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July 22, 2014

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PHILANTHROPY:

Car salesman beats the drum to help others in Las Vegas

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Accomplished drummer and salesman Larry Joe Harness has helped raise more than $1 million in the last few years for charity events like Toys for Tots, and he is being named person of the year by Helping Hands of Vegas Valley for 2013.

LJ Harness

Accomplished drummer and salesman Larry Joe Harness has helped raise more than $1 million in the last few years for charity events like Toys for Tots, and he is being named person of the year by Helping Hands of Vegas Valley for 2013. Launch slideshow »

Larry Joe Harness is no stranger to success.

As a drummer, the 61-year-old Las Vegas resident has played in front of tens of thousands of fans with bands such as Aerosmith, Steppenwolf and Cheap Trick through the 1960s and ’70s.

As a luxury car salesman, he’s sold dozens of cars, including three Cadillacs to Nic Cage.

And as a community organizer, Harness has helped raise more than $1 million in the past few years for charities such as Toys for Tots, and he is being named Person of the Year by Helping Hands of Vegas Valley for 2013.

Harness is also no stranger to defeat.

A cocaine addiction in the late 1980s destroyed his music career, left him homeless and ended with a four-month stint in a county jail.

“I lived my dream,” he said. “And the addiction took that dream away. I broke my own heart.”

But Harness recovered, and thanks to family support and a newfound spirituality, he’s remained sober for more than a decade. For Harness, now a marketing representative at Cadillac of Las Vegas, helping others is the right tonic.

“A big part of my recovery is getting out of myself and helping others,” he said. “I shouldn’t be here. I am one of the miracles.”

Born in the small farm town of Parker City, Ind., Harness got into drumming almost accidently. At the age of 9, he began suffering from Sydenham’s chorea, or St. Vitus Dance, a disorder causing random, uncoordinated jerking movements in the hands and feet.

The disease rendered the left side of Harness’ body partially paralyzed, and so his parents bought him a drum set to practice using both hands. Soon, he was teaching himself to play by listening to a 45-rpm record player, drumming along with musicians such as Keith Moon of The Who.

In high school, Harness opened for bands such as Rare Earth and Steppenwolf, and upon graduation, he moved to Florida to pursue a full-time musical career. From there, Harness and his band Hootchie toured the country, most famously playing in front of 64,000 people at the former Citrus Bowl in 1979 in Orlando, Fla., alongside Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick.

But in the late 1980s, a burgeoning cocaine addiction began distracting Harness from his music career, and in 1989, he moved back home to Parker City. There, Harness said, he hit rock bottom.

“I ended up pretty much homeless and jobless,” he said. “And what I was doing to myself was pretty much suicidal. “

And though he credits his family and friends for supporting him, it wasn’t until he was stuck in a Randolph County jail for a four-month stint that Harness realized he needed help. The day he was released, he hopped on a Greyhound bus to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to enroll in a faith-based recovery program called Faith Farm Ministries.

When he completed the program, Harness took a job with several luxury car dealerships, eventually settling at the Cadillac dealership of Sarasota, Fla. Selling cars came naturally to Harness, who often would have to do the same type of job when touring: meeting up with disc jockeys, complimenting them and selling them on playing his band’s music.

“Bottom line: I’m in the relationship business,” he said.

From there, Harness began getting heavily involved in both the live music scene and charity efforts in Sarasota, but an opportunity arose in 2008 to transfer to a Las Vegas Cadillac dealership. Though initially skeptical, Harness said the move has given him a bigger stage to play on and bigger issues to draw attention toward.

Since arriving in Las Vegas, Harness has helped organize, plan, play music at and emcee for numerous charity affairs, most notably the Marine Corp’s Toys for Tots drives. Clark County’s high poverty and homeless levels make it a prime target for awareness and support, Harness said.

Much of Harness’ community support comes from a knowledge of what it’s like being on the other side, what it’s like to hit rock bottom. Much of his support for veterans comes from having friends who went to war but were still there to support him in his time of need.

One friend in Indiana took him in while Harness was still in the thralls of a cocaine addiction, keeping him on the family farm for two days in an attempt to help him.

“So here was this Vietnam vet that couldn’t fit into society who had the passion to go out and find me,” he said.

Harness said he was thankful his family never gave up on him. His father died in April, but Harness said his dad spent his last few years celebrating all of his son’s accomplishments in Las Vegas.

Two years after Harness became sober, his father had him over for dinner. There, he took off a diamond-encrusted ring that belonged to Harness’s grandfather and slid it across the dinner table. The meaning was clear.

“That was his way of showing that he trusted me,” Harness said, “The worth of this is much greater than even the diamond.”

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  1. LJ delivers! Whether it's banging on the drums at Open Mic Mondays at the Tap House or delivering sleeping bags from the back of a Cadillac at the Mission on Thanksgiving morning, LJ is always their to pick up the gauntlet and run with it.
    Congratualtions on the well deserved Person of the Year recognition.