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Music Man Again : Stephen Geyer quit at the height of his songwriting career to pen for TV. He found success there, too. Now he's back, mixing jazz and pop at Le Cafe.

July 29, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times

SHERMAN OAKS — Crouched over his guitar, his voice a mixture of Glen Campbell's honey tones and B. B. King's ironic grit, Stephen Geyer entertains a small crowd at the Room Upstairs at Le Cafe with his sometimes strikingly original songs.

The selections, from "Dreams," which was recorded by John Denver, to the pulsating instrumental "Django Bango," move easily between the worlds of pop and jazz.

Geyer, although not a major name, has enjoyed major success as a songwriter.

His "Believe It or Not," the theme song--co-written with Mike Post--from the ABC network TV show "The Greatest American Hero," hit No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts in 1981.

Geyer also wrote hits for Campbell, Denver, Kenny Rogers, Smokey Robinson and others, and consistently contributed songs to various TV shows, from NBC's "Blossom" to ABC's "Hardcastle & McCormick."

Despite all this, in 1987, with his 15-year career in full roar, Geyer pretty much dropped out of the music business.

"I got burned out," he says. "I was making a very good living writing songs on assignment, but I wasn't writing for my own needs. I had forgotten why I had become a songwriter in the first place, which was to express my own feelings."

So the multitalented Geyer, who returns to Le Cafe on Wednesday, retreated to his home in Newbury Park and taught himself to write scripts.

"I studied fine art in college, then I wrote songs and played music," says Geyer, 43. "So it was natural that I seek another creative venue, and that turned out to be writing."

Though in the interim he contributed some tunes to TV shows such as "Cop Rock," since 1988 Geyer has focused on script writing.

That year, using connections established in his songwriting days, Geyer landed a job as a staff writer for the series "Sonny Spoon," produced by Stephen J. Cannell, writer and producer of "The A-Team" and "The Rockford Files."

Since then, Geyer has continued to write for episodic TV and is now pursuing writing for feature films.

Still, in spite of the favor he found in his new field, Geyer felt that something was missing, and late last year was drawn back to songwriting.

"The music finally grabbed me again," he says. "I started hearing it inside, and I started writing it down."

The first song he wrote was called "Night Train," which was inspired by the horrors of the civil war in Bosnia.

"I was watching the TV footage, and it affected me emotionally," he says. "I was watching a holocaust, and I thought that maybe it would mean something if I wrote a song. It's a mixture of social commentary and jazz meter and, I feel, it says something that needs to be said."

Geyer uses the image of a train because "it's a powerful, dark image that symbolizes the malevolent energy that runs through the events from Dachau to Sarajevo to Rwanda."

Here's a sample lyric:

*

"The rumble of iron, the hissing of hate, Lambs to the slaughter on the engine of state, The victors and victims just links in a chain, A passage from pleasure to pain on the night train. "

Other songs followed "Night Train" and, earlier this year, Geyer decided that it was time to perform the new material.

He formed a rehearsal band with the crew that appears with him at Le Cafe: guitarist Rick Illejay, bassist Osama and drummer Gary Gibbons. That ensemble began performing at the Room Upstairs in July.

"Stephen brings a fresh take to songs," says Dale Jaffe, who owns Le Cafe. "There's something strong and appealing about what he does."

Although Geyer has played Southern California in the past as a singer-guitarist--he's also worked as a studio session guitarist and as a conductor for pop acts--he says the Le Cafe dates are the first that blend his fondness for jazz with his pop bent.

"I want to see if I do a jazz-pop synthesis and have it mean something commercially," he says.

Born in Lima, Peru, the son of a CIA officer, Geyer lived in Okinawa, England, the Philippines and then Rockville, Md., where he began his performing career as a folk and rock guitarist.

He moved to California in 1972, after graduating from Towson State College in Maryland.

Musically, Geyer says, "the road I had been on didn't take me to where I thought it would.

"Now I'm on that road."

WHERE AND WHEN

Who: Stephen Geyer.

Location: Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 8:30 and 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Price: $5 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 986-2662.

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