He’s a Man of Two Genres

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Can white men sing the blues? Spencer Bohren certainly can, and whats more, he can sing gospel too. Better yet, this Wyoming-born singer and slide guitarist will be proving it this week with a local concert and a radio appearance.

Bohren is an artist who truly has music in his blood. Raised in a devout Baptist family, he recalls that singing and playing guitar was just something everyone did. At age 8, Bohren was singing harmonies in church, and by 14, he was performing professionally at church functions, county fairs and women’s clubs. The time was the mid-1960s, and folk music’s popularity was starting to take off. Bohren was quick to pick up on the emerging musical trend.

“Church music is so entwined with traditional music that it was an easy transition for me,” he said, “but the wealth of American music astonished me.”

Bohren discovered he had a great love of the blues and in 1968 moved to Colorado, where he learned from legendary blues musicians such as the Rev. Gary Davis at the Denver Folklore Center. After a brief stay in Seattle, he was playing guitar with Judi Roderick back in Denver when a chance conversation with musician Dr- John steered his attention toward the vibrant music scene of New Orleans.

In New Orleans, Bohren found his musical and spiritual home.

“I found kindred souls who lived for music in a place where music is woven into the fabric of life”, he said.

He played steadily around town starting at a Spaghetti restaurant and working his way up. In 1983, he packed his Wife and family into an Airstream trailer and hit the road for seven years, touring constantly before settling bacon Wyoming until 1996, when Bohren and his wife returned to New Orleans.

Bohren now has more than a dozen albums to his credit but, interestingly enough, did not record at all for 20 years. “I didn’t feel that it was that big a deal,” he said. “You’re at the gig, everything’s cool, you drink some beers, and the next thing you know it’s 20 years later.”

For his 1999 album, “Carry the Word,” Bohren decided to return to his gospel roots and booked a Mississippi gospel quartet to sing harmony vocals with him on the album. Unfortunately, on the day of the recording, the band leader called the studio with the news that the band members were all laid up with the flu.

Bohren had no time to find a replacement, so he multi-tracked all the parts himself crediting the vocals to “The Nott Brothers” on the album sleeve. Bohren’s ploy only came to light when a concert promoter tried to book The Nott Brothers for a tour.

The above story is a good illustration of Bohren’s talent and innovation. On his new album, “Solitaire,” he presents solo versions of blues classics. His shows this week promise to be events well worth hearing.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, January 30, 2003

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