Baby Gramps gestures during his Saturday, Feb. 15 show at the Axe & Fiddle. The gravelly voiced singer and musician is based in Seattle and regularly plays in the southern Willamette Valley. Bradley Cook/Special to the Chronicle
COTTAGE GROVE – For those who didn’t know him before, Baby Gramps sure won over some hearts with his Valentine’s show Saturday night, Feb. 15 at the Axe & Fiddle.
While he didn’t perform the ”Palindromes” song that he’s well-known for, he did share several wordplay gems throughout the evening. Like explaining how he was born in Miami, then lived throughout the South in his youth before landing in Seattle, where he has lived for 40 years.
”I’m a hobohemian from Bohemia,” Gramps said.
Gramps might be the most prolific artist you’ll ever see; he claims to have written 5,000 songs. And that’s when he’s not diving into his other literary works.
”I’m also a poet,” said Gramps, who said he had one of his poems published. ”I like writing poetry and I write kids’ books. I’ve written novels – mostly mysteries – and a few plays.”
But you won’t find his albums or CDs at your local music store – and Gramps is fine with that.
”I’ve never signed a big label deal,” he explained. ”The vinyl and plastic label folks, they want to groom you, and I don’t want to play that game.
”I play vintage songs, sometimes it’s a mix of gospel, ragtime, blues, jazz … a little bit of everything. You can’t put a label on it. I play whatever I feel.”
Gramps apparently has the capacity to feel plenty of moods, sometimes a few simultaneously, as he gracefully skips from genre to genre, uptempo to downtempo … even his voice has multiple personalities.
He’s made a career out of employing that characteristic Popeye voice; then he morphs into other deep, gravelly voices reminiscent of Tom Waits or Capt. Beefheart.
Whether it was playing the Dylan cover ”Visions of Johanna” or ”Mule Get Up in the Alley” (in which Gramps twice said, ”This is funkier than a skeeter’s tweeter”), the full house at the Axe & Fiddle was glad to have him in town. After all, this somewhat mysterious man is a music legend – not just in Seattle, but throughout the Northwest, and many points beyond.
Gramps is going strong as he enters his seventh decade of performing – think about that for a second – and while he doesn’t reveal his age or his real name, he’s happy to talk about something new and exciting in his immediate future.
In about two months, Gramps is going to be a real-live grandpa for the first time.
”I have a model railroad, so he’ll have that to look forward to,” Gramps said. ”We can sing little kid songs.”
We’re not talking just any ol’ model railroad here. This one’s very elaborate. Gramps has been building and remodeling this one since he was about 5 years old, and his house is full of other hobbies and works of art, like his hobo jungles, graveyards and boneyards. That’s to say nothing about his massive array of musical instruments.
”I create all day,” Baby Gramps said.
And while the fans keep on rocking, Baby Gramps is looking forward to another type of rocking – when his new grandson arrives.