He’s an English teacher by trade but folk-rock star at heart

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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“During freshman year at NKU, my teacher said we’re going to go around the room and say a fun fact about ourselves. This kid said, ‘I have a band, and we’re looking for a lead singer.’ I chased him down the hall after class and asked him if I could audition. That was the early 90s, and I have never stopped, and I never plan on stopping.”

Gary Bertsch didn’t always know he was musically inclined. He grew up in a sports-oriented family and didn’t realize he could sing until he was cast as the lead in his senior class play at Bishop Brossart High School.

Fast forward to chasing his classmate down the hall at NKU, and Bertsch got the gig and became the lead singer in the band.

Bertsch continued to pursue a teaching career during college, and while he wanted to pursue music full-time, he knew he also wanted a family. So Bertsch became a high school teacher and continued singing in cover bands.

He broke into creating original music about 12 years ago and found it far more rewarding than singing covers. That morphed him into who he is today: “Gary Bertsch and The Blamers,” a sometimes one-person band, singing and playing his Cajon (percussion instrument) and hi-hat stand (part of a drum kit with a tambourine.)

You can catch Bertsch playing local private shows, bars, and festivals with his “Blamers,” which are reoccurring musical guests like his son Garren Bertsch, who plays saxophone and does backup vocals, and Dan Walsh on guitar and backup vocals.

Gary Bertsch singing and playing the Cajon with his left foot and the hi-hat stand with his right foot. “The Blamers” Dan Walsh on guitar and Garren Bertsch on Saxophone.

“Blamers” can also be guest performers that play shows and make it on a list of “Past Blamers” on Bertsch’s website.  

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Bertsch describes his style of music as folk-rock.

When he first considered starting to play his original songs, Bertsch said someone told him, “No one wants to hear original music in Northern Kentucky.”

“That lit a fire under me,” Bertsch said.

He said he had been turned down by local bars that only want cover singers but has found success at other local places like Sis’s on Monmouth and Alexandria Brewing Company.

“It’s so rewarding playing gigs and playing songs that I wrote,” Bertsch said. “And I still play some cover songs, but the bulk of what I do is my own material.”

Gary Bertsch and The Blamers’ most recent performance was at Alexandria Brewing Company’s “Brettaroo” festival in front of about 400 people. He said his family jokes that he goes into “band mode” before performances, whether in front of 12 people or 400 because he still gets butterflies.

“As soon as I start singing, then it’s like, ‘boom’ here we go, let’s rock, let’s do it,” Bertsch said.

Bertsch also records albums with his Blamers in a recording studio in Alexandria and has music on all streaming services and hard copy CDs. He released his first album, “Blame Bertsch,” in 2012, about two years after he started writing his music. He released his second album, “The Bear,” in 2019.

Bertsch draws inspiration from his life to create his music. About a month ago, he released his third album, “Hot Dern Vol. 1.” The album features one particularly special song for Bertsch, “Hot Dern.” It was the first song he wrote to be released as a single.

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“Hot Dern” was inspired by Bertsch’s uncle Al who had Down syndrome and was someone that Bertsch deeply admired. The song, named after a common Al phrase, tells the tales of Al’s adventures hitchhiking to and from the Cold Spring Ameristop and the Martha Layne Collins Kroger to set up his table to sell raffle chances.

“Down 27 a thumb in the air, someone will stop, someone who cares. Hitching a ride to the Ameristop store, ole Al will set up right next to the door,” Bertsch sings in Hot Dern.

His uncle, who started smoking cigarettes in his teenage years, decided to quit cold turkey after “politicians” raised the price, and he never picked them up again.

“Hot dern politicians raised prices today. Uncle Al was throwing his cigarettes away,” Bertsch sings at the song’s start.  

“I intentionally tried to write more lighthearted, whimsical songs, like about Uncle Al, and most of the songs on here I’m working on have that kind of feel, make people laugh, I laugh telling the stories,” Bertsch said.

He always prefaces a “Hot Dern” performance with anecdotes about his uncle to keep the audience engaged.

He said “Hot Dern” took him months to perfect, whereas the song “Left Foot Brake” he was able to write in 30 minutes. “Left Foot Brake” is another song on his third album inspired by a real-life situation with symbolism entwined.

“Sometimes I actually break with my left foot,” Bertsch said. “I tell my students, ‘Don’t actually do this,’ but ‘Left Foot brake’ is about getting out of your comfort zone symbolically or metaphorically.”  

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Bertsch is currently in the studio working on his fourth album, “Hot Dern Vol. 2.”

“In the back of any musician’s head, you’re thinking, ‘could a song blow up?’ I’m perfectly content continuing doing what I’m doing,” Bertsch said. “It’s a labor of love. That’s what it comes down to. Little victories for me, like getting in and playing Brettaroo music festival, I love that stuff. Merchants and Music (a festival in Fort Thomas), those things make it all worth it.”

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