Minnesota; and his longtime companion, Carole Savoy, of Petaluma. The family said memorial contributions may be sent to 2101 Meadowview Drive, Petaluma 94954. A memorial concert and barbecue is set for 3 to 10 p.m. July 28 at 53 Joseph Court in San Rafael.
Contact Paul Liberatore via email at email@example.com