By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
When Michael Gerry was a toddler, he was transfixed by a phonograph player.
It was a sign of things to come — a lifelong dedication to music.
“There was never any dispute what I was destined to do,” he says. “It’s been throughout my entire life.”
Now, Gerry is the bassist/saxophonist/vocalist at East Mesa’s Silver Star Theater in shows like Solid Gold Rock ‘n’ Roll, Malt Shop Memories and True Country.
“The real thrill of being involved with the Silver Star is all the entertainers and musicians and singers are top rate,” he says.
“This is not a bar band. We’re not weekend warriors. Everybody on the stage has a wealth of experience. The level of the show and the entertainers is far above what any other theater or venue would get, except for a touring show coming into town from out of state somewhere. It’s a special environment.”
Gerry is no different. He was “handpicked” by Andrew Lloyd Webber to perform music for Broadway shows like “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Misérables.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Gerry studied at the American Conservatory of Music and graduated from Indiana University as a woodwind major but was equally involved playing bass guitar and string bass. Gerry has also played on commercials for major airlines, Coors, McDonald’s and Sears.
While most kids were in school, Gerry was taking “serious” music lessons. Gerry’s first instruments were the accordion, which, he says, he “zipped” through at 5 years old, and the saxophone.
“I ended up continuing to play the saxophone all through high school and college,” he says. “I started at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago as a woodwind major and then I transferred to Indiana University, where I graduated and did post-grad master’s degree work. It’s always been music.”
At the “ripe old age of 12 or 13,” Gerry formed a band with friends and played the saxophone. The act needed a bassist, so he swapped instruments.
“We couldn’t find a bass player in our age range,” he says. “I always loved hearing the bass. We went to a pawn shop in Downtown Chicago with a buddy at 13 or 14 and bought a Sears Silvertone bass.
“It was about $30 — it was all the money I could afford back then. It came very easy to me. Within a week or two, I was playing bass in this rock ‘n’ roll band.”
At 17, the band — who went by a variety of names, he says — was signed to the William Morris Agency, a Hollywood-based talent agency. He spent a summer opening for the Beach Boys on tour.
“This started pretty young for me,” Gerry says. “Mercury (Records) was interested in us. All of us were underage. Two of the parents refused to sign the contract. They knew that if we went on the road and continued touring, we could not go to college.
“We would have given up that window of opportunity to go to college and have a ‘normal’ college experience. I went to college and a couple of the guys in the band went into the Army.”
After attending Indiana University, Gerry returned to Chicago.
The doors keep opening
Jingles — and the need for bassists who could read music — were booming. As a result, Gerry spent his days in recording studios working on hundreds of commercials. He mentioned to a contract musician that he was interested in theater work.
The doors kept opening.
“I started working at theaters, backing the shows that came into the Chicago area,” Gerry says. “I was super, super fortunate to play with real stars who did them — Yul Brynner in ‘The King and I,’ Robert Goulet in ‘Camelot’ and Angela Lansbury in ‘Sweeney Todd.’
“I did that for about 10 years in Chicago, doing jingle work during the day and in the theaters backing up the top, top shows at night.”
After frequently saying no, he accepted a position touring with Broadway shows. He received an invitation to audition for Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber was sitting there. He wanted to hear rhythm sections, which is bass, drums, guitar and keyboards,” he says. “That is the nucleus going on all the time. The other instruments are important, but sort of sweeteners.”
His rhythm section was chosen, and he hit the road for about a decade. Not being at home for an extended length of time, he says was “mind changing.”
“It really affects your life,” he says.
His life changed even further when he was in Seoul, Korea, performing with “Les Misérables.” He was lost and met a Korean woman who put him on the right path. Ann is now his wife and the gift shop manager at Silver Star Theater.
“You never know when you’re going to meet someone,” he says. “Everybody loves her. She can’t do enough for everyone. She just goes out of her way. That’s part of her DNA.”
Gerry eventually bought a house in Mesa, where Silver Star Theater is based. He performs in a variety of bands, hitting stages at corporate events, RV parks and retirement centers.
He enjoys the variety at the Silver Star Theater as it keeps his career fresh.
“The songs aren’t the same from show to show,” he says. “We do ’50s music. We do classic rock ‘n’ roll, which is everything from the 1960s on. The shows really encompass everything. We have a variety show that has jazz and Broadway, country, and rock ‘n’ roll. Plus, there’s a buffet. Guests can get a taste of everything.
“We have a country show and we put special shows together for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. It’s a great environment and a great venue to play in.”
Silver Star Theater
5247 E. Brown Road, Mesa