News Column

Two musicians are better than one

September 13, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 13--Tim Spencer gave the lesson. Bart Vogel received the message.

"One day he said, 'Hey, do you want to play along?' " Vogel recalled. " 'Do I?' He's a master musician. That's why I went to him. I wanted to go to another level."

For five years, the teacher and student have raised Spencer's guitar tutoring and Vogel's prolific folk-rock song writing into Spencer & Vogel, creating music to "give rather than receive" and "make the world a better place."

Those motivations echo Vogel's religious upbringing -- "part of me, for whatever it means, still has a pastor's heart," he said -- and Spencer's desire to "play the best music we possibly can."

That'll be their intent tonight at Lodi Wine Cellars and Saturday at Whirlow's in Stockton with Lodi drummer Gary Sommerfeld and Elk Grove bassist Kal Cicero.

"We really want music to be a feeling thing," said Vogel, who sings and plays guitar. "That can happen. There's nothing like music. It just gets in our soul. If it's well-constructed, it stays in your brain. We want to make the world a better place."

They mix Vogel's original songs with a few familiar blues-soul tunes (B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone," Bill Withers' "Use Me"). "You've gotta be pretty skilled to pull it off," Vogel said.

They've approached their aspirations from different angles.

Spencer, 56, who lives in south Sacramento and teaches guitar at Lodi's Music Box, was a nuclear-weapons specialist in the United States Air Force. He won two talent contests at his base (F.E. Warren) in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Vogel, 53, a Lodi resident, learned his profession in a Seventh-Day Adventist Church family of real-estate appraisers and performed Christian music for 20 years.

Spencer wrestled and played football and baseball in San Jose.

"They didn't have sports," Vogel said of church schools he attended in Ventura, Diablo Valley, Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Alamo. "They thought it was a bad thing. The big thing was music. Being in choir and band."

That's when Vogel sensed his first misgivings about a faith whose founder mandated vegetarianism -- and humanitarianism -- in the late 19th century.

"I didn't always fit in," Vogel said. "I was a guitar player. They didn't -- quote unquote -- allow guitars in the sanctuary."

A Ventura native, Vogel started learning voice and piano in grade school and pursued them -- and his outsider guitar -- through Monterey Bay Academy's "bigger world" of 500 Adventist students.

His parents, the late Howard and Dolly, now 80 -- both real-estate appraisers -- helped implant the "music bug from singing in choirs at church," Vogel said. "Music is where you could excel in Adventism. If you had a great voice and played clarinet well, you could star."

Vogel studied theology at Pacific Union College in Angwin (Napa County), but "realized I didn't want to do it. I was raised by parents definitely buying into the church thing. It's kind of liberal. I'm grateful they gave me more of a centrist view."

Music was a bigger ambition, even though Adventists "never want you paid: 'If you have a gift you should share that freely with your brethren.' "

In 1981, he got married after borrowing $7,500 from his dad to record "Promises," an album of "religious folkie" music. He took a job with his dad to pay him back. He's been appraising real estate ever since.

Vogel played in a Lodi Christian band (Living Water, Skyewind) and toured with Harvest Celebration (1979-80). After moving to Los Angeles in 1984 ("a lot of rehearsal, not many gigs"). Vogel returned to Lodi and played Christian-themed music with wife Debra in Promise and En Route, recording one CD. They have a daughter (Morgan) and son (Max, who's displaying musical acumen).

After the marriage ended, Vogel intensified his guitar ambitions, taking lessons from Spencer -- who has six children and three grandchildren -- and undergoing a song-writing surge influenced by "the painful experience of a changing family structure."

Born in Spokane, Wash., Spencer moved to San Jose at age 3 and started playing trumpet at 4. A three-sport athlete at Valley Christian High, he moved to Sacramento at 18, joining the Air Force and working on intercontinental ballistic missiles. After six years, he returned to civilian jobs at Pacific Bell and Prime America. He worked as a plumber, sold donuts and taught karate.

"I stuck with music all the way, though," said Spencer, who's taught guitar for 18 years at Lodi's Music Box. "Singing and writing rock and blues-oriented tunes."

He and Vogel hope to stick with their musical partnership.

"I like to help (people) move to higher ground," Vogel said, invoking a sustaining faith. "Experience a better life. A healthier life. Some people tease that these songs are so positive, though you wrote them when you were pretty sad and angry. It's somehow therapeutic. It's about much more than music. Our desire is the world becomes a slightly better place because people heard us that night."

"It's important to be in the right state of mind," Spencer said. "There's something healing in music. Being present in the moment. It's a meaningful experience to share. Giving is better than receiving."

Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or tsauro@recordnet.com.

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(c)2013 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

Visit The Record (Stockton, Calif.) at www.recordnet.com

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