Blues picker/singer Pete Spencer has been making music on Bainbridge Island for a little more than five years now — ever since he made his way here from a life of music on the East Coast.
In that time, he’s released three CDs — one studio album of mostly original acoustic blues work, one Christmas album and one album of live acoustic blues recorded at the Island Music Guild in Rolling Bay, Bainbridge.
His latest CD “From the Island,” — set for release Nov. 22 — was partially recorded at the IMG with delightfully, slightly Beatles-ish piano from IMG director Dave Bristow. It’s a collection of laid-back blues- rock- and folk-inspired acoustic jams inspired by freetime sessions between Spencer and Bristow in the concert hall at the IMG, where Spencer teaches.
Listening to the new disc with Pete last week at the IMG, I dropped an awkward faux-paux, inadvertently generalizing it as strictly a blues album.
The first song, Spencer told me, is “Went Too Far Blues” — which has the line “that’s just the way things are, since I totaled your car.”
So then, when the second song had this recurring lyric about Godzilla feet, I had to ask, “Is this ‘The Godzilla Feet Blues?’”
“Just ‘Godzilla Feet’” Spencer replies, “because it’s not a blues song.”
He goes onto explain how he’s of the mindset that if you’re going to call a song “The (whatever) Blues,” then it’d better be a blues song. He’s fastidious about it, he says. It’s just one of those quirks he’s developed over the years of playing, teaching and writing music for more than three decades.
Spencer has been stringing and singing since 1968.
His first paying gig, he said, was in a church basement in Pittsburgh. He started out playing harmonica with a blues band and stealing other people’s girlfriends. Later, he became a solo guitarist and toured North America and Europe, honing his now-renowned fingerpicking chops, with blues and rag time cover tunes throughout the 70s.
In the early 80s, he helped found the Greenwich Musician’s Cooperative in the illustrious singer/songwriter district of New York City. Then in 1989, he retired from performing altogether to become a full-time music writer through the venues of Rolling Stone and Sing Out magazines, among other publications. And in 1992, he published his first book — a thesis on listening to contemporary world music
But, back to the blues.
In the late 90s, Spencer found his way back to the stage with the release of the critically acclaimed “New Hope and Wise Virgins” in 2000. In 2004, the perennial east-coaster came west to Bainbridge Island, chasing a girl, and released another album of mostly original work called “Handsignal” in 2006. He followed later that year with an instrumental collection of Christmas tunes and a live album of acoustic blues called “The Blues Concert,” in 2007.
And while fingerpicking soulful acoustic blues on a big-bodied Martin guitar have been a constant undertone throughout Spencer’s career, his songwriting has consistently reached beyond the confines of the genre — a trait which is apparent in the varied tracks of his newest album, “From the Island,” he’ll release at the Island Music Guild, Nov. 22.