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VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Screenwriter is Back to First Love: Music

Stephen Geyer puts down his pen and picks up his guitar to begin a voyage of rediscovery.

November 21, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It goes without saying that a person's life changes greatly with the birth of a child. In the case of Stephen Geyer, the birth of his son, Devon, was a source of inspiration.

When Devon was born six years ago, Geyer was working as a freelance scriptwriter for such shows as "Sonny Spoon" and "Silk Stalkings," but his heart was in music. He had been playing guitar and singing since he was a teen and later scored solidly with several songs. These included "Believe It or Not," co-written with Mike Post, which was the theme for ABC-TV's "The Greatest American Hero"; and "Dream," recorded by John Denver.

Geyer decided that while he wasn't going to give up writing, he needed to get back where he belonged. "I had a little talk with myself and I realized I wanted my son to know his father was a musician," he said softly. "That's the most honest and real thing that I do. So, in a sense, Devon inspired me to return to that voice."

Active again as a singer-songwriter, Geyer, now 45, does all right. He works a few clubs--he appears Friday at J.P.'s Lounge in Burbank--sending songs out and collecting royalty checks from tunes like "My Opinionation." That number was also co-composed with Post and was the theme for the TV show "Blossom," which is currently in syndication. But Geyer is certainly not making the money he was earning years ago.

"Fortune doesn't always smile, even if you've had success in the past," he said without bitterness. "It's difficult living as a musician unless you have a record deal and can tour, playing larger venues." Geyer said he is shopping for such a deal right now.

Geyer has never found just one music that called him. In his life, he's written and played pop, jazz, R&B, country and Brazilian, to name five. To this end, he calls his shows "The Stephen Geyer Expedition," because he said he feels like he's on a voyage of discovery.

"I'm looking for a way to meld the [music] that means something to me and that name seemed like the right idea," he said. "I was searching for a way to communicate through music, and to not just use just one musical language."

Geyer will be working with Expedition bandmates Gary Gibbons (drums) and Bill Breland (acoustic bass). For Friday's gig, he plans to perform "When," which Geyer calls "a beautiful ballad that Tony Bennett might sing." Also, "Sunset Boulevard" has a Steely Dan groove, he said, while "Dream On" leans toward funk. Geyer sings with part B.B. King grit, part Glen Campbell smoothness.

Asked about his voice, Geyer is direct. "I think I'm a good singer, but not great," he said. "I certainly think my voice expresses what it is I'm writing better than just a singer might do. There's an emotional resonance."

Instrumentally, listeners at J.P.'s might hear Geyer's "Sea of Cortez"--a Brazilian/world music number that the composer said reminds him of the currently in-vogue Gypsy Kings. And there's Breland's "When Helen Warms Them Chops," a tune Geyer said is reminiscent of blues-jazz guitarist Larry Carlton.

Geyer cites Carlton--with whom he has played studio session dates--Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery as major guitar influences. Lately, it's been Montgomery, the jazz master who died of a heart attack in 1968 at age 43, who gets Geyer's attention.

"He's the best, and his Riverside Records albums are the supreme expression of jazz guitar," says Geyer. "Though I play some of the octaves that he did, I don't try to copy his solos. But I do try to understand the vision that was behind his solos, his language."

Geyer, who lives in Agoura Hills, was born in Lima, Peru, the son of a member of the Central Intelligence Agency. With his family, he lived all over the world.

His first musical influence was pop--particularly the Beatles and other English rock stars, since he was living near Oxford, England in the 1960s. Later, when his father was stationed in Okinawa, Geyer discovered jazz.

"I used to buy albums by saxophonists, because I was playing tenor sax at the time," he said. "I liked people such as John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Stanley Turrentine. Jazz had the effect of making my ears big. I was no longer locked into just one music. I found out there was a lot more out there than just three chords."

* Stephen Geyer plays Friday, 9 p.m.-1:30 a.m., at J.P.'s Lounge, 1333 Hollywood Way, Burbank. No cover, no minimum. (818) 845-1800.

*

Quick Takes

* Trumpeter Stacy Rowles offers her dulcet trumpet and vocal tones tonight through Saturday at Monty's (5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills; show times: tonight, 7:30 to 11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; no cover, no minimum; 818-716-9736).

* Poncho Sanchez's fervent mix of Latin beats, bebop and funk will be on hand Saturday, 9:30 p.m., at La Vee Lee (12514 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City; $10, two drink minimum; 818-980-8158).

* Guitarist Doug MacDonald, singer Polly Podewell and trombonist Dick "Slyde" Hyde work 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday, respectively, at Chadney's (3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one drink minimum per show; 818-843-5333).

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