Foehner's Keepers

Gale Foehner kicks it old-school at Frederick's Music Lounge

There is old school and then there is seriously old school.

Gale Foehner is seriously old school: a former jazz-rag vagabond, music fomenter, piano technician, affable anachronism and cultural treasure. Simply put, people will think you are cool if you take them to see this guy.

Akin to the jongleurs of medieval Europe or the griots of west Africa, Foehner is among the last of that near-extinct species of American musician: the itinerant piano player, a sort of jazz-ragtime equivalent of Woody Guthrie, whose job it was to play for food and tips wherever he could find them, e.g., at weddings, saloons, small-town fairs, restaurants and dances.

Such was the life that Foehner, born in 1928, lived for decades. With a piano and a pickup, he would wander from his native Rochester, N.Y., all the way to the Mexican border and back again, picking up a tune here and reworking it there until he'd fermented a unique brew of what music historians might call "folk jazz."

In the '80s he finally settled in St. Louis, and you can find him now at Frederick's Music Lounge (4454 Chippewa Street, free admission, 314-351-5711, from 5-7 p.m. on Wednesdays, hunched over the upright, plunking and jabbing out melodies with his right hand while striding root-CHORD-root-CHORD with his left, swinging and singing through a vast catalogue of songs. As of late, he's been accompanied on lap steel and acoustic guitar by his son Doug, to whom he occasionally hollers back the changes.

For the attentive regulars, Foehner will pepper his set with choice bits of history and autobiography, but if you've had a long day, you can also just sit back, gaze up at the Chaplin or Marx Brothers films flickering overhead, and absorb the milieu.

Oh, and this is all during happy hour, which involves cheap booze.

So report to Frederick's, behold a representative of a bygone era, dig his old-school grooves, watch old-timey films and drink $1 Old Style draughts. You can then imagine that you're pissing off MTV's youthfully exuberant marketing department.

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