CLARKS SUMMIT — According to singer, songwriter and guitarist Bill Baer, of Dalton, there are two different perspectives from which one can view music, and they rarely go well together. There’s the enjoyment of listening to and creating music itself, and then there’s the music industry.
Baer prefers the former.
The now-retired Scranton native said he first began making music at age 15, and about one or two years before that he discovered his enjoyment in listening to acoustic blues.
“We had just moved to the Boston (Massachusetts) area at that time, and there was a local radio station that played a lot of folk and blues and non-commercialized music, as it was considered at that point in time,” he said.
Some of his biggest influences when he was growing up included Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Blake, Fats Waller, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
“But I’d listen to The Rolling Stones and then I’d go out and try and find where they got what they got from,” he said. “I was more interested in the original source of the music. But it was interesting to see how they would take a tune like ‘Love in Vain,’ that Robert Johnson wrote in the ’30s, and change it a little bit and do a different arrangement for it. And that’s a process. Music, good music, seems to last for a long time.”
He said making music isn’t necessarily about being a star. For him, it is the simple enjoyment of playing.
“Music is a tough racket, without a doubt,” he said. “But you either love it and take what comes with it, or you just don’t do it.”
Baer played in bands off and on throughout his life, and at one point in the late ’60s/early ’70s, was in a Scranton band called Gardner, which he said started off as a folk group and evolved into a rock band. He is currently forming a new duo with one of the other members of the former group, but with “more of a commercial lean to it.”
In addition to singing and playing the guitar, Baer also plays the mandolin and “a little” ukulele. He plays some original pieces, as well as tunes he enjoys from the ’20s and ’30s. More information about his music can be found online at reverbnation.com/billbaer.
The musician first heard about Duffy’s Open Mic Nights through word of mouth when he moved back to the area from Massachusetts, and he’s glad he decided to check it out.
Describing the local music scene, he said, “There’s a lot going on, a lot of different kinds of music. And the people I’ve heard here, some of them are amazing, really talented – as good as anyone I would hear in Boston.”
Baer holds two degrees from the University of Massachusetts, the first a bachelor’s in music and second a master’s in psychology.
When asked what music has meant to him throughout his life, he said, “It’s probably kept me together, more than anything else.
“I think we all go through phases in our lives, where we’re kind of like, ‘What am I doing here, what’s my purpose and what’s the point?’ And music can be a good distraction from getting too involved philosophically. I know a lot of people lean on religion to answer those kind of questions, but I was always into existentialism in high school, so that kind of stayed with me most of my life.”
His advice to young artists just starting out is simple: “Be honest with what you’re doing and do it from the heart. And don’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks, because if you’re sincere enough, and determined enough, you can probably get where you want to go.”