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Spencer Bohren

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Spencer Bohren was born to sing. A devout Baptist upbringing gave Spencer Bohren a strong musical foundation, and he was singing harmonies in church by the age of eight. He came of age musically during the folk boom of the mid-’60s, when he started playing guitar and became aware of the folk traditions of America. “Church music is so entwined with traditional music that it was an easy transition for me, but the wealth of American music astonished me,” Bohren says. Guided by his gospel past, Spencer naturally gravitated to the music of the South, and he became a passionate student of the blues - both the cotton field variety of the early Black musicians, and the hillbilly blues of the Appalachians. He comments, “I never differentiated much between black Blues and what I call White blues. Of course, the differences are obvious, but so are the similarities.”

Spencer left his Wyoming birthplace in 1968, drawn by the burgeoning folk scene at the Denver Folklore Center. He was fortunate to learn first-hand from excellent performers like the eccentric Reverend Gary Davis, before moving on to Seattle, where he played with a series of bands and wrote his first original songs. Seattle marks the beginning of what was to become a life of travel. In 1973, Spencer moved back to Colorado to play with folk-blues legend Judy Roderick. A fateful backstage conversation with Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), spun the compass south with tales of the culture and subcultures of New Orleans. Soon thereafter, Spencer began the journey the inevitably led to a decade in New Orleans.

In New Orleans, surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of a previously unimagined cultural gumbo, Spencer found a spiritual and musical home. A spectacular cycle of city-wide musical creativity and activity was just beginning, one which generated the formation of The Neville Brothers, The Subdudes, Beausoleil, and The Radiators. The musical community included such greats as Clifton Chenier, Professor Longhair, Gatemouth Brown, and The Meters. “In New Orleans, I found kindred souls who lived for music in a place where music is woven into the fabric of life. Just walking down the street makes you a better musician . . . it comes up through the soles of your feet!” Spencer once said. Spencer played regularly in the French Quarter at the Absinthe Bar, and uptown at Tipitina’s. This renowned nightclub was then in its infancy, and Spencer held down a steady Monday night jam session for two years, providing a living-room atmosphere for countless New Orleans musicians. He also performed annually at the young New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where he attracted the attention of European concert promoters and music lovers from all over the world.

As his reputation grew, Spencer began traveling throughout the South, farther and farther from home. Finally, in 1983, Spencer and his wife made a decision to move into an Airstream trailer, towed by their classic 1955 Chevy Bel Air, and travel with their three children along Spencer’s performance itinerary. The journey lasted seven incredible years. Spencer performed coast to coast in a series of one-nighters, bringing his bluesy music to people in all parts of the country. In addition, Spencer recorded the first through fourth of his seven current albums and began to tour extensively in Europe and Japan, where his recordings are often released on major labels (Virgin and Sony) and enjoy strong airplay. In 1989, he had a top-forty hit in Sweden. He comments, “Touring in foreign countries is a bit unreal. It’s big time on a small scale, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity to travel the world.”

In 1990 the gypsy life and traveling show came to an end. Spencer and his family (now numbering four children), settled in his home state of Wyoming, surrounded again by the sensational landscape of the West. Two Spencer Bohren albums were released in 1996:  Present Tense, available in Europe on Sony and on Bohren’s own label Zephyr Records in the U.S., and Dirt Roads, available in the U.S. on Zephyr Records, distributed through Big Easy out of New Orleans.

In late 1997, the siren call of the Crescent City brought Spencer back to his adopted home of New Orleans where he immersed himself once again in its rich musical culture. He has released four albums including the critically acclaimed Down the Dirt Road Blues and Solitaire, and continues to tour nationally and internationally.

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