It's hard not to think of Guy Forsyth every time the FreeCreditReport.com commercial set at the Renaissance fair flickers across the television.
The Austin, Texas, roots rocker began an entertainment career wearing green wool tights after he ran away and joined the fair instead of the circus. An actor in high school, it was a formative experience for Forsyth, who learned the subtle art of clowning in a manner more Curly than "Pagliacci."
"That was great performer training, because it's fully theater-in-the-round, with no microphone. You've got nothing to help you and if you can get a crowd that way, you've cracked the code," he said, but noted that in the end, it was not his calling. "What I discovered later on was if I was writing music, playing it and singing it, I didn't have to find someone else's project. I could write, direct and star in my own songs."
EARLY CAREER LESSONS
But the early career lessons stuck with him. While not a blues slinger on par with Stevie Ray Vaughn or Denny Freeman, what Forsyth lacks in fret board and technical proficiency, he makes up for with charismatic presence and colorful songs. Whether relating the ragtime blues tale of a fellow broken by a lady built for speed in "Adam's Rib," skatting away while suggesting one needs to "Shake It in a Circular Motion," or diagnosing America's lost and selfish ways in the catchy sing-along "Long Long Time," he demonstrates admirable panache and charm that escapes even his musical talents.
"I'm probably a better performer than I am a musician," Forsyth said. "I've gotten to be a pretty good musician, because I've been doing this for almost 20 years, and you can't help but have some of it brush off on you. I'd much rather have something to say and be struggling to say it than have all sorts of technique and nothing really to say."
As a youth, Forsyth listened to the "Dr. Demento" radio show, trying to stay awake until midnight to hear the DJ's "Funny Five" request countdown, which planted the seed for the performer's wry sense of humor. As a teen, Forsyth got into punk, but was shaken to his rebellious core by the folk-blues music of John Hammond Jr. At that moment, Forsyth said he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
"Being a white kid from the Kansas City suburbs, I had just never heard anything that was that emotional and that had as much to say," he said.
BUSKING ON THE STREETS
By the time Forsyth was 21, he had moved to Austin and began busking on the streets to earn enough money for guitar strings. Eventually, the young musician hooked up with legendary nightclub Antone's and the associated record label of the same name. There, he released three albums, but the imprint was cash-strapped, so any distribution he received was purely incidental. Forsyth is currently involved in a lawsuit to reclaim the rights to the long out-of-print discs.
"All I can say is ... it's hard to look at the history of popular music in America and not see the trail of broken bodies behind it," he said.
In 1994, he and two other musicians started the Asylum Street Spankers, a high-spirited group that assayed old Tin Pan Alley, jazz, swing and country-blues standards, bringing an irreverence and interactive theatricality to the proceedings.
Spankers shows were performed acoustic and without amplification, relying instead on the power of the member's pipes and the energy of its presentation. The band is still going strong today " a testament to its crowd-pleasing aesthetic " but Forsyth cut his ties in 1997 to concentrate on a solo career.
It wasn't until 2005's "Love Songs: For and Against" that he recommenced his recording career on his own after the Antone's label debacle. Assuming a DIY ethos, Forsyth has since done everything himself, and last year, he self-released "Calico Girl," featuring re-recordings of all the songs from 1997's breakout second studio album, "Can You Live Without."
The album was something he felt was necessary, given the troubles with his old label, but Forsyth is anxious to release new material soon and said he's already amassed a backlog of 30 to 40 songs.
"The formula isn't figured out yet," he said. "But I have a lot of songs I'm really looking forward to recording."
Guy Forsyth Trio performs at 8 p.m. Monday at The Blue Door, 2805 N. McKinley. "Chris Parker