Johnny Bauer has performed music for 39 of his 42 years on earth. It started in the crib — if not the womb — and quickly moved to the stage with his family's band, Bauer Power.
"It consisted of my mom, my dad playing guitar," Bauer says. "My oldest brother playing keyboards and bass, my brother Danny played drums, and my sister and I sang duets together."
The band entertained at American Legion Halls and Moose Lodges in and around the region, playing a mix of country, pop, and standards. But, according to Bauer, the country didn't run too deep.
"We were more on the Engelbert Humperdinck side of things than Johnny Cash," he says.
Then the wee Bauer got all shook up.
"At age five, I started impersonating Elvis Presley," he says. "My parents brought me to a seamstress who made me the jumpsuit with the flared-out pants and a beautiful cape with the satin inlays." But by age seven, Bauer had graduated to impersonating KISS.
"'Dr. Love' was my hit back then," he says with a laugh.
The family band rolled with the changes through the 1980's, but by the 1990's Bauer was getting disillusioned. Contemporary rock left him cold.
"Rock 'n' roll in the 90's took a turn for the worse," Bauer says. "So I kinda got back into the country scene which kinda vibed the 80's. I got into the singer-songwriter thing, the acoustic..."
Bauer started sharpening his songwriting skills; he had been writing songs since age 11 and to date has amassed a catalogue of over 250 tunes — showcasing his talent as a musician as well as a composer.
"I said 'It's hard to find good musicians,'" he says. '"So I've got to be the best at what I do. I started honing in on the guitar." But over time, he started coming back to the lyrics.
"In the 80's I didn't care what the words were," he says. "I cared more about the guitar parts. In the 90's I started realizing a song should take you somewhere lyrically. And now I love it all."
Bauer says most of his songs are about love and relationships. They are gentle vignettes, glimpses of life and light with an intuitive, singer/songwriter view. When played with his band, Johnny Bauer and Great Escape, the fleshed-out sound, including some slick vocal harmonies, is more of a nascent country strain. When Bauer flies solo, there's a definite and palpable rawness and urgency. But the man doesn't rely on drama or stunts. It's just his plaintive voice amidst the rhythm and color and tone of his looped guitar. This is what Bauer loves.
"There's nothing like stripping down a song and just playing it with acoustic guitar and a voice," he says. "I mean, I like big production too."
His fourth and latest CD with the band, "Roads That Lie Ahead"— due to drop in early May — was recorded at both Red Booth and Holt studios. It's a sweet, swinging pop/county affair. The reigns get pulled before it gets too twangy and the parts that skirt rock 'n' roll do so appropriately and effectively without going overboard. "Roads That Lie Ahead" is the perfect blend of just enough. Bauer prides himself in its originality, something he's passionate about.
"I do covers," Bauer says of his three to four weekly gigs. "But I've always stuck to my guns and done at least a third originals wherever I play ... even some weddings."