Kerry Gremp loves seeing people have a good time
by Jamilyn Hiskes
LANSING, Ill. (May 9, 2019) – Musician Kerry Gremp greets each of his fans the same way: a wave, a handshake and an enthusiastic, “Hey! Great to see you! Thanks for coming out.” He calls them by name, listens to their song requests for the evening with a bright smile, cracks a few jokes, and then moves on to the next beaming patron who approaches him.
“I have to put my mind in a positive attitude,” Gremp, 72, said of his pre-show process. “It’s important for a musician to get in the right frame of mind, because what they do extends to the audience. If you’re in a bad frame of mind, the audience will know.”
A resident of St. John, Ind., Gremp has been playing music professionally since the 1960s. Now in his “retirement,” he plays one Friday a month at Lynnie Ques Airport Bar and Grill (3429 Glenwood-Lansing Rd.) to a lounge full of people who sing along to almost every song. During his two years playing at Lynnie Ques, he said he’s grown to love it.
“It doesn’t feel like a lounge when you’re playing here,” Gremp said. “It feels like you’re in someone’s living room, or at a friend’s house.”
Gremp’s setlists for his three-hour performances—which are prepared in advance but almost always change according to audience requests—include songs from the ‘50s to the ‘80s. The most popular tunes are classic sing-alongs such as “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens, and “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett.
“When I’m playing these songs, I’m thinking back, too,” Gremp said. “These songs take me back to good memories. It’s kind of like a time machine.”
An early start
A deep love of music was instilled in Gremp from an early age. His father was a playing musician until age 99, and Gremp himself began playing drums when he was 13. He later moved on to guitar, which he plays to this day.
“I probably inherited [my musical skills] from my father,” Gremp said. “He plays bass. My mom said she plays the radio, so that was her musical talent.”
During the ‘60s, he was in a few bands—perhaps the most popular being The Avantes. Gremp said that band played at bars and small venues around Chicago, but the biggest gig they got was playing the Arie Crown Theater with English rock band Herman’s Hermits in the mid-‘60s.
Sharing the love
In 1969, Gremp started the special education program at Lansing’s Memorial Junior High School (2721 Ridge Rd.)—but he also cultivated student bands. However, after teaching for six years, Gremp resigned in 1976 to pursue music full-time. He said he played for 25 years at bars around Chicago until settling down to start a family.
“I used to get a kick out of people coming up to me and saying, ‘What do you really do for a living? Because you have so much fun, this can’t be your real job,’” Gremp said.
On May 3, Gremp played his monthly set at Lynnie Ques, and his decades of musical expertise shone through. The setlist included all the sing-along songs, as well as other classics such as The Temptations’ “My Girl” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” Gremp began his set that night with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” utilizing a series of machines to simulate a drum line and duplicate his vocals. He was onstage alone for the first few songs, until some regular “guest musicians” joined in with a cowbell, maracas, a tambourine and even spoons. Gremp even had a former Avantes bandmate join him onstage to play bass for the last half of his set.
“The rush I get is when I see people have a good time,” Gremp said. “I don’t play for the money. Music’s very powerful, and what makes me feel good is when I see people leave happy. That’s when I know I’ve done my job.”
Judging from the cheers, applause and smiles, the crowd at Lynnie Ques loved Gremp’s music. He took requests from the audience for songs by James Taylor, The Monkees, Johnny Rivers and others, all the while paging through his three-inch-thick binder full of organized, handwritten music sheets. Elvis Presley’s 1969 ballad “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was the last full song of the night, and it inspired a few couples to get up and dance together in front of the small stage.
“The gift that I’ve been given is to be a good force and have a good effect on people,” Gremp said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be playing…. If I can be like my dad and play until I’m 99, I’ll be a happy camper.”