Jeb and Jock Guthrie — the duo presenting a Simon and Garfunkel tribute at the Marie W. Heider Center for the Arts in West Salem next Wednesday — are successful lifelong musicians who moved to the East Coast after growing up in Green Bay. Although they say they never planned on doing a tribute show, the way their voices blend seemed to strike a chord with audiences that, in the end, could not be denied.
“We’ve been playing in bands nonstop since we were kids,” said Jeb, the younger of the two. “We never planned on doing a tribute thing — we just enjoy the music and it fits us like a glove.”
Two of the bands the brothers were in lasted long enough for them to have showcases in front of record company executives. They had a charting single before their record company unexpectedly folded, and some of their songs have even been used in movie soundtracks.
“We got very close to the brass ring, but we were always an inch or two away,” Jeb said.
Through it all they kept busy and then, about 12 years ago they started playing out as a duo in clubs and for private events. Every time they played Simon and Garfunkel songs, people would come up afterwards to congratulate them.
“They’d say, ‘Man, you hit the nail on the head!’” Jeb said.
“The timing was very good then,” Jock said. “Tribute bands were becoming more prevalent and respectable — and no one else was doing Simon and Garfunkel.”
Their brotherly harmonies are indeed reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, but there’s also a definite Everly Brothers vibe. That’s appropriate since Don and Phil Everly were a huge early influence on Simon and Garfunkel (as part of their show, the Guthries always do a few Everly Brothers songs).
The evening, however, will be more than a bunch of familiar songs. It’s also reminiscent of a TV show popular back around the time Simon and Garfunkel were making music together.
“It’s evolved into a kind of Smothers Brothers thing,” Jeb said. “There’s humor and a lot of back-and-forth with the audience. It’s also unscripted so there are times when we’ll get a wild card (song suggestion) from the audience and if it fits with the theme we’ll do it.”
Asked to explain the enduring appeal of Simon and Garfunkel, Jeb had a quick response: “It’s message music without being preachy. It’s seriously sophisticated without being high brow. The lyrics are unpredictable yet meaningful — plus it’s just memorable as heck!”
Jeb added that he’s often surprised at how appreciative the audiences for their Simon and Garfunkel tributes tend to be. “People seem to want to hear music from this period and there aren’t many out there who do Simon and Garfunkel — it’s kind of an underserved group.”
That’s likely one of the reasons why the Guthries greatly enjoy meeting with audience members afterward. “One of the coolest comments we get,” Jeb said, “goes something like this: ‘I didn’t think I knew Simon and Garfunkel so well. My husband made me come to the show, but when you played I was singing along with all of the songs.’”
Meanwhile, Jock said his favorite comment relates to the duo’s musicianship. “They’ll say ‘Man, I can’t believe there’s only two of you making that sound,’” he said.
Besides the satisfaction they get from keeping great music from the 1950s and 1960s alive, the brothers said they’re simply excited about coming back to Wisconsin. It’s a place with which they maintain strong ties.
Being from Green Bay, the two are, of course, diehard Packers fans. In fact, they still have season tickets on the 35-yard line to Packers games. When they can’t make it back to Wisconsin from New Jersey (they live about 20 miles from New York City), they share game tickets with family and friends.
Given the Packers’ disappointing 2017 season, Jeb joked that he might be wearing a black armband for the show.