by Len Lear
Simon & Garfunkel, one of the most successful duos in pop music history, sold over 100 million records, and their biggest single, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” reached number one in at least five countries. They also won 10 Grammy awards.
Since the duo broke up 49 years ago over those dreaded “artistic differences,” however, there is no chance that fans of their music will see them in performance again, although each one went on to a successful career as a solo artist.
On the other hand, a local duo who have played almost every musical venue in the Philly area over the past two decades will be giving S&G fans their “fix” of the duo’s hits at Paris Bistro, 8235 Germantown Ave. this Sunday, Sept. 15, during two jazz brunches starting at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
“We've learned many of their classic songs and deep cuts over the years,” said Bernie Gillespie, 45, who grew up in nearby Oreland and graduated from Springfield Township High School in 1993. “Needless to say, Simon & Garfunkel are a huge influence for not only our acoustic duo style, but also with the emphasis on singing all of those amazing harmonies.”
Gillespie and Matt Kresge, 44, a New Jersey native, who met while they were students at West Chester University, make up the duo, Shady Groove. They have played their repertoire of 400 songs, including original material, locally at Trocadero, the Fire, North Star Bar, Grape Street Pub, The Wissahickon Ski Hill, KC's Alley, Campbell's Place, The V in Glenside, the old General Lafayette Inn, Solaris Grill and countless others.
According to Ryan Coll, owner of the Glenside Pub, “Shady Groove is our go-to band. Bernie and Matt are great singers and players who have a vast repertoire of songs in their catalogue. The Beatles, Stones, Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty; they can do it all. I highly recommend them for parties, bars, festivals or weddings. They really know how to work the audience and ensure a fun night!"
Gillespie has also worked as a graphic artist for an apparel company for 20 years and coached youth hockey. Kresge has been working full-time playing music, teaching lessons and writing music for TV programs with his own company, Sounds Abound Music.
“My older brother and family were very into music,” said Gillespie, “so I grew up listening to tons of classic rock, country and ‘80s music. I remember my older brother putting on Zeppelin’s 'Black Dog' when the Sony Walkman first came out. It blew my mind, and a few years later I took an interest in drums.
How on earth did they come up with the name Shady Groove?
“A friend of ours re-shuffled the words of an old standard bluegrass song, ‘Shady Grove.’ He said we mixed in funk with our acoustic style of play.
“We also refer to ourselves as the Shady Groove Duo. Our name is often a topic of confusion and predictable misspellings, but it's too late now (to change it). ‘Kresge-Gillespie’ just didn't have a ring to it, so we thought it better to have another name.”
Shady Groove has also played numerous street festivals as well as wedding ceremonies, cocktail hours and full receptions. For events requiring more than acoustic music, the duo trades their acoustics for electrics and adds keyboardist Jim Gannon, drummer Mark Swartley and bassist David Palan to the mix, becoming the Shady Groove band.
How hard is it to make a decent living as a full-time musician?
According to Gillespie, “Full-time is pretty hard. You get the sense sometimes that people assume you are just doing this for fun or exposure, but there are a lot of expenses, time, travel and maintenance put into it.”
Did the duo ever have any gigs they would just as soon forget?
“Of course we've had some rough ones, but we try to stay focused when challenged with rude people or un-accommodating venues.”
What was the hardest thing Gillespie ever had to do? “Playing slide guitar or memorizing all of the lyrics for some of those long Bob Dylan songs.”
The Hill area native, who has a communications degree from West Chester (1998), said the best advice he ever received was “to force yourself to play the chords you can't play until you can play them.”