It’s a heartwarming snippet on YouTube from 1976: folk legend Paul Simon singing “Bingo” on “Sesame Street,” backed by his then-4-year-old son Harper.
But the cute clip now needles the adult offspring, who — on his long-overdue self-issued debut, “Harper Simon” — wants to be accepted on his own musical merits.
“I hadn’t thought about that video in ages, and nobody ever mentioned it until this year,” says Harper, 37. “Now somebody put it up on YouTube for everyone to see, and that’s OK. But I’ve spent a lot of time just trying to be in a supportive role in one project or another, reticent to use my name and have a solo career — I had a lot of anxiety about it.”
Why did the singer — who plays The City on Wednesday — wait so long to step into the spotlight?
Long story, he says. Raised by Paul when his mom, Peggy Harper, moved to Nashville, Tenn., Simon couldn’t shake his heritage. By his teens, he was playing guitar on his father’s “Graceland” tour, and he duly enrolled in Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
“Then I tried to go solo in my early 20s, but I was too young and it just didn’t work, which was somewhat traumatic,” he says. “So I thought ‘Fine — if I can just play guitar and write, I’d be perfectly happy in this world.’ I’d be happy if I could just be Keith Richards.”
Simon wound up in London, strumming for a popular combo called Menlo Park. For four years, he stayed in the sideman shadows, releasing two EPs and even cutting a full band album.
When the group fell apart and its disc got shelved, he found courage enough to be a frontman at 33. The task proved daunting. “I had no idea how much work it would be, just getting all my skills up to par,” he says.
The album was worth the wait. On country-tinged tracks like “Tennessee” and “Shooting Star” (recorded with legendary Nashville session musicians), Simon has his father’s fingerpopping sense of rhythm and bright folksy phraseology, complementing his own edgier sound.
“That’s probably my DNA at work there,” he says. “You can’t try too hard to be somebody else — you just have to be who you are.”
Yet Simon’s wisest songwriting lesson wasn’t family-taught; he learned it through trial and error.
He says, “Just make sure that what you’re saying is true — that every word is economical and honest. Otherwise, you’ve got to go around all year, singing some horrible lyric. And it’ll drive you crazy.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Café Du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday