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Q&A with Peter Mayer, Jimmy Buffett's Lead Guitarist, Ahead of Newport Performance

Musician Peter Mayer will be performing at the Southgate House Revival Sanctuary on Wednesday, May 5. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $30.

Mayer, 62, has been on the stage in some way or another for 45 years. He is a guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, touring musician and recording artist in Nashville, Tennessee. Mayer has released 25 albums to date and tours year-round with the Peter Mayer Group. He is the lead guitarist in Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band and has shared the stage with a regalia of bright lights in the music industry including James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Don Henley, Dave Matthews, Joe Walsh, and many others.

The River City News recently sat down with Mayer for a chat about his music and his upcoming visit.

Q: Where are you from? 

A: I was born in India, son of missionary parents. I grew up in a big family and went to school first in India, then later in the United States where I finished grade school, high school, and got through some of college before I left schooling to get an education making my living playing music.

Q: What got you into music?

A: I fell in love with the sound of my dad's record collection. My mom and dad loved music and were both good singers and piano players. My dad was a pastor. Growing up in the church exposes you to a lot of hymns and choir music. When I heard pop music, specifically the music of the Beatles I had a moment where time stopped, and I knew I wanted to be part of whatever they were singing about and doing. 

Q: How long have you been making music?

A: My mother says I used to sit on the toilet singing hallelujahs after church services... so I guess since I was in the neighborhood of 4 or 5 years old. 

Q: What do you enjoy most about it?

A: Getting inside of a musical moment is like getting connected to the electricity of the whole world... first your body, because it really engages your whole body, head, heart and spirit to sing, to play to express, and then the room you're in; every space in which you play resonates in a certain way whether it's in a church hall, outdoors, or in an amphitheater. Then the musical composition you are playing, comes from some tradition, some history of all music that has been in some way, the lyrics, the words, what you talk about and their meaning have a connection to everything and everyone that have gone through this human or inhuman experience on this planet. Did I mention the universe? Apparently, that has a sound too... it resonates too at a lower than audible Bb... Getting connected to the electricity of the world is a unifying thing. We all belong to that music of the universe. I think Congress could get a lot more done, and we could all be a lot more peaceful listening to music before we go about whatever it is we're called to do in this life. And no, I have not been drinking. 

Q: What is your favorite song you've written?

A: I didn't realize you were going to pull a Sophie's Choice on me... make me choose between my children! That's what songs are ... they come from you and the stories you fall in love with, but much more than you, they're meant to go out into the world and have their own lives with the listeners that take them in. They will outlive you, and if you're lucky they will pay a few bills for you along the way. I do like a few that came in a most un-calculated way... that make me feel good to sing them: Blue Guitar, Moonlight Over Paris, Jesse's Hill, Michaelangelo, Singing In Your Cage.

Q: What has it been like working with Jimmy Buffett?

A: It's been amazing. I have learned a lot about life, music, fun, and have many stories after the 30 plus years I've played with Jimmy and the Coral Reefers. He is a good man, a wonderful song writer and storyteller and I'm happy to be part of it.

Q: Who has been your favorite to share the stage with?

A: I would say that my biggest thrill, though all of the above artists I am huge fans of ... has been meeting Paul McCartney and standing up on stage and playing hey Jude with him. He embodies lots of what has pulled me to music in the first place: great melodies, beautiful voice, a whimsical song writing style and he rocks! Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Fool on the Hill... songs you can't forget.

Q: What do you do for fun when you're not performing or writing?

A: I love walking my dogs in the woods, I love reading, I enjoy cooking and eating Spicy food ... all kinds of cuisine. 

Q: What do you like about visiting NKY/Cincinnati?

A: Playing with Jimmy Buffett all these years I have a lot of history in the Cincinnati area. I love the people, Mt. Adams, boating on the Ohio a few times and the many happy memories of Riverbend Amphitheater. Graeter’s ice-cream. 

Q: What's next for you? What are your future plans/dreams?

A: I'd like to continue making albums and writing songs, but I'd like to diversify and try some different things too, like working with a children's choir, and a string section, an orchestra at some point for my Christmas performances. I've been working on a solo guitar project that bit by bit is coming together. And...I'd like to write stories too at some point. A memoir, fiction, non-fiction... I'm not sure. 

Q: What is it like being back performing life after the pandemic?

A: It is like taking a breath after holding it for a year! We've all been through it together so I'm looking forward to seeing all of my friends out on the road again.

Q: What did you do during the last year to keep yourself busy/actively creative?

A: Well, since us vampire musicians, to create feast on basement studios and quiet late nights or early mornings... spending lots of time alone and self-quarantining, it felt at times all too normal .... BUT, after about a month of that with no option to play a gig, or go to a bar, or restaurant, it was very hard. So we streamed a few shows, did some work for charity, and I got to spend weeks on end with my wife again for the first time in 30 years. So that was lovely. My heart goes out to all the musicians, gig workers and essential workers who struggled through this last year in the many ways that this pandemic affected us. We are doing our part to stay safe as we all pull out and heal from this. Thanks for taking the time to ask me all the questions.

-Melissa Reinert, RCN contributor