People always say, "Yeah, I like all music. Except country, of course," as if to say "I'm going to believe what the radio calls country and ignore the legacy of some really great music." That's not the line you're going to get from P.D. Lear.
Classics fuel this one-man-band's inspiration machine. The local multi-instrumentalist and September VFW resident picks through the heart of roots and blues, giving the old a new home in his hands. Through his microphone, handmade from an old Bell telephone, it sounds appropriately rustic.
"As I get older, new music just bores the shit out of me," he says. "I kind of went backwards."
Though he grew up on punk, his grandma's old country and blues records echo with him the most these days. Driving back from Portland a few years ago, his CD player jammed and the rest is history.
"I turned on the radio to this country station and it must have been a Hank Williams marathon," he says. "So for a hundred miles it was nothing but Hank. I hadn't heard any of it in so long, so at first I was like, 'Eh.' Then all of a sudden I started singing along to all these songs. It really brought me back."
Sitting in front of a bass drum and a tambourine on a hi-hat stand, Phil Lear's fingers dance on a fret board tuned to open C. Out pours the low-voiced, high-speed blues growl that sounds more like a VFW in Nashville, not our very own Post 209. A fast set, intertwined with banjo, a slide—plus dents in every finished can of Olympia—leave you wondering how it looks so easy.
It helps that Lear's been playing guitar since forever, so when I say dance, I mean his fingers are a choreographed choir of their own, putting out sounds that bands comprising three or more fail to make. He picked up the banjo a year and a half ago but again lays waste to beginner's twang and plays it clean and clear.
Week one of his residency started with some technical glitches but Keith Moore, of Bird's Mile Home, saved the day, offering his guitar in lieu of Lear's Fender bender.
"I've got another one somewhere," Lear says. "That's what you get for buying a shitty guitar."
He didn't set out to run his own show. He's been playing solo just over a year now. He started out with a punk band called Lethal Device at age 15 in Livingston, where he went to high school. After time spent between Portland and Missoula, he settled here. He drummed in a few bands but the P.D. moniker didn't set in until last year.
"My first show was in my basement with a band named High Lonesome," he says. "Mostly just so they had somebody to open for them. Someone said, 'That was sick, you should keep doing that.' So I did."
Lear can rattle off blues and Americana artists like they're his alphabet. But that's not all he listens to. The Wu-Tang Clan definitely has a home on his playlist (an overlap with other country/blues musicians I've talked to, interestingly).
Of course, many Missoula musicians know P.D. from emceeing the VFW's open mic night.
"There's some great acts up there, I tell you what," he says.
Wanting to believe him, I press on to find out who these hidden legends might be.
"I was being facetious," he says.
P.D. Lear plays the VFW every Thursday this month at 10 PM nightly, with each night showcasing special guest bands. $2.