SPOTLIGHT ON THE SKAGWAY MUSIC SCENE
By Joseph Stephenson
Interview with guitar stylist, songwriter Gann Brewer
Gann Brewer displays his picking style during a show at the RO. Katie Emmets
Following my 2005 season in Skagway, I took my guitar to the US Virgin Islands and wound up getting a weekly gig at a bar restaurant called Island Blues. When I first walked in, there was a man by the name of Gann Brewer on stage singing early Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott songs. I heard Gann’s pickin’ style and immediately thought, “Man, that’s how I wanna sound.” We became fast friends and I’ve long since admired not only Gann’s music, but also his natural storytelling abilities as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of folk music. Last Friday July 5, Gann, who is originally from Senatobia, Mississippi – a small town outside of Memphis – played the Brew Co and then the Red Onion on the 6th. It was good to see my old friend. He was at his storytelling best and singing songs off his second album due out this fall.
Tell me what gig you played before arriving here in Skagway?
BREWER: I played at the Post Office Saloon in Redding, California about two or three weeks ago at the end of about a three week tour on the west coast.
Do you have regular places you play around the country?
BREWER: The last several years I’ve been spending five to nine months a year in New York City, so certainly there’s some places that I play semi-regularly there. Like Doogie’s Lounge, Banjo Jim’s, which closed down about a year ago, the Greenwich Village Bistro. There’s a ton of places in New York City and Brooklyn that I play semi-regularly. Memphis- same thing-–there’s a few places I play there semi regularly. And I’m trying to build that up in Los Angeles. I’m about to go down to Los Angeles for the third time in the last six months to play at some bars that I’ve started to play at every time that I’m down there as well as several other places between San Diego and San Francisco. Texas too. I stop in the San Marcos and Austin area and play the same bars there.
How many times have you driven across the country?
BREWER: Seventy-three. No, I don’t know. I took an epic road trip in 2010, which was a long road trip across the country over several months, where I played a bunch of gigs. Since then I’ve driven my car more or less back to NYC via crisscrossing up and down. I think I’m at about seven and a half round trips. My car’s back on the west coast for like the seventh time since 2010.
Who are some of your favorite musicians?
BREWER: Probably long term I’d say guys like Guy Clark, John Prine, and Townes Van Zandt. They’re that certain type of songwriter that gets in your soul and are just so poetic. Guys like that are amazing, ya know Dylan obviously was the guy that influenced so many people like them. And then before Dylan were people like Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. Certainly, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is one of my favorite musicians as far as storytellers go. Probably my favorite guitar player is Mississippi John Hurt.
When was your first gig?
BREWER: Well, I first started playing guitar when I was a sophomore at Mississippi State. The first time I ever played in front of people was about six months after that. I went up to see my hero play his regular weekly gig, Del Rendon at the Dark Horse Tavern in Starkville, Mississippi, and I knew like two songs, and he played one of those songs. I think it was a Grateful Dead song and he couldn’t figure out how to start it. So, since it was one of the two songs I knew I like, corrected him, and he got annoyed with me and said “Well you get up here and play.” So I went up there and played my only two songs that I knew how to play. Del Rendon was in a band called the Puerto Rican Rum Drums. He played around the Southeast. That was a memorable gig. And then I used to open for Ike Ichenberg at Maho Bay (US Virgin Islands) a few years later.
What do you love about music?
BREWER: On a personal level, I love playing music in so far as how it allows me to travel. On a more general level I love how music brings people together. When there’s beautiful music your differences seem smaller, because we can all come together around music. There’s several things like that. Like art and poetry that we can all appreciate. And that’s the beauty of music.
This was Gann’s third visit to Skagway. He’ll be playing at the Market in Anchorage on July 21st and though he has nothing booked officially just yet, look for him to play in Skagway when he passes back through near the end of the month. For more information visit www.gannbrewer.com.