Songwriting and playing music has been a consuming passion for Gerry Spehar since he picked up his first guitar at age 14. “I never went on a date in high-school without my guitar,” he admits. If you look at the album artwork on I Hold Gravity, you’ll notice that there’s not one image of Spehar without a guitar except for the one in which he has his arm around his wife, Susan. “Ever since I can remember, I have always had one or the other –usually both –with me.” Susan was Spehar’s college sweetheart and his other consuming passion--and this album is a love letter to her.
I Hold Gravity is a collection of 10 songs on which he collaborated with Susan as they chronicled their final cross-country drives, their mountain heritage, and an L.A. to Texas landscape filled with shrimpers, dynamiters and wildcatters, wrestlers, roughnecks, overambitious farmers, and Monsanto lawyers. Spehar spent the past year producing and finishing this album and taking care of Susan, who passed from cancer in September, just as they were finishing the recordings.
Born and raised in Grand Junction, CO, during the 1970’s and 1980’s Spehar was based in Colorado and had a thriving musical career. He played as a duo with his brother George in the 70’s and in the Spehar Brothers Band with both George and brother Tom. He then performed solo until meeting Bobby Allison whom he began writing and performing with in 1981. During all this, Spehar opened shows for Merle Haggard, Boz Scaggs, Townes Van Zandt, John Fahey and others.
In 1985, Allison and Spehar played the Grand Ole Opry as regional winners of the Wrangler Country Showdown. The finals were held at the Opry and the duo lost out to the Sweethearts of the Rodeo but gained a publishing deal with the legendary Buzz Cason. In 1986, Allison went solo (winning the Showdown) and Spehar made the rough decision to leave performing behind to take an investment banking job in Los Angeles in order to support his family and be a good dad—“It was the hardest decision of my life,” he confesses. In 2000, Spehar produced, played, and sang on his brother George’s tribute album, For Always. The record featured renowned multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz, Nashville pianist Pete Wasner (Vince Gill) and was recorded and mixed by the legendary George Massenberg.
Now, kids raised, Spehar is back and remains in good company with I Hold Gravity. Enlisting the LA band I See Hawks in LA as his studio band, and Paul Lacques as his co-producer, the team tracked the basics in 3 days at drummer Shawn Nourse’s studio with Paul Marshall on bass and Spehar on lead vocals and acoustic guitar. Lacques added electric guitar, dobro, and steel. Ace musicians Tommy Jordan (Geggy Tah with Greg Kurstin), Gabe Witcher (The Punch Brothers), Chris Tuttle (Emmy Lou Harris, Raul Malo), and other guests added their talents. The result is a unique country, folky, dark, and witty album: I Hold Gravity. As Paul Lacques calls it, “Americana from an OG picker.”
“I’m so happy I was able to dive back into music, and on such a meaningful project,” said Spehar. “It was a great cathartic experience for both Sue and me. She loved listening to it come to life and absolutely loved that I was back into music. I loved that it made her happy. We both needed it.”
The song “Dirt” leads us off—a thumping, electric guitar-driven Crazy Horse-style rocker about economic ambition. The lyrics are pulled from Spehar’s mining past (he’s from a pioneer Colorado coal-mining and ranching family), and Susan’s passion for geology: “It all comes down to dirt”. Contrasting that is the title song, “I Hold Gravity”, a gentle ethereal acoustic ballad about love that defies the cosmic rules. “This song poured out of me on New Year’s Eve 2016 as Sue lay sleeping,” confesses Spehar. “It’s a song of love and a desperate grab at salvation. Where does the energy go when someone dies? By the laws of physics, is it conserved as equivalent matter, subject to gravity? I hope so.”
“Be Nemanic” was written by the duo and their friend, Ed Nemanic. It’s the true story of Ed’s uncle John, World Middle Heavy Weight Wrestling Champion in 1936, and his contemporary, Slovenian strongman Peter Zebich. It’s slightly bent country funk with Chris Tuttle’s grooving piano and Lacques’ chunky Motown guitar driving it. “Mr & Mrs. Jones” is a testament to Susan’s indomitable spirit and wicked sense of humor. “Driving across Iowa just days after discovering her cancer, she said we should forget about it and write a song,” recalls Spehar. “Seeing perfection everywhere, she asked: ‘How do people live this way? There must be a ton of envy out there.’” The song has a Memphis feel with a twisted boogie beat and wicked organ and electric guitar.
The album ends with “Into The Mystic” a simple acoustic guitar production. “My dad died when I was 13 and my uncle Will, a cattle rancher, became my surrogate father,” said Spehar. “When music and the bigger world called, he couldn’t understand why I’d want to leave. This song is about that calling and dilemma. The difficult rite of passage we all face at some point.”
I Hold Gravity is full of talented playing and unique songwriting that bends the rules and fears no topic—from love to politics to economics to history to physics to war to death—and takes them on in compelling unusual ways, using humor, anger, whatever it takes. Although it took some time to get to this recording, Gerry Spehar never abandoned music, continuing to write nonstop even though his work hours precluded performing. He has written over 200 songs “That I like,” he adds.
“The fact that I’m now taking up recording and performing seriously again at this age is unique,” he professes. “Also the fact that I’m still relevant, maybe more so than ever, and good enough to do it well, maybe better than ever. This is a great love story for Sue, my family, music—and also a great renaissance story.”