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Bruce Zimmerman: A Man of Music

 

Bruce Zimmerman man not be a household name around the country but he is in Southeast Missouri.  I have personally had the good fortune to know Bruce since the early 90’s when we would bump into each other frequenting Key’s Music or Shivelbine’s Music Store, both hunting for vintage music gear.  Recently we caught up again as I interviewed him for this article.  Zimmerman currently splits his time between singer/songwriter nights and playing with his band*.

As is the case with many lifetime musicians, Bruce was raised in a musical family in Bernie, Missouri.  His father was a bass player in the “Bootheel Jamboree” and was gigging every weekend, while young Bruce started learning music at the age of five and has been in bands since he was nine years old!  His earliest influences included the Everly Brothers, the Ventures, and Ricky Nelson not to forget the Beatles influence as well.  Bruce told me how when he was young he would go to the drug store in Bernie to buy “flat wound” strings for this guitar – usually Black Diamond Brand.  Unfortunately these were very heavy gauge strings and you couldn’t bend them for solos and chord voicing, then a friend us his brought a set of “Cheaters” back from California and this changed everything.  Zimmerman explained to me that “cheaters” were essentially banjo strings that could be changed out for some of the lower strings on a guitar so you could play more like your heroes.  Today, thanks to Ernie Ball and other guitar string makers you can find any gauge string you want, but that wasn’t the case back at the start of Bruce’s musical career. 

What brought Zimmerman to Cape Girardeau in the 1980’s was “The Fad,” for all of us old enough to remember they were an immensely popular party and dance band that played throughout the three state area.  Besides playing in a number of bands through the years Bruce also worked at Rapco Horizon cable manufacturers in Jackson and still has a number of friends there.  His last album “Guitar on the Brain” was very well received and is still available at Hastings and on his website.  The song that really caught my attention was the one written by a mutual friend, the late Randy Leiner, “Where the Good Ones Go.”  Zimmerman feels that Leiner never got the credit he deserved for his songwriting and he wanted to pay tribute to him through his own take on this song.  Before recording the tune for the album he sought the blessing of Randy’s widow (Sally Leiner) and son (Jordan Leiner) both of which gave their approval.   Bruce is currently working on two new albums that should release in 2015 one will be more acoustic guitar focused while the other will feature his full band.  Both albums promise to be a mix of genres including folk, cajun, country and ballads. 

Zimmerman has opened up for a performed with a number of big name artists and acts over the years such as Asleep at the Wheel, Narvel Felts, Snooky Pryor, Lee Oscar, Sawyer Brown and even Buddy Guy. He has the fondest memories and stories of backing Rufus Thomas though as he recounts his long history.  Bruce felt Thomas never got the credit he deserved even though he had two very popular singles.  Thomas asked Zimmerman when they first met, “Can you get funky?  I’m talkin’ funky with an O!”  One of Bruce’s favorite guitarists is Tommy Emmanuel, the popular Australian born guitarist.  Having seen him in concert several times Zimmerman was amazed out how kind hearted Emmanuel was to actually work on a fans guitar at a live show!  Bruce also toured Australia and five other countries while playing for the soldiers during “Desert Storm.”  When asked what was the biggest tip he ever made at a gig and for what song Bruce proudly said “It was $500 for playing “Summertime” for a very intoxicated and very rich man!” 

As Zimmerman has become a legend of his own in Cape Girardeau and has been called “a guitar players’ guitar player” by the Southeast Missourian newspaper I asked him, “What advice would you give to up and coming musicians?” 

Bruce said, “A couple of things I always tell young guys.  First rule of bands is all bands break up and when it happens don’t let it destroy you keep playing.   Second, no matter how big and good you get there will be people that don’t like you.  You won’t please everyone, so get it in your head and get a thick skin.” 

This is definitely wise advice from a talented singer, songwriter and musician who has lived it.  To find out when Zimmerman’s new albums will release or just to find out where he is playing next go to www.brucezimmerman.net .  Even after all these years of touring and gigs Bruce still has the passion to play and entertain and it really comes through in his live performs so if you haven’t seen him play in person I would suggest that you do at one of his Port Cape gigs!

*The singer/songwriter night is each Tuesday from 8-11pm at Port Cape in Downtown Cape Girardeau.  The only rules are that each performing artist can perform three songs, any genre and the songs must be originals.  On average Bruce says he has ten singers per night but it has gotten up to seventeen on some popular evenings. On the first and third Sunday of each month he can be found playing with his six piece band at Port Cape Girardeau also, as well as various other shows at wineries and venues throughout the region.

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