Big Gerry Rules on the Hammered Dulcimer

by Rick Moore

big-gerryIs this a great country or what?

There’s room for every type of music in America, from steampunk and Motown to bluegrass and avant-garde. And there’s even room for a guy like Legendary Big Gerry. Legendary Big Gerry is an artist who performs Irish, Celtic, Americana and Christmas music, and American classics like “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie,” with an occasional original thrown in, on the hammered dulcimer. On the what, you say?

“The hammered dulcimer is a trapezoidal instrument that has 15 strings crossing the treble bridge and 14 crossing the bass bridge, is three octaves, and it’s played with ‘hammers’,” Legendary Big Gerry explained, at the recent Twain on Main festival in Hannibal, Missouri, home of Mark Twain. The strains of Big Gerry’s live dulcimer and his recordings could be heard from one end of the festival to the other as he performed, pressed the flesh and sold CDs. “My dulcimer is made by a company called Master Works in Oklahoma. It’s the predecessor of the piano, and its nickname used to be the ‘lumberjack piano’ because they played it in lumber camps. Mine is wired with a pickup for when I need volume at a bigger event.”

Big Gerry had been playing guitar in a band around the Mammoth Lakes area of California when he took up the hammered dulcimer, and he wondered if he could support himself with it. He found out he could indeed. “I decided to conduct an experiment to see if I could make a living at this, so I went to the tourist town of Virginia City, Nevada, to try some busking,” he said. “I played songs like ‘Star of the County Down’ and I sold my first recording of 11 of my best songs, and I did real well, selling recordings to tourists and getting tips. So it validated the fact that I could actually be successful with it. I bought recording equipment and started self-producing my own recordings, and have made eight albums so far.” Big Gerry accompanies himself on guitar and bass on the albums, and sings as well.

“The instrument is used primarily for Celtic and Americana music these days, though there are still people who use it for old-time music, old-time being pre-bluegrass music,” he explained. “I do have some originals on my own CDs, as well as traditional songs from old dead people. Old Irish tunes by people like Turlough O’Carolan, the blind harpist and composer from the 1700s.”

So who buys this stuff or wants Legendary Big Gerry to play for them anyway? “My demographic is pretty much women 45-70,” he said, “though it’s really music for anybody who wants to hear a different type of instrument. I’ve been mostly recording and selling CDs, but I also do more busking again these days. I’ve kind of come full circle back to busking. This is a small niche I fit into, and it’s really great.”

For information about his CDs, and to see some video, hear some samples or get in touch, go to biggerry.com.

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