Poughkeepsie Journal

May 22, 2008 | BY John W. Barry

Let the music of Chris Bergson take you back
Bluesman to play Woodstock's Colony Cafe

By John W. Barry - Poughkeepsie Journal - May 22, 2008

A sixth-grader whose parents took him to see Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie perform live has grown up to sing like Joe Cocker, Tom Waits and Dr. John.
Songwriter, guitarist and singer Chris Bergson is originally from Boston and now lives in Brooklyn. Between leaving and arriving in those two iconic towns, he lived in Manhattan with his grandmother, attended Oberlin College in Ohio on a music scholarship and studied at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie - for one semester.
"I originally planned to go to Vassar and get a liberal arts degree, and do music on the side," said Bergson, who will turn 32 Saturday. "It didn't pan out that way."
You can see how things panned out for Bergson at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock tonight. The Chris Bergson Band is scheduled to perform at 8.
Joining Bergson will be Tony Leone on drums, Jay Collins on saxophone and Matt Clohesy on bass.
"Chris kinda takes you back when you first hear him sing - it's like this deep authentic Mississippi Delta Blues voice coming out of this skinny white kid's body," said Tony Falco of Marlboro, who has presented four Bergson Band performances, two at private house concerts and two at Cluett-Schantz Park on Route 9W in Milton. "Chris subtly mixes jazz into his soulful blues. He's a real-deal talent. ... Aside from being an excellent performer, Chris and his wife, Kate, are some of the sweetest and most genuine people I know."
Bergson plays bare-knuckle blues and dishes out heaping ladles of soul stew. There is funk. And there is rock.
He sings with the voice of a weathered bluesman who is down on his luck, if not down for the count, but never too sad to sing.
The lyrics he sings are clever and catchy, but maintain an edge.
"One more day in Gowanus Heights," Bergson sings in "Gowanus Heights." "Changing quarters to dollars to get through the night."
Bergson credits his family with stoking his passion for music. His mother told him that as a 3-year-old, on family visits to a local museum, Bergson would always ask to see a painting by Edgar Degas of a guitar.
Also at age 3, Bergson took his uncle's classical guitar, placed it on the floor and strummed its strings.
Guitar lessons began at age 7. But Bergson does not know what he liked so much about the instrument that he asked for instruction.
"I'm not 100 percent sure," he said. "I was always drawn to the guitar."
Then came the live concerts and a record collection.
"My parents were big music lovers," Bergson said of his father, a lawyer, and his mother, a therapist. "They exposed me to a lot of great music. I remember when I was in fifth grade, they gave me a whole bunch of records, all in one year, maybe even for a birthday - Muddy Waters, "Fathers and Sons"; an Albert King record; Thelonious Monk; Miles Davis. I know I was listening to all that stuff at the same time and loving it. I think that had a lot to do with me wanting to be a musician and just sort of mixing different styles of music and not really drawing so many lines between different styles. I think kids tend to be open-minded and are sponges with what they're exposed to."
An avid concertgoer
Bergson loves seeing and performing live music in New York City. While playing around the city years ago, he met Collins, a good friend with whom he has forged a strong musical relationship.
Bergson had known Leone years ago, from playing around New York City, but lost touch with him. He re-connected with the drummer through Amy Helm, a vocalist who is married to Collins and plays with Leone in the band Ollabelle.
Amy Helm's father is drummer Levon Helm. "Fall Changes," the Chris Bergson Band's most recent CD, was recorded at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock.
"Jay and I," Bergson said, "we sort of formed the band that is essentially the band I have now."
That band draws on many traditions.
"I've always been a really big blues lover," Bergson said. "The pure feeling and the soul - that's one of the strands that connects all of the music I love."

Did you know ....?

ó Chris Bergson played with Norah Jones at nightclubs and bars in New York City before Jones had a hit with her Grammy-winning, multi-million selling record, "Come Away With Me."

ó Jay Collins, saxophone player for the Chris Bergson Band, has performed with Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band and British soul singer James Hunter.

Local ties

Chris Bergson only spent a semester at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, but he has fond memories from his short stay in Dutchess County.

"I thought I was going to be an English major, a writer," said Bergson, who will perform with his band tonight at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock. "I really like writing - writing songs, writing lyrics can serve as an outlet."

Bergson also liked the fact Vassar was only a two-hour train ride to New York City. He often hopped on Metro-North to see live music in New York and for jazz guitar lessons in the West Village.

But Bergson left his mark around Poughkeepsie as well, playing at Matthew's Mug on the Vassar Campus as well as at the Dutch Cabin bar and restaurant on Fairmont Avenue in Poughkeepsie.

"I visited a handful of schools," Bergson said. "Vassar just seemed like a great school."