Gregg Cheser: musician, songwriter, character.
by Phil Houseal
Last Friday I was thinking about Gregg Cheser.
It’s OK if you don’t know him. Because you know someone like Gregg Cheser.
I was thinking about Gregg because I was sitting in a memorial service on Friday for another Fredericksburg resident. It made me remember the time I spoke at Gregg’s memorial service in that same funeral home 10 years ago.
Gregg was a singer and songwriter who played in bands that opened for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. He was a man of quick wit, great compassion, and kind soul, and someone who challenged me musically and mentally.
Most of all, he was a colorful character. After moving to Texas from Kentucky, he became a fixture at the emerging Luckenbach scene, and performed solo and with his band The Pronto Brothers.
In between gigs he delivered Lone Star beer around town, following the philosophy of Cheatham Street Warehouse proprietor Kent Finlay, who used to say, “We sell all the beer we can’t drink.”
We lost Gregg in 2004, way too early. When it happened, I received a call from his family. They were arranging a funeral, and asked if I would say a few words at the service. If you have never been asked to do such a thing, let me tell you it is an incredible honor and incredibly frightening. I accepted, then spent several days walking around composing–and rejecting–many ideas. You see, it is almost impossible to say something at momentous events–whether weddings, graduations, or funerals–that hasn’t been said and said and said. Those who know me know that I place a premium on being original: cliches are my enemy, and funerals are crawling with cliches.
Then it struck me. “Being original” exactly described Gregg Cheser. He was a good musician, a good father, a good man. But most of all, Gregg Cheser was a character.
A “character” is someone who is one of a kind. And Gregg was like no other kind. He had eccentricities, he vexed me, he kept me off balance, he frustrated me, he inspired me. But he engaged me! He never took the conventional path. I grew to love his “unexpectedness,” and missed it greatly when he left us.
So that is what I spoke about at his service. Looking back, that small homily really set the template for the writing of these columns that began in 2005.
When it comes to deciding what to write about, I’m not trying to describe the best or most worthy musicians, or review their body of work. I’m not sanctioning one group over another. I have always looked most to those musical “characters,” who use the art to stamp their personality and vision on the world. It might be the singer/songwriter, but it has also been the opera singer, the dulcimer player, the grandfather who recorded his first CD, the grandmother who learned to play cello, or the schoolteacher who plays kitchen utensils. They are all “characters.”
What would our world be like if we all acted like our parents told us we were expected to act? What if everyone was just like you? Lord, what a dreary, uninteresting place. I wouldn’t want to live in a world full of me’s.
So, embrace those characters you are lucky enough to have stumble into your life. Embrace those who are different, challenging, or interesting.
Sure, they might make you uncomfortable.
But “comfortable” is not always the best place to be.