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Meet Jerry Gontang of Stars On The Water

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jerry Gontang.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jerry. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I guess the best place to start a life story is at the beginning. My parents were the seeds that got my musical interests growing. Dad was always singing cowboy songs or playing his harmonica through a special microphone that plugged into a Les Paul amplifier. My mom could be heard humming tunes of the day from Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dinah Shore or whoever had a hit at the time. Yes, songs of the 40’s and 50’s were the foundation my parents poured for me to build a musical platform on. Their weekend parties were epic. Coworkers and relatives jamming in and into the living room. Guitars, harmonicas, accordions, piano (we had a Schimmel upright), anything that added a percussive sound, and all those voices. It was rapturous.

My siblings and I were given the chance to expand our music abilities and were introduced to a neighbor who gave lessons in a multitude of instruments. I chose piano. Lessons were a chore rather than a blessing. My desire to perform wouldn’t show itself until my brothers bought a Silvertone Hi-Fi record player and a beater guitar. The first album I heard was The Kingston Trio Stereo Concert. The harmonies, the clarity of the guitars being strummed, and the roar of the audience got my wheels turning, I was going to be a guitar-playing singer. I learned chords watching my brothers play and every day after school I practiced and wore the grooves off that album. My neighbor, Dave Walker, and I performed for our sixth-grade talent show and I was hooked.

Guitar playing has been the one constant in my life. I’ve owned and sold more guitars than I can remember but they’ve always been there to pick out song ideas or learn a new tune on. I was introduced to bass guitar in high school. A classmate was playing in a local band called The Accents and I loved the way the bass filled the room and added a sonic presence to music that I hadn’t paid attention to before. I didn’t own a bass guitar but somehow I learned to play it and the feel was natural. While stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey a group of us got together and brought Woodstock to life overseas. Someone had left their bass guitar behind and I volunteered to be that part of the band. The success of this venture took us to other bases and lots of Turkish/American mixers during my four-year enlistment.

One honorable discharge and a plane ride home later found me playing bass guitar for my brother Ozzie’s duo. Two acoustic guitars, one bass guitar, three-part harmony and there I was, living the dream. That lasted a couple of years and I started playing bass for anyone who needed a bass player and there were plenty of opportunities. I met a waiter named Gary Sparks at The Ivy Barn in Mission Valley. He was a guitar-playing singer/songwriter and we formed a duo called Sugar Bear. We recorded a demo tape and gave it to an agent friend to pass around the record companies in Los Angeles but they all said we sounded too much like Seals and Crofts and that niche was already filled.

Crushed, but not defeated, we took our sound to Yuma AZ to regroup. During this time I was asked to come and play bass for a musical/comedy group in San Diego called Oh! Ridge. Jeff Lee, Steve Yarberry, and Rick Araiza were looking for a singing bass player and I said yes. I could never have imagined this matchup would last for a steady twenty years and Jeff and I maintained a friendship that would go twenty years beyond that as a musical/comedy duo.

In the mid-1990’s I began performing Jimmy Buffett songs for the San Diego Parrot Head Club, a philan-tropic Jimmy Buffett fan club that parties with a purpose, and from that met like-minded musicians who loved playing his music. I was introduced to Gary Seiler and joined his band called Buffed Out. From that group, I became a member of Koko Loco in 1999 and they later became Stars On The Water in 2003. I’m still performing with SOTW, touring the Western States and still playing restaurants, clubs, private parties, and Parrot Head events regularly. I truly am living the dream as a guitar-playing singer/songwriter and yes, this is my day job.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has definitely been a bumpy ride. There are physical, mental, and spiritual scars and a small graveyard of relationships that I choose not to visit and best if I don’t. The struggles were personal and I’ve managed to overcome them. Being clean and sober for twenty years has helped and I have my Shannon to thank for that.

This is not an easy business to make a living at. The competition is strong, the agency is cutthroat, the expenses are overwhelming, the scheduling is demanding, and the supply is limited. I haven’t made the best decisions but living “with” and not “in” the moment is the difference between a good life and bad life and right now, it’s all good.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Stars On The Water story. Tell us more about the business.
I am a full-time musician and like I said, this IS my day job. I play several instruments, my primary being the guitar.

I also play bass guitar, keyboards, and sing. Currently, the genre of music I’m in is called Tropical Rock and Roll. I’m in a band called Stars On The Water and we play something I call Heavy Medley. We put a bunch of songs together that have the same or close to the same chord progression and make it one long tune. Not all of our songs are that way but we do have a lot.

The one thing we always get compliments on is our harmony. People enjoy the blend of our voices and of course, we highlight the solos, bass and drums included. I really can’t think of anything I’d rather do and get paid for than making music.

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years?  Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
I’m in the autumn of my life so for me to still be game fully employed is a miracle. I don’t believe the industry knows where it’s going to be over the next 5-10 years because the variables are too great. I feel that two defining moments in music that have had any impact and longevity are The Beatles and Rap/Hip-Hop. So, in keeping with the time frame, we’re due for another change soon and I hope to be a part of it.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Shannon Condra, Dave Armstrong, Dianna Mason Snow, Calvin Miller

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