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An inside man

Stewart Oksenhorn

On balance, being a guitar monster has been more blessing than curse, by a good margin, for Jeff Pevar. Entirely self-taught, the 43-year-old Pevar has used his guitar skills to spin a career as a sideman that has included stints with Ray Charles, Rickie Lee Jones and Joe Cocker. He has also worked with James Taylor, Carly Simon, Donald Fagen, Jackson Browne and many more.Beyond the superstars with whom he has shared stages and studios, there is the deep sense of satisfaction, the sense of emotional release, that music provides him. For Pevar, music is more than something to occupy his time, more than a way to pay the tab. It is, in a way, everything.”Music has always been my saving grace,” said Pevar, a Connecticut native who now splits his time between California and the New York City/Connecticut area. “Through tough times, whatever I’m going through, music has always been there to rescue me, a place to put my angst and my passion. And it has remained as such.”More than anything, Pevar finds music to be the ultimate means of expression. Each time he encounters an audience, he feels he has something very much his own to tell them through his guitar-playing and his singing.”The wonderful thing about music is that everyone tells their own story,” said Pevar. “You follow your heart and tell your own story. People come to see music to hear what story you have to tell.”As a guitarist, Pevar has been maybe a little too articulate in telling his story. For years, Pevar has led his own, mostly Connecticut-based bands, and tried to get a solo career started. And each time, someone with a big name and big budget – Ray Charles, Rickie Lee Jones – has come calling, asking Pevar to join a tour or a recording session. And with the prestige, the opportunity to travel and play big gigs, and the money that is offered, Pevar has found it nearly impossible to say no.”Every time I get my own thing going, I get called away and get involved with these endeavors that are more lucrative, and get more exposure,” said Pevar, whose most recent gigs include a stretch on tour with Grateful Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh’s Phil & Friends band. “So it’s like a blessing and a curse at the same time. Because it always takes me away from my own things. It’s almost like the domino effect – the more people you play with, the more people want to play with you.” — Jeff Pevar’s nearly decade-long association with David Crosby would prove to be the key to striking an ideal balance, between Pevar’s own thing and a well-paying, noteworthy gig.Pevar first got Crosby’s attention in 1992, when the duo of Pevar and singer-songwriter Marc Cohn were the opening act for a Crosby, Stills & Nash tour. Two shows into the tour, Crosby and Graham Nash approached Pevar, asking if he would be interested in rounding out a Crosby & Nash trio. Pevar jumped at the chance.Several years later, in 1996, a promising young California singer, songwriter and keyboardist named James Raymond was also hooking up with David Crosby. Raymond was about to be married, and his adoptive parents encouraged him to find his biological father before he wed. Raymond contacted the California adoption services, and found that his father was none other than Crosby, legendary singer from the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. After father and son finally met, Raymond sent tapes of his music to his dad. Crosby was sufficiently impressed that he set up a session for the two to work on some music together.Invited along for the ride was Pevar.”David realized that James really had some talent,” said Pevar. “So he asked if I wanted to form a trio. We got in a room together and played and it went really well.”Early in 1997, the trio CPR – for Crosby, Pevar and Raymond – did its first tour, a dozen trio dates on the West Coast. The music and the good feelings were enough that the trio added a rhythm section, and continued touring. In 1999, CPR released its first, self-titled CD, which went on to sell about 100,000 copies – not bad for a start-up band whose best-known member was approaching 60 and living on a borrowed liver. CPR is in the process of finishing its second record.For Pevar, the CPR has been not exactly a lifesaver, but the situation he has long been looking for. The trio allows him to contribute his own songs and take vocal turns, as well as play the guitar hero role. It puts his name right out front alongside Crosby’s, who has long been one of his music idols. Equally important, Pevar thinks highly of CPR’s music.”Obviously, one of the great joys of CPR is that David Crosby was one of my teachers. I’m self-taught, and I was a huge CSN fan. I learned to play a lot of those tunes on guitar,” said Pevar, who was moved to pick up the guitar after seeing the Beatles’ appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “To have the opportunity to support that older music, but to also make new music with David and James, that’s ideal.”We spur each other on; we kick each other’s ass. David’s experience kicks our ass; our younger experience adds to what he does. It’s a wonderful balance, with these different roads we’ve traveled, that we bring to the project. I’m happy to say, the chemistry we have is fabulous.”Pevar is, not surprisingly, impressed with the talents of Crosby, and further impressed that, in CPR, Crosby continues to evolve musically. But he also has strong words in praise of Raymond, who he says is an exceptional songwriter. And Pevar has found that his own tastes dovetail well with those of the 30-something Raymond.”James and I have a natural chemistry, because we’re both interested in jazz harmony,” said Pevar. “We’re both interested in chord harmonies that are more involved. They’re both profound talents. James is a profound dude.” — Another nice thing about CPR is that it is not quite a full-time gig for its members. Crosby continues to work now and then with CSN, and last year, toured with CSNY. Raymond, who has been a professional musician since the age of 10, also writes music for television.Which allows Pevar plenty of time to pursue other avenues. He is currently working on a recording with Tony Levin, who has been a member of King Crimson, and played with John Lennon and Peter Gabriel. One of his most recent sideman experiences was touring in former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s Phil & Friends band. He is considering an offer to tour as part of Jazz Is Dead, an instrumental jazz-fusion band that covers Grateful Dead material.This week, Pevar will be in Aspen, jamming with local band Little Blue at their Club Chelsea gigs Friday through Sunday nights, Jan. 12-14. Pevar, who added guitar tracks to Little Blue’s first album, “Angels, Horses & Pirates,” will also record for the next Little Blue album while he is in Aspen.The Little Blue connection dates back to the mid-’80s, just after Pevar gave his notice after a long stretch with Ray Charles. “One night I was sitting there in the tuxedo and thinking, OK, it’s time to move forward. It’s time to move to the big city and try out the big-city scene,” said Pevar. Pevar moved to New York, where one of the first musicians he met was Little Blue’s Steve Postel. Pevar has considered himself an honorary member of Little Blue ever since, jamming with the group whenever he can.Whether it’s a weekend sitting in with Little Blue, a tour as a sideman with Rickie Lee Jones, or a CPR date, Pevar sees every gig as a way to expand the musical story he tells.”I look at each musical endeavor as a learning experience, like a college-level class,” he said. “I toured with Phil Lesh, and it was like going through a college crash course. I had to learn 70 songs on guitar, and learn how to sing backup and sing lead on half-a-dozen songs. I worked my ass off for that.”And sometimes, it can all get a little confusing.”I’ve always been a guy who wears a lot of hats,” said Pevar. “I’ve been in bands that play bluegrass, jazz, r & b, acid rock, hard rock. It helps, because I can go into any recording session and add something.”But to know what direction Jeff Pevar should be taking is a little elusive.”


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