As a veteran area singer, guitarist and songwriter, Boynton Beach-based Jerry Leeman has learned the secrets that are mostly unique to South Florida musical success.
He has secondary income, especially important during non-seasonal months when paying jobs tend to fade here, as a yoga instructor. He plays acoustic guitar, which helps in the era of local volume restrictions. And he’s learned that themed tribute shows often get more attention than standard ones, whether they feature cover tunes, originals, or both, in area clubs, restaurants and concert halls.
That’s a trend he’s helped nurture. Since 2002, Leeman has produced, directed and appeared in impressive, multiple live area presentations of The Last Waltz, director Martin Scorcese’s 1978 documentary of the farewell concert by The Band. And his current group, Big Medizen (www.bigmedicineproductions.com), has the talent to not only regularly salute The Band, but also a few other rock ’n’ roll institutions.
The five-to-10-piece Big Medizen is the largest ensemble within Leeman’s itinerary, since he’s also learned that playing shows with smaller lineups – down to solo performances, which often curiously pay nearly as much as full-band gigs — allows a singing acoustic guitarist to actually make a living playing music in this area.
“I’m averaging five to seven nights a week,” says Leeman, who recently played separate unaccompanied gigs in Boynton Beach and Boca Raton on the same weeknight. “Solo shows, duos, trios, and full band sets. And I teach yoga on Monday and Wednesday nights at Simply Yoga of Delray Beach.”
Leeman speaks while on a break during an early-October public rehearsal by Big Medizen at Rudy’s in Lake Worth, in preparation for the band’s Halloween recreation of Pink Floyd’s classic 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon, re-titled “Dark Side of the Medizen,” at Terra Fermata in Stuart. An expanded Big Medizen lineup for the challenge includes the nucleus of Leeman, guitarist/vocalists Mike Hill and Shaun Rosario, bassist/vocalist Kenneth Gruneisen and drummer/vocalist Pat Kregor, along with keyboardists Bob Taylor and Tony Tata and saxophonist Dave Kupsick.
Taylor, on organ, and Tata, on electric piano, combined to recreate the parts of Pink Floyd’s underrated keyboardist Richard Wright (1943-2008) on “Breathe,” and Kupsick reenacted Dick Parry’s memorable solo on the hit “Money.” Kregor used additional conga and bongo drums to play drummer Nick Mason’s early accents on “Time,” also featuring Hill’s David Gilmour impersonation, with both his searing solos and spot-on backing vocals.
Gruneisen, on an acoustic bass guitar, held down the instrumental element of bassist/vocalist Roger Waters while Leeman effortlessly nailed his lead vocals on all three tunes. In the absence of a female vocalist, the band leader even went falsetto to approximate vocalist Clare Torry’s soaring, wordless passages on “The Great Gig in the Sky.”
Rosario, at age 30 the group’s youngest member by far, stuck to rhythm guitar and minimal backing vocals throughout. But on Big Medizen shows featuring Grateful Dead material, it’s his chemistry with Leeman that drives that seminal jam band’s timeless tracks. Which underscores how amoebic Big Medizen can be, with either Rosario or Hill – a musician versatile enough to have been the second of three bassists with Inhouse during that popular West Palm Beach band’s area rise between 1994 and 1999 – playing Leeman’s primary foil on any given night.
And lest one think that Big Medizen only plays other people’s music, it has a forthcoming vinyl album of 11 tracks called Eleven.
“I’m getting so many calls to book Big Medizen now,” says Leeman. “We’ve done Woodstock anniversary shows, Dylan and the Dead shows, and we have another presentation of ‘The Last Waltz’ coming up.”
For that show on the night before Thanksgiving, Rosario will abandon his jazzy, woven, Jerry Garcia-inspired lines and cut loose while portraying bluesy rocker Eric Clapton, while Hill will channel his inner folkie as Bob Dylan. Leeman will play multiple roles including Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, and Muddy Waters.
“The Pink Floyd material is really fun,” says the seemingly ever-smiling Rosario, “but I’m really looking forward to ‘The Last Waltz.’”
Always in search of an encore, Leeman pulls out an intriguing possibility when asked what comes afterward.
“I’m thinking of doing the ‘White Album,’” he says of the masterful, self-titled 1968 double album by The Beatles. “It’s 30 songs, and I figure that if we can pull all of that off, there isn’t much we couldn’t do.”
See Big Medizen at 6 p.m. on Nov. 11 and Nov. 25 at Fish Depot, 511 N.E. 4th St., Boynton Beach (561-806-5441), at 7 p.m. on Nov. 21 for The Last Waltz at the Funky Biscuit, 303 S.E. Mizner Blvd., No. 59, Boca Raton (561-395-2929), and at noon on Nov. 24 at the Square Grouper, 1111 Love St., Jupiter (561-406-6417).