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A Ben Harper inspiration: Neil Young

From slow ballads to hard-hitting rock, Ben Harper does it all.

An unmistakable voice and unique style have brought the singer-songwriter worldwide praise - and two Grammys. He's done classic collaborations with the likes of Pearl Jam and Jack Johnson, in modes from gospel, to rock, to R&B.

But it was opening for the legendary Neil Young that led to Harper's to his latest creation.

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Harper made his first-ever appearance on national morning TV on "The Early Show" Thursday, performing the first single off "Give Till It's Gone" -- his new CD and first in five years.

Harper says the inspiration for that track, "Rock 'n' Roll is Free," came to him last summer when he opened for Young in London.

"He (Young) was singing 'Rockin' in the Free World,' Harper recalls, "and my mind turned into a tunnel. All I heard was 'rock, free, rock, free.' I went back to my room and I wrote the song 'Rock 'n' Roll is Free' in its entirety, I was so inspired by Neil that night."

Harper says he intended that the song have multiple meanings."Rock 'n' roll has never been as free as it is now, in every sense of the word," he explains. "It's just waiting for you all the time, and it won't cost you to take musical chances, to expand your palette and your mind. It's great to be part of this transitional age that's happening."

On "The Early Show," Harper told co-anchor Erica Hill, 'Neil is putting on the great show in the world. And I was just super-inspired that night."

Why now for the latest album, which includes appearances by Ringo Starr and Jackson Browne?

"It's the right time," Harper told Hill. "Timing was the most important part of it. ... And it was just time to go back to doing it."

He called working with Starr and Browne "the honor of a lifetime."

But when asked if there's anyone he'd like to record with that he hasn't, Harper thought awhile, then said, "Well - Neil! I haven't actually been in the studio with Neil. So why not Neil?"

Working in a studio as opposed to on-stage are "both great," Harper says, "but being in the studio, you get a chance to bring something to life creatively in a way that is not the norm, it's not normal onstage. And you can really write and build, and craft in the studio. And live, it's more improvisation."

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