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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Jeff Moehlis

Jeff Moehlis: Freebo, Jerry Donahue Light Up Song Tree with Friends and Bends

Artists still making music together decades after their college jams

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

In college, I sometimes enjoyed late-night guitar jams with other students. It was great fun for us, but probably not so much for our neighbors.

Of course, many people participated in guitar jams in college, including the musicians Freebo and Jerry Donahue, who did so nearly 50 years ago in Germany, with Freebo using a borrowed guitar from a student down the hall.

But unlike my jam-mates and me, both Freebo and Donahue went on to notable music careers, with Freebo best known for playing bass for a decade with Bonnie Raitt, and Donahue for playing guitar with Fotheringay, Fairport Convention, The Hellecasters and more.

Freebo and Donahue joined forces again, both playing guitar and with Freebo on vocals, at the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Goleta on Feb. 9, as part of the Song Tree Concert Series. The focus was on Freebo’s singer-songwriter material over the last 15 or so years, including a number of songs off his new solo album Something To Believe.

Many of the songs were thoughtful, such as “When There’s No Place Like Home” from the point of view of a homeless person; the paean to love called “That’s What Love Is;” “Standing Ovation,” which was inspired by Freebo imagining what he would want at his funeral for a job well done; and “Something To Believe,” which considers what might have been going on in the head of his friend, Eric Lowen, who was slowly dying of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Others were in the humorous vein, like “She’s My D-O-G,” which Freebo introduced by telling how he was once accused of being a male chauvinist when a reviewer mistakenly thought the song was about a woman and not a, well, D-O-G. The song “My Personal GPS” is both funny and clever, with lyrics like, “So I make a wrong turn / I’m feelin’ lost and afraid / Then I hear my Angel callin’ / Recalculate!”

The most hilarious of the bunch was “She Loves My Dog More Than Me,” a “mostly true story” about his wife and dog. In one verse, Freebo sings about an intimate encounter that was disrupted by a “cold nose a pokin’ somewhere it should not have been,” which took him “out of the zone” and left him “holdin’ the bone.”

This last song was also notable for an incredible guitar solo by Donahue, who has been called the “Bend Master of the Telecaster” for his unique string-bending guitar style. At times, it almost sounded like he was using a slide, but it was all in the bends, executed with great finesse.

Indeed, Donahue wowed the audience with his guitar mastery all night long, including the guitar showcases “First Encounter,” “Around the Bend” and “Rockin’ the Dog.”

Freebo and Donahue welcomed a couple of guests to fill in the sound, namely drummer and The Rhythmic Arts Project founder Eddie Tuduri for “Sometimes It’s For Nothing,” and Song Tree organizer Tom Lee, who played stand-up bass for this one and a few more.

The show ended with the song “I’ll Never Be Ready to Hang Up the Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes,” capping a fine performance by two friends who, during their college jam sessions, probably couldn’t have imagined that they’d be performing onstage together nearly 50 years later.


Before This Feeling Is Gone
My Personal GPS
To The Light
When There’s No Place Like Home
She Loves My Dog More Than Me
That’s What Love Is
If Not Now When
First Encounter
Around the Bend
Standing Ovation
Sometimes It’s For Nothing


Something To Believe
It Goes By Fast
Rockin’ the Dog
She’s My D-O-G
I’ll Never Be Ready to Hang Up the Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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