GERRY SPEHAR (PART 1): PUBLISHED ON PRX 6 / 1 / 2018 - BEYOND A SONG originates in BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA and is sponsored by: THE BLUEBIRD NIGHTCLUB , AIRTIME RECORDING STUDIO , and VISIT BLOOMINGTON.COM
Host Rich Reardin talks with Los Angeles singer/songwriter Gerry Spehar about his life and music.
Sometimes it's good to take a break. In the case of Gerry Spehar, a thirty year break has undeniable merit.
Gerry Spehar is from an old Colorado pioneer family--coal miners, ranchers and homesteaders. He was born and raised in Grand Junction, worked on his Uncle Will's ranch punching cattle and farming. Uncle Will gave him his first guitar, a Stella, when Gerry was 13. Gerry started writing songs immediately, practiced like a fiend, absorbing Mississippi John Hurt finger style guitar and drinking in everyone from Haggard to Hendrix.
Gerry lived the late 60s dream, hitchhiking from CU Boulder to home and back. In 1968 when his study abroad in France was interrupted by the student revolution, Gerry bummed all over Europe, playing in train stations and cafes and living off tips. He came home to his college sweetheart Sue and got serious about music, resuming a duo with his brother George.
The Spehar Brothers were the buzz of the mountain and midwest club circuit, opening for Boz Scaggs, Ian & Sylvia, John Fahey, and Townes Van Zandt. Bill & Bonny Hearne cut Gerry's song Georgetown, with Nancy Griffith contributing vocals. Things were happening.
When Sue got pregnant with their second child, Gerry put on his only straightjacket-- gray mohair--walked into a bank, and got a job. For a few years he juggled music and day gig, winning the Regional Wrangler Country Showdown with partner Bobby Allison and playing the finals at the Grand Ole Opry, landing a publishing deal with the legendary Buzz Cason, returning often to Nashville to play the Bluebird and push his tunes.
The day gig won. Gerry got a fat job in L.A., gave up performing and raised a family, still recording demos with Nashville hotshots, looking for the hit. In 2000 Gerry cut a tribute album to his brother with the legendary George Massenberg, Greg Leisz (Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker), Pete Wasner (Vince Gill), and other Nashville aces.
Gerry never put the guitar down, amassing hundreds of tunes in late night sessions in the man cave. He and Sue did things right, raised two brilliant daughters, made a home that welcomed all. Done. Thirty years on, he’s back with two albums.
2017's critically acclaImed I Hold Gravity was a tribute to Sue, chronicling their cross country drives, their mountain heritage, and an L.A. to Texas landscape filled with shrimpers, dynamiters and wildcatters, wrestlers, roughnecks, overambitious farmers, and Monsanto lawyers. Encompassing leisurely swamp grooves, fingerpicked folk, country funk, and psychedelic country rock, it features I See Hawks In L.A. as his backup band, with inspired contributions from multi-instrumentalist mad genius Tommy Jordan (Geggy Tah), Nashville keys ace Chris Tuttle (Emmy Lou, Jewel), and Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers) fiddling.
Switching gears, 2018’s Anger Management is a full blown old school protest album a la Woody Guthrie, albeit with psychedelic guitars and funky horns, that takes direct aim at our current Grabber In Chief and his apologists. It is a rich coming together of influences--from acoustic folk to country to bluegrass to swampy blues to New Orleans mambo to psychedelic rock. The songs focus poignantly and sharply on issues of economic and social injustice that plague the country, but are undeniably catchy and a compelling listen. It again features I See Hawks In L.A., along with prog instrumentalists Double Naught Spy Car, madman Tommy Jordan and L.A. legends John David, Brantley Kearns, Gabe Witcher and Rick Shea.
It's all the aforementioned upside of a long hiatus: the spirit of the 70s, fresh and unbattered and ready for a world that needs a bit of optimism and, yes, erudition. It's country, folky, dark, witty. Alt country and rock from an OG picker.
Sue passed from cancer as Gerry and friends were finishing I Hold Gravity. All were lucky enough to share her grace, and to know that she heard the songs brought to completion in her last days. I Hold Gravity may prove to be a folk country classic, and Anger Management is a bold change in direction for Gerry Spehar, fearless as always.