Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Steven Savage came of age in Southern California in the 1960s.
In Part 1, the executive director of Blue Bear School of Music shares his life story with us. His first instrument to play was banjo, inspired by his love of folk music. But then he discovered rock 'n' roll, and soon after that, he picked up the drums.
He went to college in Ohio, where he met people and starting playing in bands. He came back to California and made his way up to Santa Cruz, playing in various bands along the way. Next was Palo Alto, where Steven lived in a garage and continued playing music.
And then a band here in The City needed a drummer and Steven got the call. Those folks he joined up here had already decided to start a music school while they played and worked toward stardom. That school ended up being Blue Bear School of Music. It was June 1971.
Then we hear from Tennessee Mowrey, Blue Bear's current Little Bears director. Born and raised in San Francisco, Tennessee traces his story back to his parents' meeting. Raised in a musical family, he took to playing from a very young. But he didn't like lessons.
His dad and step mom enrolled Tennessee in Blue Bear. Once in these rock band classes, he started playing several different instruments, and eventually began student teaching.
Steven starts off Part 2 telling us all about Tennessee's step-mom.
It's a story that involves three siblings (Bonnie Hayes and two of her brothers) who showed up at the fledgling music school in 1971 when it was located on Ocean Ave. Susie, Tennessee's step-mom, knew Bonnie from both of their touring gigs (possibly a Billy Idol tour), and Bonnie brought Susie to Blue Bear.
Tennessee joins in to give a little more context to his step-mom's story. Then Steve rewinds a bit to share the story of Blue Bear's opening.
Originally started as a way to make money while the band aimed for stardom, the school saw success in the first few years, with something like 60 students enrolled. But it started to founder a bit, and Steve had left. He got a phone call asking him to come back and save the operation, and he did.
There was a sizable debt to pay off. But in 1977, they made the decision to move to Fort Mason. And with that, the school started to grow. We talk about how they went about recruiting students back then, a common practice in those days that might surprise some of you.
These days, it's mostly word-of-mouth, and to a somewhat sobering effect: 40,000 students have enrolled at Blue Bear in its 50 years. We talk about how the school has evolved its teaching philosophy, especially with the advent of completely new genres of music. And then we hear about a few standout success stories coming out of Blue Bear.
We end this podcast with Steven and Tennessee talking about what it means for Blue Bear School of Music to still be here after 50 years.
Here's the Jack Black video that Steven mentions in the recording:
We recorded this podcast at Blue Bear School of Music in Fort Mason Center for the Arts and Culture in June 2021.