By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
Obviously, Gershen isn't the type to sell himself short or to suffer from public bouts of doubt and self-loathing. But his declarations--which would sound insufferably pompous if mouthed by someone like, say, Bono--somehow seem less inflated when Gershen is delivering them. His mellow temperament and soft, blissed-out voice make his words seem almost modest.
Of course, it helps that Firetender, Gershen's current disc, is among the finest recordings of its type to come out of Colorado in the recent past. On occasion, Gershen's soul-baring, conducted in the early Seventies manner exemplified by Joni Mitchell and her peers, sometimes is a bit too self-congratulatory; the faint scent of narcissism can be perceived coming from a few cuts. But when Gershen's tuneful, heartfelt vocals--strong, smooth, sincere--are coupled with sturdy melodies and beautifully recorded arrangements, most of these caveats pale into insignificance. Gershen thinks so, too, but that's not nearly enough for him. You see, his ambitions go well beyond simply making a good album. "In earth-centered cultures, musicians and storytellers hold very elevated positions," he notes during one of his frequent new-agey asides. "They are the prophets, and they heal people and awaken them and make them think. And that's what I'm trying to do now."
Actually, Gershen has been embroiled in similar endeavors for most of his life. He was born in northern New Jersey, and once he reached his teens, he began taking the twenty-minute bus ride to Greenwich Village as often as he could. It was the Sixties, and, he recalls, "You could go and hear Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin' Hopkins, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy St. Marie, even a guy like Jimi Hendrix in these small clubs--listening rooms where you could listen to the music and actually rub elbows with these people."
Before long, Gershen decided to make music himself and relocated to Woodstock, the New York community that gave the late-Sixties music festival its moniker and provided a homey, creative resting place for artists such as Van Morrison and the members of the Band. With his brother Jonathan and several other like-minded performers, Gershen formed the Montgomerys--an act named for the Basement Tapes-era Bob Dylan composition "Tiny Montgomery"--and began gigging around town. Morrison, fresh off the commercial failure of his brilliant Astral Weeks album, took on the combo as a personal project and actually produced a handful of tracks, but they never saw the light of day. "Jerry Wexler was interested in us for a while, too," Gershen recalls, "but for a number of reasons, mostly having to do with bad advice and bad luck, we never got that band recorded."
When the Montgomerys broke up in the early Seventies, the two Gershens hooked up with Jim Rooney (a bluegrass musician from Boston who's gone on to become a well-known Nashville-based producer) and established Borderline. At first, this collective seemed bound for success: United Artists signed the band, and an album was recorded at the renowned Bearsville Studio with contributions from the Band's Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, longtime Neil Young associate Ben Keith and saxophonist David Sanborn. But in spite of good notices in Rolling Stone and elsewhere, the Borderline disc didn't move enough copies to please its label. The company funded the recording of a followup, which included guest spots by Amos Garrett and the Brecker Brothers, but later decided not to release it.
The stress this decision created ultimately caused Borderline to go the way of all flesh; the members split, with Gershen subsequently moving to Colorado with a girlfriend. He performed as a solo act for a while, but as the years passed, he says, "I found myself less and less interested in doing things the way that I had done them before. So my music became a very private thing--and then I got married and had a daughter and got into a whole bunch of other things." During this period, he did whatever he could to make ends meet: "I drove a school bus. I worked for a major corporation. I was a counselor. I managed apartments. I was a photographer. And I did whatever I could to keep the music and the vision alive."
In 1989 Gershen put out a solo album, Manifest, featuring Hot Rize's Pete Wernick (whom he'd met in New York nearly two decades earlier), but did only a cursory amount of self-promotion. He's more serious about pushing Firetender, and he's played regularly throughout the Denver-Boulder coffeeshop circuit over the past year.
"I've been getting really good feedback locally, nationally and internationally on the CD, and I'm looking at possibly touring outside the area soon," he reveals. "The stuff I'm writing about now comes from the wisdom of someone who's a veteran of life, a person approaching eldership in this world. I have a few things to talk about and a few stories to tell. And that's what I'm doing."
Folkathon '95, with Dave Gershen. 3:15 p.m. Saturday, July 22, Swallow Hill Music Hall and Grounds, 1905 South Pearl Street, $4, 777-1003.