By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
When singer-songwriter Tim Tegge first played the Black Swamp Arts Festival 10 years ago, he was so nervous that the day before he went to check out the stage.
He looked at the atrium at the former Huntington Bank (now the Four Corners Center) and noticed how the pillars went up and formed two Ts, as in his initials. That was a good omen.
That show, he said recently, was the first time he’d played an hour-long set. Before then he’d just played a few songs at a time at open mic sessions.
He’s been back to perform at the festival since then. This year will mark another first.
Tim Tegge and the Black Swamp Boys will perform on the Main Stage Sunday at 11 a.m. “I still can’t believe I’m on the Main Stage.”
Tegge’s been writing songs in earnest for 15 years now, though his first one, “Fishing Hole,” was written 25 years ago.
After that initial effort, marriage to his wife, Jayne, and parenthood, and the usual ebb and flow of life intervened.
It was the death his friend Lloyd Shelton that helped steer him back to songwriting. In preparing Shelton’s eulogy, he realized it’d been a long time since he’d played his guitar.
There was a song he was meaning to write, so he picked up the instrument again.
“It’s just like the dam broke open,” he said. He now felt like he wasn’t imitating his heroes such as John Denver and James Taylor. “Something came alive.”
For the last 15 years he’s been dedicated to writing songs.
Now playing a three-hour gig at a winery doesn’t faze him, not with 130 songs in his book.
Those songs touch on familiar, every day concerns, of a 50-something guy. “Why Can’t We Go Back?” is a comic lament about the gentrification of the simple cup of coffee. The song has been turned into a video produced by Jack O’Hare featuring a cast of characters as former tough guys who now drink sugary lattes.
He’s also penned a tribute to the mothers and other women who end up spending “Christmas in the Kitchen.”
He also penned “Showdown in Pull Town” for the Natoal Tractor Pulling Championships.
He draws from life, jotting down phrases he hears, remembering stories he’s been told. When he started writing, his music was drawn from his own life. Now he draws on other people’s experiences.
“It’s interesting how many people say: ‘Here’s a good song idea.’ And sometimes it is.”
He often writes for other people. He’ll sometimes offer to write a song for someone as a charity auction item.
“What I really like are the parameters of the three-and-half-minute song. How do you tell that story in three and a half minutes and make every word count?”
Some songs come together quickly, others linger, 90 percent done, until he finds just the right phrase, “like a puzzle piece,” that rounds it out. That may take a couple years.
Tegge shares those stories and tunes as a regular on the area music scene. Tegge, 54, first came to Bowling Green from Fairfield just north of Cincinnati to attend Bowling Green State University in 1982. After graduating having studied biological sciences, he went back to Fairfield. But he wanted to return to Bowling Green.
Since he was a child Tegge’s eyesight has been failing. He has Stargardt macular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that afflicts young people. His brother also has the condition.
That means he can’t drive. When he came to BGSU, he said, “it was the first time in my life I felt independent. … I could get everything I needed because I was able to ride a bike or walk.”
A year after graduating, he got a job at Tosh Electronics in Bowling Green, and he’s never left.
He’s worked for United Way and now the Sight Center in Toledo.
Having to rely on others to get him to more distant locations has helped him as a songwriter. He even questions whether he’d be a songwriter if he wasn’t visually impaired.
Waiting for a train or a ride engenders, he said, a certain patience, and he’s not had certain distractions that being able to drive would bring on.
And then there are those stories he hears from riding in cars with others.
On stage, Tegge enjoys the company of his band the Black Swamp Boys. The group came together over a few years. It started with Dick Hermes playing percussion with Tegge at local open mics. Then he talked with guitarist Matt Webb at their daughters’ softball games about getting together to play music. For a year, Tom Gorman, a fellow songwriter, whom Tegge considers a local music icon, played bass. Now Dean “Dean-O” Rochester plays bass.
The name of the group, Tegge said, has its roots at the Black Swamp Arts Festival.
Tegge remembers after the band played a set on the community stage, Cole Christensen, who ran the stage, came out and said: “Let’s hear it for Tim Tegge and the boys.”
Tegge said he liked the sound of that, so the Black Swamp Boys were christened.
The band helps in a couple ways, Tegge said.
“It hides what I feel is very mediocre guitar playing,” he said. His forte, he said, is writing songs not being an accomplished instrumentalist.
More importantly the other performers add to his songs. They contribute riffs and vocal harmonies. “That’s really fun.”
His tunes, based on three or four chords, are simple and allow the others “a lot of room to jump in” and explore.
He’s sometimes concerned his muse will abandon him. “I worry that is it all just going to? Is it phase? Is it all going to dry up?”
Then, he added, “I get down about something. I find writing a song about it pulls me out of it. I was in a funk a while ago, and I wrote a song for friend who jus became a grandpa. I got my mojo back.”