Thomas Spearance: Featured Musician

Thomas Spearance

Thomas Spearance

If you’ve spent much time on the Pacific Garden Mall, you’ve probably run across a derby-clad street performer who plays the musical saw under the statue of Tom Scribner, often while balancing objects on his nose and/or feet. That would be Thomas Spearance, better known to many locals as Mr. Hedge. Under that name, Spearance became the top-rated radio personality in the Monterey Bay area while working as a disc jockey in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Thomas, who is currently a member of Two Bar Three (also featuring guitarist Bluzar Blue and ukulele player Cathy Simmons), recently sat on a park bench with Local Santa Cruz to share a few pieces of his quirky mind.

Local Santa Cruz: One of the things that immediately struck me about your saw playing was your ability to harmonize with yourself on a single instrument.

Thomas Spearance: Yeah, it’s a trick. I discovered by accident that it was happening. It’s a very subtle twisting of the saw—very, very minute. It’s a matter of technique, and it’s a matter of practice. I’ve heard other saw players work with that technique, but I’ve not heard anybody who really grinds it out like I do sometimes. I’m lucky that I’ve got a knack for the saw. It’s my last marketable skill [laughs], so I’m glad that I’m pretty good at it.

Isn’t it hazardous?

Sure, it’s hazardous! Are you kidding? It’s hazardous to do anything. I still cut myself occasionally. The teeth on the saw are ornamental. They’re sharp, but they’re not offset, so a musical saw is useless for cutting wood; it’s only useful for cutting yourself by accident. You also have to be wary of where the bow is in relation to the back of the saw, because if you hit the teeth with the bow, then you’ll damage the bow, and the bows are expensive. Also, the big saw has a sharp metal edge right where you put it here [points to his inner thigh]. So you learn respect for the instrument quickly! [Laughs]

Since you play under the Tom Scribner statue, I was wondering if you feel any affinity with him.

I don’t feel any real kinship towards Mr. Scribner, except that the statue is there. It’s the only logical place for me to do what I do. It’s the best place in the world. I’m certainly being looked after by some strange force with a really twisted sense of humor… and a malevolent streak.

Mr. Scribner was singular. I’m a lot of things, but singular is one of ’em; there’s nobody else like me at all, good or bad. I’m not trying to be like him in any way. I happen to have a derby; I had the derby long before I was a saw player.

I’m grateful for the chance [to play under the statue]. It’s a marvelous work of art. I feel like I’m the luckiest saw player in the world. It’s like being the luckiest milkman in the world, or the luckiest pinsetter. [Laughs] Lucky me!

How did you first learn to balance things on your nose?

In the summer of 1972, an excuse to not have to go back home immediately after Sunday school was to visit my friend Kenny Loffer. It was in between the time when you’re a little boy and you’re not a little boy anymore. He’s got this set of plastic bowling pins and a bowling ball in the corner of his basement. That’s cool when you’re 8; not so much when you’re 10, right? I see a plastic bowling pin, and I knew what I could do. I had never done it, but I knew I could do it. Why are there certain people who just know? I took a bowling pin, and I [balanced it on my nose]. By golly—I could do that!

Can you give me some examples of things you might stack on your nose?

Well, these days I keep it light: bowling pins, bottles on top of bottles, balls on top of sticks, chairs… lawn furniture is spectacular! An aluminum reclining lounge weighs… what, a pound? But it really looks spectacular when it’s up on the nose.

I’ve performed at Grateful Dead concerts, and I’ve performed in stage plays and one-man acts with balancing as a feature. That was a long time ago. My neck is not what it used to be. I used to do foolish, physically challenging things. I balanced a door on my forehead one time! I have photographs tucked away of a bottle, a phone book, a phone, I think a can of oatmeal… five or six things on top of the other, 30 years ago, when I was foolish.

When I’m downtown, I’ll balance something on my foot, and I’ll balance my hat, but I also have a Magic Marker and a softball. I put the softball on top of the Magic Marker, I stand up, I put the thing on my nose and then I turn around and tell them, “Alright, kids, now I’m going to give you the full 360!” And I go around in a circle with that thing. It’s not an easy trick! [Laughs]

This is my catch line for the parents: I’ve got the derby on my nose, and I’ve just astonished them with “When You Wish upon a Star” or “Over the Rainbow” or whatever song on the saw, and I tell them, “Now, folks, you’re probably wondering which of these unique and singular talents of mine is more marketable down here on the Avenue. I can tell you from years of experience: they’re both about the same.” And I look at them like [tilts his forehead forward and raises his brows]. I give ‘em the brow. This is old-growth brow! [Laughs]

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