Hansen: Musicians sing the blues

December 22, 2011|By David Hansen

We generally like our music uplifting, but for local musicians sometimes life gets in the way.

Whether it's the piano player at French 75 or the reggae-fueled singer at Mozambique, the glamour of playing night after night takes its toll.

Divorce, personal issues and chaotic schedules make the "rock star" life anything but.

Perhaps the only salvation for veteran musicians is their original motivation: just stay authentic.

"This business can chew you up and spit you out," said Le Grand Barr, a "fifty-something" piano player who has been playing since he was 7. "It is a challenge; it is an everyday challenge. I've had to constantly reinvent myself. Whereas I'm blessed to still be working, I'm still met with challenges and obstacles."


Most musicians start out with big dreams, and when that doesn't materialize, the wreckage is ongoing.

"I was a young father at 21, so of course my daughter was affected," said Barr, who is currently separated from his second wife. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of selfishness involved when you're young because you're thinking about your career and not necessarily about the responsibilities of being in a relationship, of being in a family."

Another local musician agrees. Nick Hernandez is the 45-year-old lead singer of Common Sense and also divorced — largely because of the music lifestyle.

"It makes it tough to have a regular life," he said. "All your friends are on a different schedule than you. You miss every holiday because you're playing every holiday. You miss every Fourth of July for 15 years. You miss every New Year's."

Hernandez started Common Sense in college. With some early success — a record deal, TV commercials and national tour — he lived the fast life for several years.

"I think that's what made it so tough on my wife," he said. "We were young. We really didn't know how to deal with problems like that. I was kind of immature."

Now, Hernandez wishes he had learned a few things earlier, like balance.

"What's really going on in your life is nothing like what people think is going on in your life," he said. "People make everything up. As far as a local musician who struggles like a regular person in this economy, that's kind of what I relate to."

The local music scene has changed, according to Barr, who also plays at Savannah Chop House in Laguna Niguel. He cites cutthroat pricing as a serious challenge.

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