Shortly before the Christmas of 2016, Roger Waters visited his firstborn son, Harry, at his Santa Monica, California, home to deliver some rather bad news. Harry had spent the past 14 years playing keyboard and organ in his dad’s band, which included three extensive world tours, but Roger was making changes for his upcoming Us + Them tour. “I was fired,” Harry tells Rolling Stone. “It was pretty miserable.”
Harry claims he doesn’t know why his own father let him go. “I think he just wanted a change of blood, something new, something fresh,” Waters says. “I’m not sure of his exact reasoning, but everyone except two people [keyboardist Jon Carin and guitarist Dave Kilminster] got fired. But the other guys that got the sack weren’t his son, so it was doubly hurtful for me.”
It would be quite understandable if Harry Waters never wanted to perform his father’s music again after this hurt, but that wasn’t his attitude. He recently wrapped up a 57-date tour with Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade where he played Pink Floyd‘s Animals in its entirety every night with Claypool and Sean Lennon. And shortly before our interview, he agreed to play three shows with Brit Floyd, the world’s premier Pink Floyd cover band, alongside ex-Floyd background singer Durga McBroom and former Floyd saxophonist Scott Page.
“Their manager emailed me just a few days ago and asked if I wanted to sit in on some gigs,” Waters says. “I’ve never met any of them, but I’ll just turn up and play. I’ve been playing this music for 30 years or so. I think we’ll be OK without rehearsal. I think we all know the material pretty well.”
Many of Waters’ earliest memories revolve around Pink Floyd. When he was just two years old, his father brought him into the studio while they were recording The Wall to read the line “look mummy, there’s an aeroplane up in the sky,” which kicks off “Goodbye Blue Sky.” “I certainly remember sitting there with a microphone and being asked to say some things,” he says. “Whenever I hear it, I go, ‘Oh God, that’s me.’ It’s quite weird.”
He grew up in southwest London just as the New Romantic scene was taking off, but was far more interested in musical acts from an earlier generation, including the Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, the Allman Brothers Band, and Dr. John. “I just didn’t like the way music sounded in the Eighties,” Waters says. “It just sounds weird to me with that reverb on the snare drums.”
Being the son of a rock legend, he had the chance to sing “Barbara Ann” onstage with the Beach Boys when he was nine, see Bruce Springsteen play Wembley Stadium on the Born in the U.S.A. tour, and even share a tender moment backstage with Little Richard at Wembley Arena. “I had broken my arm, and it was in a cast,” Waters says. “He touched my cast and said, ‘I’m so sorry. God loves you.’ I’m an atheist, but it was still a very moving moment to have my childhood hero do that.”
He started taking piano lessons when he was eight, and grew quite proficient once he enrolled at a boarding school in Hampshire, England, a few years later. “The teacher there introduced me to Ragtime and Dr. John, and Chick Corea,” he says. “That’s when I got really, really into it.”
But he never seriously considered a career in music until he finished up his schooling, found work at a restaurant and an early internet service provider, and hated every second of it. “It was just shit,” he says. “I realized that doing anything that wasn’t music was just a waste of my time.”
The first one that hired him was Boot-Led-Zeppelin, a popular Led Zeppelin tribute band. “I played all the piano and keyboards, and then second guitar,” he says. After four years in Boot-Led-Zeppelin, he switched gears and took a job playing keyboards in a Grateful Dead tribute band despite knowing nothing of their work outside of “Touch of Grey.” “They gave me a tape of the music, and I just loved it,” he says. “I love the Grateful Dead now.”
Around the turn of the millennium, he joined the indie-rock band Hubble Deep Field. He was happy to finally have the chance to play original material, but unhappy to find that it’s hard to draw a crowd when you don’t have “Stairway to Heaven” or “Friend of the Devil” in your repertoire. “We released a few singles, but it never really went,” he says.
Around this same time, his father was having a very different experience on the road. Roger Waters struggled to sell tickets in the Eighties when his former bandmates were packing stadiums as Pink Floyd, but David Gilmour quietly dissolved the band following the 1994 Division Bell tour. Waters was suddenly the only active member of the band, and he was filling large arenas worldwide. He offered Harry a spot in the band as a keyboardist in 1999 for the first leg of the In the Flesh tour, but he declined since he was still committed to Hubble Deep Field. When he offered up the same spot on the 2002 tour, Harry agreed.
His first show took place Feb. 27, 2002, in Cape Town, South Africa. “I was so nervous that night,” says Waters, adding that the job forced him to confront both the good and the bad of being the son of a mega-famous rock star. “The upside is that it gave me a foothold in the music business, and it exposed me to that lifestyle. I loved going on his tours and meeting other interesting musicians. The downside is that people are going to judge you that much harsher since you’re the ‘son of.’ You have to work that much harder to make a mark, almost prove yourself doubly, to stay in the door.”
