The Path of a Professional Musician

Gary Alexander

88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life, published by Keep Music Alive, is a compilation of  over 150 inspirational stories & quotes from musicians, music educators and music lovers from all over the world. Included are a number of stories from Grammy winning and Platinum selling artists & composers.  The authors have given Music In A Word permission to post contributions to the book and we are thrilled to present one below.

After a childhood that included being abandoned by my father and later being abused by my stepfather, I managed to overcome long odds of ever making anything of myself to eventually become a professional musician. To try and make a very long story short, it will have to begin with my parents break up when I was around six years of age. Prior to their divorce, I remember well the constant yelling between my mom and dad all through the long nights. These loud arguments left a scar that may never completely heal. Devastated by the absence of my father, I fell into a pitch black bottomless pit, of which I still sometimes struggle to crawl out of.

Being the only boy out of three children, I must have had an enormous love for my father to have missed him so much when he suddenly left. I still have fond memories of my dad teaching me to play baseball and how he would take the family to our favorite swimming hole in Little Reed Island Creek. Most of our Sundays after church were spent together at my cousins house, listening to them sing and play their guitars, mandolins and banjos. It seems that every one of my cousins, aunts and uncles played an instrument and sang songs. They would spend hours singing hymns and bluegrass, as I listened and soaked it all up.

After my dad left, it was a very dark and ugly year of moving from place to place, by train, all the way to Louisiana and then back to Virginia. We finally settled in a small Southwestern Virginia town called Dublin. My mom, two sisters, and myself, along with a new step father set up house in this little town. At the beginning of my new life in Dublin, I was happy. Being dragged all over hell and back had not worked well for me, but suddenly I found myself in a place that felt good for a change. By the time I was eight or nine years old, I was playing guitar and singing and well on my way to being the best in my little town; something I had vowed to myself that I would one day be. I found friends that I could share my music with and taught a few to play music with me.

One bright spot while growing up was my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Jervey, who without realizing it, played a huge role in my early childhood. She was the first person to ever take an interest in my musical talent, and was also the first to ask me to play in front of an audience. That was 1968 when I was just 10 years old. With her encouragement, I took to the stage like a pro. She gave me confidence and opened a door to the music world that would never close. That was eons ago and I'm still making music to this day. Had it not been for Mrs. Jervey, who knows what path I might have chosen. While Mrs. Jervey was helping to build my confidence, our home life was slowly falling apart. My step father had begun abusing my mother and was showing signs that he didn't want mom's children, he only wanted her.

By the time I was fourteen, two more sisters were born into our very dysfunctional family, and I now had four sisters. I was growing, getting stronger, and had assumed the responsibility that any young male would assume, to protect my mother and sisters from a prejudiced, drunken, mad man. I experienced his abuse as well when I tried to defend my mother from a 350 pound man beating on her. Despite only weighing in at 125 pounds, the strong will to survive would kick in and I would sometimes get the better end of the deal. More than once, I sent him packing, to either jail or a hospital to get sown up. But even after all the fighting for everyone’s lives, it was decided that I was the one who had to go. My mom could not afford to raise her children on her own, and I seemed to be the only thing standing in my stepfather's way of being the alpha male of the family.

A decision was made and I was subsequently forced out of my home. Suddenly, I was living on the street or at anyone's home that would let me stay for a while. Faced with a decision that no child should ever have to make, I quit school to make money and survive. The many years of physical and verbal abuse from my step father scarred me deeply, but it also gave me a strong will to survive and succeed at the only thing I knew how to do, play music!

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Gary from a 1989 tour with recording artist Kim Boyce at Footloose in Dallas, TX.

This was the 70’s, and my journey started out shaky at best. Drugs helped provide an escape from a world that spun out of control. A world that left me empty, cold and alone, with no direction. Music was the only thing I had left to hang on to, so I clung to the one thing that I knew best. With my guitar on my shoulder, I hit the road, never to look back or regret anything that I would face in the following years.

I am now in my fifties and my music career has been an interesting journey, to say the least. My music has taken me to places that most people only dream of going. I have known, performed and recorded with some of the most talented people on the planet. I have been fortunate enough to see the sunrise in several different countries. I've gazed upon the volcanoes of the western United States and driven practically every inch of the eastern seaboard. Having lived in several major cities, I've learned about the many different cultures that make up our nation. My life experiences through the avenues of music are truly my most cherished memories. It has not always been financially rewarding and sometimes a very bumpy ride, but I am blessed beyond measure with the talents bestowed upon me, and the choices I made so long ago to walk the path of a professional musician.

One last note about music and connecting with people: For years, I was saddened and disappointed in myself for never taking the time to let Mrs. Jervey know how much I appreciated what she did for me. With her passing in 2012, I can only tell her through my thoughts and prayers. I know that she would have been very proud of me. After being asked to share my story, I began thinking that she must have surviving family members, so I set out to find them. I have recently connected to her youngest son Tom who was really moved by what I had to say in my story. Tom told me that he knew she had an impact on a lot of people, but this was the first time he had ever seen anyone write about it. Tom's dad was equally moved and sent me a letter stating that he was going to add the story to her memorial. The moral of this is, don’t be afraid or hesitate to let someone know how much you appreciated having them in your life. None of us will live forever. Sharing music, stories and everything that helps make us human, absolutely serves to make our voyage on earth just a little bit brighter.

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  Gary Alexander (a.k.a. Alex) started his career as a lead guitarist and vocalist at age fifteen. By age sixteen he had already opened for Tommy James and the Shondells. While touring with national recording artist Kim Boyce, he opened for BeBe and CeCe Winans, The Imperials, White Heart, Mylon LeFever, Sandi Patty, and others.  He is based in Nashville, TN.

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88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life

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