Story by Sue Wasserman. Photo by Hannah Furgiuele.
Barry Stagg can’t stop writing music. His most recent hit, Crazy Love, reached #1 on the Traditional Country Chart at Cashbox Records. “More than 600 radio stations have played it,” Stagg says, “something that’s very validating as a writer.”
Listening to him perform live at the Dispensary & Upper Club—the laid back, membership-based, live music and libations venue he owns with his wife, Barbara, in Spruce Pine—it’s easy to understand his success in the business. His gravelly yet soulful sound pairs perfectly with thought-provoking lyrics that often move the crowd to sing along. “The songs I write are about my journey in life.”
And what a journey it’s been. When he was in his 20s, the Montreal-born poet with a Ph.D. in Philosophy turned to teaching to earn a living. When he recognized his career was standing in the way of his passion, he quit after a year and a half and never looked back.
“I wrote my first song at 11,” he remembers. It was a love song to his first crush. Linda. “My dad booked me guitar lessons at the music store.” After that first lesson, though, he opted to teach himself and ultimately recorded the song in 1969.
As a young man, Stagg realized he wanted to know more. “I could see A and I could see Z, but didn’t know how to get from one to the other,” he says. His solution? “I took the year off and learned to read and write music. I studied theory and the manuscripts of Mozart and Beethoven and bought season tickets to the symphony.”
Not long after that he signed a contract with London Records and released Green and Stagg, his first album, in 1969. “My first hit song, To Love Means to Be Free, went to number two in Canada, right behind Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Nine years later, he signed with RCA Records, where he had his first number one hit: Blue. “It was recorded by several Canadian musicians.” He believes his best performance of it was on a show hosted by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.
Eclectic is how Stagg describes his music. “I listen to classical music every morning and jazz every night. I’ve been inspired by the chord structures of early Beatles music.” He’s also a huge fan of musical theater, happily citing the influence of George and Ira Gershwin, Steven Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and the team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
In 1989, his passion for writing led him to establish the Nosco Academy of Theatre Arts in Nova Scotia. The unique summer theatre camp was designed to help youth find the actor within and let it out. “I wrote more than 60 musicals for Nosco,” he says. It was here Stagg met his physician wife who, for several summers, sent her children to the popular Canadian camp from her home in Spruce Pine. The pair now resides in Spruce Pine, where he continues writing and recording.
The Dispensary’s membership annual fees are $15 for individuals, $25 for couples. “Tuesdays are singer songwriter night,” Stagg says. “We have an amazing group of artists who join us regularly.” The club offers a piano bar on Friday evenings and a dance band on Saturday. “Fans tell me my music helps them better understand their own lives,” says Stagg. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Visit the Dispensary & Upper Club at 271 Oak Ave, Spruce Pine, or call 828.765.0050 to learn more.