Alan Gerber: “The Pinnacle of my Portfolio is the song I’ve yet to Write”
Hailing from Chicago, Alan Gerber has been a component of the music industry since the early 1960’s. Starting as a member of the Elektra Records-based band, Rhinoceros, he continued to have a fruitful solo career, passing his multi-instrumental talents onto two of his children, Eli and Hannah.
“They have been playing and singing from day one,” Gerber explained. “They would be sitting at the piano with my wife, Robin, or me, joyously banging away, until one day they were really playing. Robin gave them classical training until they were proficient enough to assume their own directions. When Eli was 8 and Hannah was 5, they would get up on stage with me at festivals to play a 6-handed piano boogie. Eli started to play the guitar at the age of 12 and by the time he was 13 he was doing shows with me and really wowing audiences. By the age of 10 Hannah sang with me at The Montreal Jazz Festival on a big stage for about 14,000 people.
They both write music, play piano, guitar and sing. On my CD, ‘Queen Of Hearts‘, Hannah made her recording debut at the age of 12, singing a duet with me on Engagement Songand Eli played all the electric guitars on The Pain And The Wine. On my CD after that, the latest, ‘The Grand And The Small‘, Hannah sings almost every song with me and Eli plays most of the lead guitar. It all evolved quite naturally and, for me, there has never been a musical experience more satisfying than playing music and sharing the stage with my children.”
Gerber has been a musician and singer/songwriter from the time he was very young and it seems that his children are following in his musical footsteps.
“I knew that music would be my career at the age of 15, when I already had many original compositions and heard my first recording, ‘It’s You I’m Thinkin’ Of,’ being played on WLS Radio in Chicago.”
With such a musically-diverse background, having experienced all ends of the artistic spectrum, I wondered the major differences that Gerber experienced being a part of a supergroup in the 1960’s verses holding a solo career in today’s industry.
“When I was a member of Rhinoceros we were put together – taken care of in a business sense – and creatively ‘guided’ by Elektra Records. There were seven strong individuals and our musical direction was not always crystal clear,” Gerber revealed. “As a solo artist the creative direction is all in my hands but the business, which has certainly changed in the last few years, is something I always have to juggle. I have to be the songwriter, artist, producer, booker, social media person,” he could’ve gone on forever.
The bottom line is that the industry today, while growing and evolving at continuous speed due to technological advances, is a thousand times more complicated than it used to be. While the idea of becoming an independent artist is much more tangible at this time, it also makes things more difficult when you don’t have a label to rely on. Credit has to be given where it is due to artists like Gerber who take time out of their on-going creative processes to handle the business aspects of their career – like doing interviews with college journalists!
“My biggest musical inspiration came from playing four-handed boogie/blues with my two uncles in Chicago. Neither of them were professional musicians – one was a corporate lawyer, the other was the president of The Esquire Corporation – but they had serious keyboard skills and I was captivated by the way they shone while playing,” Gerber painted. “For sure, the person who personally inspired me the most in my life is my wife, Robin.”
Gerber truly inspired me with his next response when I asked about his songwriting talents, and the song he considers to be the pinnacle of his career thus far.
“Being a songwriter to me is both a gift and a privilege. To create songs that move me, then to perform them and move others is what gives me strength in my life, fills my sails with a positive wind. I have a catalogue of many songs that I love but the pinnacle of my portfolio will always be the one I have yet to write.”
There has been a common debate threading itself throughout the industry today, from university classrooms to listening rooms in the halls of music publishing company. The debate between the importance of lyrics verses melody and which evokes more emotion from the listener.
“For me, on one hand, nothing can be sweeter than listening while reading the lyrics, to someone like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell or John Lennon, to name a few. On the other hand the music, funky rhythm and melodies of people like Ray Charles, Ottis Redding, Sam Cook, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and Etta James (along with many others) is just plain irresistible! I’d have to say that the ultimate best is a combination of both.” Gerber explains his takeaway from this debate naming influences that personally enhanced my own musical personality while growing up and I couldn’t agree more with his outlook on the combination of the two.
The University of New Haven is a great place to go to school, and they truly uphold their music industry program – constantly seeking new ways to grow and offer experiential opportunities to their students. That being said, I wanted to provide the students of UNH’s music program with a moral to the story from this article – words of wisdom from a key figure who has experienced just about everything the industry has to offer.
“The music business today has changed so much, it is so difficult to make a living that one definitely needs another source of income to get by, at least in the first stages,” Gerber honestly admitted. “As you know, songwriting royalties have greatly diminished and live shows only pay well for established acts. The advice I would give is to hone your skills as a musician, writer, performer, producer, business person and keep up with the ever changing social media developments. Along with all of the above you just have to find the time to become an original, dynamic artist!”