Songwriter Allen Crutcher brings a level of humility and honest charm to his stage performances — a quality that perfectly reflects the tone and feel of his songwriting.
Playing a small-bodied Yamaha guitar that he bought new in 1965, Crutcher is at once workmanly and dynamic as he fills out the texture of each song in a flat-picking style that weaves complex patterns of notes through chords without trying to show off or sound flashy.
Crutcher moved to Southern Oregon from San Diego 13 years ago. Fans of live music in the Rogue Valley first got to know him as a piano player with Annie Mac, the Karen Lovely Band and Duke Street.
A few years ago, however, Crutcher decided to pull back from the commitments of rehearsal and touring schedules in order to concentrate on his songwriting and solo performances. Crutcher spent the past year honing his set with a regular gig at 10 a.m. the third Saturday of every month at Downtowne Coffee House, 200 Talent Ave., Talent.
Of late, Crutcher has been joined onstage by guitarist and singer Robin Mink, who accompanies him with spare but deftly executed electric-guitar lines and light vocal harmonies that cause the duo to sound like more than the sum of their parts. The duo will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at Edenvale Enoteca, 17 N. Main St., Ashland.
Crutcher's songwriting draws from his half-century in music, a career that began when he was in junior high school in the early '60s in his hometown of Fullerton, Calif. He played piano in a mostly instrumental rock and surf-guitar band called The Continentals.
"Our parents had to drive us to a regular surf-dance gig in Huntington Beach," he recalls.
Just down the coast, Dick Dale was playing his role as king of the surf guitar to huge crowds at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach. The Continentals were a part of the same burgeoning music scene. They played songs by The Ventures and Duane Eddy and were successful enough to get a shot at recording a 45-rpm single at ABC-Paramount Records in Hollywood.
"Bobby 'Blue' Bland walked out of the studio as we were waiting to go in," Crutcher says.
Southern California's economy was booming and so was commercial youth culture built around the glamorous twin activities of surfing and playing rock 'n' roll music. Crutcher and The Continentals were right in the middle of it and, as teenagers, weren't the least bit surprised by their success.
Of course, the band eventually broke up, and Crutcher went off to college, where he studied architecture and took up folk-style guitar. Musically, he began moving toward Crosby, Stills & Nash-influenced, acoustic guitar-flavored, pop music. The Byrds' seminal 1968 country-rock album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" remains Crutcher's favorite record of all time.
Crutcher finally settled into family life and a successful career as an architect, continuing to play music but no longer as a committed member of a band trying to make it big. By taking a step back and embracing himself as a talented amateur playing for the pure joy of it rather than a professional musician, Crutcher discovered a refreshing new depth of musical experience. He still counts among the favorite chapters of his long story in music a weekly jam session in the living room of a pedal steel guitar-playing neighbor in San Diego.
"There were no expectations and no attachments," Crutcher says. "Just four or five guys every week for over a year. We'd just go around the horn with each guy picking the next song. No matter how bad the week was, it was a safe haven."
Today, Crutcher brings that sensibility to his solo career. Semiretired from architecture, he plays music simply because he loves it. He also believes in local, live music and makes an effort to be a prolific audience member as well as performer. His self-produced CD featuring 22 originals songs is available at his live shows.