There are probably very few people who have made music their career because of organic farming. But that’s sort of what happened to Paul Geremia. "I was in agriculture college at University of Rhode Island," said Geremia.
There are probably very few people who have made music their career because of organic farming. But that’s sort of what happened to Paul Geremia.
"I was in agriculture college at University of Rhode Island," said Geremia. "There was a question-and-answer period with the president of the college, and I asked, ‘Is URI Agriculture College going to offer any courses in organic farming?’ The president looked at me and said, ‘Organic farming is for kooks. And there’s no room for kooks at the University of Rhode Island.’ So I decided to pack up my guitar and toothbrush and head for Boston."
Geremia settled in Cambridge’s Porter Square in 1966, started getting gigs at a number of coffeehouse, eked out a meager living, made a bunch of records, and to this day, plays music full time.
But before he became a king of finger-style country blues and a fine interpreter of old blues material – as well as a strong composer of songs that somehow sound traditional and contemporary at the same time – Geremia had music spinning through his life.
"I used to love to wind up my grandparents’ record player," he said, thinking back to the days when he was just tall enough to stand on his tiptoes, reach over the top of it, and put the record on the spindle. "My parents told me that my favorite record was ‘Madam Butterfly.’ I remember that it had an orange label. That’s how I could always find it. I couldn’t read yet, but I knew the orange label."
He also remembers loving the sound of the harmonica, probably because he watched so many cowboy movies.
"I learned to play harmonica when I was around 12," he said. "Just playing folk songs and Stephen Foster songs, things we sang in school."
His mother later bought a guitar for his father, but it was left, untouched, behind the couch.
"It was a cheap guitar, a Stella, and eventually I started learning to play it," said Geremia. "Then I tried a series of other cheap guitars. My uncle, who worked in a music shop, said he could arrange for me to get a good one. So I went to Wurlitzer’s, but got kind of a dog – a brand new Gibson Hummingbird. Later, when I was in college, I brought it with me, and I ran into a guy who had an old Gibson J200, which just dazzled me. He didn’t know how good it was. He wanted to trade guitars with me. So I did!"
In the midst of all of this, Geremia was being turned on to great music from new and old performers. Trips to Cambridge and Boston and the Newport Folk Festival resulted in him seeing live sets by everyone from Mississippi John Hurt to Tim Hardin to Flatt and Scruggs.
Page 2 of 2 - He soaked it all up, and when he finally arrived in Cambridge – finding a place in Porter Square for $14 a week – he also began gigging regularly.
"I started on Charles Street in Boston, at The Sword in the Stone, The Turk’s Head Coffeehouse, and The Loft. I was already writing songs, and at that point I was working really hard at the music. I was about 24 then. I played at the Unicorn, and I got hired to run the open mike there, and sweep up the floor afterwards."
He laughed at that, then added, "I never had to take any other job. Once I started playing music for a living, that’s all I ever did."
His newest album, "Love My Stuff" (Red House Records), is a compilation of live recordings he’s done over the years, accompanied mostly by only his six-string or 12-string guitar, featuring tunes by, among others, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell, and himself. Highlights include King Oliver’s "Dr. Jazz" and Geremia’s "Kick It in the Country."
He’ll certainly be playing some selections from the album and, more likely than not, will treat the audience to McTell’s "Statesboro Blues," a song he’s done more times than he can count.
"That’s one I’ve always liked," he admitted. "There’s just so many different ways that people play that song."
It really doesn’t matter what the song is, or whether it’s done on his six-string or his 12-string or even on a piano, if there’s one on the stage.
"I have to work," said Geremia. "I play for a living, and that’s all I do. And I enjoy it very much."