Old jobs gone, father and son create new works together
Audio version by Vivian Goodman
Text version by Holly Schoenstein
Careers, relationships and illness have come and gone, but the love that father and son Gene and Chris Pritchard share has endured.
The unyielding economy stripped Gene, a former advertising executive, and Chris, a human resources recruiter, of the jobs they held for decades.
“Things are bad enough in my business that I don’t even pick up the phone and look for a job,” said Chris, of Bay Village. “I’m figuring my career in consulting is certainly over for the immediate future, more likely forever.”
But that doesn’t mean the pair is done. Their new careers? Songwriting. Their new colleagues? Each other.
Chris, now 58, was 11 when his parents’ divorced, but he has fond memories of when they were together.
“My mom and dad were always listening to Nat King Cole and Andy Williams and dancing in the living room, and we would always sing in the car, songs like ‘Hi Lily Hi Low,’” Chris said. “I don’t know if you know that one, but it’s a beautiful melody, and Dad would sing that.”
Chris plays the guitar while Gene sings. Gene writes the lyrics, Chris the melodies. They’ve written 16 songs together in the last year.
“Maybe one a week there for a while,” Gene said. “It was like a floodgate opened up for me. I don’t know. It was just fun and thrilling. I thought, ‘Geez I can write songs. It’s like taking candy. It’s so enjoyable.’ ”
Though the economy can be blamed for many problems, the Pritchards say it has inspired their latest effort, “Tears Can’t Wash Away my Dreams.”
“The layoffs come.
The plants close down.
Till it’s damn near killed this old town.
But these tears can’t wash away my dreams.”
Gene Pritchard’s experience writing ads has trained him to think in short blurbs – the kind of thinking that translates well into song lyrics.
“I’m sort of headline-oriented,” he said. “A line comes into my head, and I thought, ‘Geez, “Tears Can’t Wash Away my Dreams.” That’s a recession story.’ Somebody whose job is going away and home being repossessed, his truck’s being towed out of the driveway, but he’s still not going to give up. Something that I have put onto my kids that my Dad gave to me, that you never give up.”
The recession story is well and personally known by the Pritchard family. Gene was in the publishing business for 50 years, 25 of them running his own consulting business. His enterprise was doing well, he said, until the recession hit last year.
Chris was a headhunter for General Electric, Ernst & Young and Coopers & Lybrand. He even wrote a book, “101 Strategies for Recruiting Success.” Most recently he was the vice president of recruiting for National City Bank.
“I’m one of the world’s better-known recruiting experts at a time when no one’s recruiting or hiring,” he said.
So these days, Chris has been living out of a suitcase and looking for work. He has two children, two grandchildren and another on the way.
“But tears can’t wash away my dreams, either,” he laughed.
The business collapse led to the Pritchard’s formal stab at songwriting. But it’s not the only musical inspiration.
Gene wrote his first love song last year, a few days before Valentine’s Day.
“After 17 years, I think I’m more in love with my wife than I ever was before,” Gene said. “So, suddenly, a line popped into my mind, which was ‘A Minute’s an Hour When Love’s on my Mind.’ … I’m lying in bed, and I’ve never written a song or a poem before in my life, and I thought that would make a song.”
He e-mailed the lyrics to Chris, who put them to music. A few days later he sent more. A year after that they had enough songs to fill an album or two.
It’s no surprise that two people from a musically centered family would try to make a go of their talents. Each of Gene’s four sons and two daughters plays instruments.
Gene now prefers to write and sing songs rather than play instruments. He said he was “mediocre to barely good at the clarinet, and I had a saxophone. I always loved music. I’m a guy who wishes he was a musician all his life, but I haven’t been. I just appreciate it.”
Chris had a Mickey Mouse guitar when he was a toddler and got his first real guitar on his 11th birthday.
He began writing love songs. One of Gene’s friends owned a recording studio in Texas, and when Chris was 14, he took him there for his first recording session.”
“It was absolutely a thrill, and my voice hadn’t changed yet,” Chris said.
Chris got a publishing contract with Vanguard Records and has played guitar professionally in bands and clubs.
“I worked my way through grad school playing guitar at night at one too many Holiday Inns, singing feelings five times a night or whatever was popular,” he said.
But when he married and had kids, he gave up the dream of being a professional musician. “I really made a choice that I didn’t want to be an absentee Dad.”
When Gene looks back on Chris’s decision, he has mixed feelings.
“In a way I’m sad about it because I know what great talent he has. I’m sad in that way but proud of what he’s done, and he’s a heck of a lot better father than I ever was,” he said.
Gene was a hard-driving, work-a-holic ad man when his kids were growing up.
But now that he’s 78, things are different.
Earlier this year, Gene had a cancer scare.
“They ended up taking out the little tumor and a small piece of my lung around it, and they said, ‘You’re gonna be fine,’” Gene said. “And I feel wonderful. But it was a little scary.”
But Chris said Dad had a more aggressive form of cancer than he let on.
“But in any case, the irony of writing a song about when everything’s hitting the fan, to keep hope alive, that message at this particular time in Dad’s health certainly wasn’t lost on me,” Chris said.
This father-and-son duo says the songwriting – and hard times it commemorates -- have strengthened their bond.
“Chris and I are very close, but this has taken it another step further in terms of really understanding a little bit more about our lives,” Gene said. “Since I write most of the lyrics, he’s getting pretty deep into mine. Maybe more than I’m getting into his.”