Having made a home in New Orleans since 1975, blues and roots musician Spencer Bohren knows well the city's resilient spirit. He'll bring his style of music, rooted in a family of gospel singers and artists such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, to Scranton's Tripp House tomorrow, joined by area artists Bret Alexander and Ed Randazzo.
Bohren, 62, has not only taken on the role of musician but of teacher, artist and businessman, resulting in a well-traveled soul eager to share his experiences.
Q: You've referred to yourself as someone who plays guitar simply. How would you define that?
A: I don't play anything extra. I like the song to fly on its own. Most songs do have a life of their own if you just don't get in their way; they're quite beautiful. I often hear guitar players that play too much; it covers up the song. It can be a matter of respect for the song itself.
Does this method make it easier to instruct others during the guitar workshops you teach?
A: I have actually realized that there's still an awful lot of learning behind it. Even so, it's so great to be able to share guitar with others. They aren't really even workshops, they're more like guitar parties. I think some of the musicians that come are having the most fun they've had in decades. It's nice to watch guitar liberate some of these guys.
Q: You grew up in a musical family …
A: (laughs) I sure did. We would sing about Jesus all the time. Music is honestly the best way we all communicate. My sisters married very conservative Baptist preachers. My religious thoughts are of a different route. When we speak we don't have much common ground, but when we sing it's just glorious. We really do have a magnificent family.
How has your take on religion affected your life?
A: I think in the end I've almost really gone a parallel direction. My mother realizes I may not be the preacher she envisioned, but I am a bit of a preacher anyway. I'm not heathen by any means, but I'm also not as strict to the church as others. I believe we all have a light and a path for that light to illuminate. I'm just trying to stay on that path and be worthy of the gifts I've been given.
Not only do you play and teach music, you're also an artist and a family man with a wife (Marilyn) and several children. How do you balance all that?
A: My children are grown up now so it's become a lot different. There was a period when we all traveled together, and it was kind of an extreme solution to the problem of how to do this and spend time with your kids, but it really worked. I'm just so honored to be an artist and have an audience. I think when I feel busy is when I'm in the office. That's necessary business. When I'm out playing music or doing artwork or living my life that's not being busy; that's just living.
Has travel influenced your music?
A: I'm a note-keeper, and for many years I kept notebooks of things like titles and lines, names of towns we'd go through. It is astonishing, after going through those books, how many "I'm on the road and headed home," or "I'm leaving tomorrow," kind of songs are there.
: For all the places you've gone, you seem to come back to New Orleans. Why?
A: There is just nowhere else in the world like this town, with its musical depths; the well is obviously here. Even though you don't know exactly where it is or why it affects you, the music here is so complete, the culture is saturated with it. This is truly where the elements of American music came together and continue to gestate.
What: Spencer Bohren with Ed Randazzo & Bret Alexander
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow, doors at 7
Where: Tripp House, 1011 N. Main Ave., Scranton
Tickets: $20 in advance on www.poconotes.com; $25 at door