Harry proved himself throughout the 2002 tour on keyboards, and again on the 2006-08 The Dark Side of the Moon and 2010-13 The Wall Live tours where he moved over to Hammond B3 organ. The Wall Live Tour stretched out to 219 shows across three years. “There were some nights where I would have rather been tucked in bed and watching Netflix,” he says. “But they were very few and far between. It was pretty rare that I would be up there and just wishing I was somewhere else. It was always fun.”
The Roger Waters tour resumed in the fall of 2016 with a trio of gigs in Mexico City, followed by two weekends at Desert Trip, where they shared the bill with Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and the Who. Harry watched most of the sets from the side of the stage and had a great time, not realizing his father was weeks away from firing him and most of his bandmates.
Despite the shock of the dismissal, Harry says he’s still on speaking terms with his father, and even planned on seeing his This Is Not a Drill Tour when it hit L.A. last year. “My kids and I came down with a nasty throat infection, not Covid, and he didn’t want us to come,” says Harry. “But my wife, Richelle [Rich], went.”
Leaving the Roger Waters touring band may have been an emotional and financial blow, but it did allow Harry Waters to focus more time on his own music. His jazz group the Harry Waters Band released an album in 2008, and he’s teamed up more recently with singer-songwriter John McNally to form McNally Waters. “We both love music from New Orleans,” Waters says. “We toured extensively in South Africa, and had a great time.”
Waters has also composed music for shows like Downton Abbey, and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. He got a chance to tour with the Dean Ween Group for a brief run in 2015, and this past summer Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade brought him out for a much longer tour that spotlighted Animals every night. “That’s my favorite Floyd record,” says Harry. “And I got to sing ‘Dogs,’ which was amazing.”
The tour was also a chance to get close to Lennon, one of a handful of people on Earth that also understands what it’s like to live perpetually in the shadow of a rock icon. “He knew my sister [India] from back in the day,” says Waters. “They were mutual friends with [Paul Simon’s son] Harper Simon. I didn’t know him at all, but we’re good buddies now.”
He doesn’t actively seek out opportunities to play Pink Floyd music, but when he gets an offer — like last year when the Israeli Pink Floyd tribute band Echoes asked if he’d play The Wall alongside other veterans of Roger’s touring band — he’s happy to agree. “That was a lot of fun,” he says. “We might wind up doing that once a year.”
Brit Floyd entered his life when he met their manager on the prog-rock-themed Cruise to the Edge. The group spent the year celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Dark Side of the Moon with an epic show that featured a complete performance of the album along with other hits like “Young Lust” and “Wish You Were Here” and deep cuts like “Yet Another Movie”and “What Do You Want From Me.”
The current plan is for Harry to come out only for “Time,” “The Great Gig in the Sky,” and “Pigs.” “I don’t know if I’ll wind up doing more shows after these three,” he says. “I’m literally just meeting them the morning of the first show when I fly to Phoenix. But if they want me to do more, I would be interested.”
What he’s not interested in is talking about politics, even though his father couldn’t possibly be more outspoken. “I have no interest in discussing my views publicly like he does,” he says. “I don’t lie awake and lose sleep at night over the things that [cause him to lose sleep].”
What does he think about his father’s controversial take that the “Russian invasion of Ukraine was not unprovoked?” “I realized a lot of what he says is certainly inflammatory, if for the right reasons or for the wrong reasons,” he says. “But I don’t know enough about the history of the situation to be able to put forth my ideas. I don’t know whether he’s right about that or whether he’s wrong, but he’s pretty smart. And I know he reads a lot about everything.”
Even though everyone from the ADL to David Gilmour has labeled his father an antisemite over his views on Israel, which includes his recent assertion that the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas was a possible “false flag operation” by the Israeli government, Harry stands by him. “It’s just not true at all that he’s an antisemite,” he says. “People conflate being against the Israeli government and being against Netanyahu with being antisemitic.”
“People say, ‘Oh, he dresses up in an SS uniform, and he has a Star of David on the pig,” he continues, referencing the inflatable pig that’s been part of Waters’ live show for decades. “And I just want to say, ‘You fuckin’ idiots. He’s been doing that for 40 years. It’s satire.’ There’s also a Mercedes sign, a hammer and sickle, and a dollar sign on the pig … He’s bringing to light all the evils of the world. But people confuse that and think he’s an antisemite, which is really stupid.”
Roger Waters is days away from wrapping up his This Is Not a Drill Tour. His future plans are unclear, but does Harry hope he might get invited back into the band for the next tour? “I’m not hoping,” he says. “I don’t imagine it’ll happen again, but maybe. We’ll see.”