“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of god was music.” – Kurt Vonnegut
In Sag Harbor, when you hear the last name Beyer, you might instantly think: music. The Beyer family has been filling the air with the sound of music for generations. It all began with grandfather Jacob Carl Beyer, who played the piano to accompany the silent movies in town “before the talkies.” His wife Olivia Hildreth Beyer, whose ancestors first came to the South Fork in 1635, was also a pianist. Some of our longstanding residents remember when she taught them nursery school and sang with her youngest fans. Jacob Beyer was the mayor of Sag Harbor back in the 1940’s.
The couple lived in a small house on Hempstead Street and had three sons: Jack, Ellis and Bob Beyer. Their house was filled with music. The boys formed a brass trio that played in the Old Whaler’s Church; they sang in harmony, and people in the neighborhood would sit on their front stoops to hear the music, which “bounced off the old plaster walls.”
Bob Beyer went on to work as a foreman in Bulova Watchcase Factory, where he met his soon-to-be-wife, Florence Eager, who was working there for the summer. Florence was from Westhampton, where the legendary Pop Mazzeo, who was teaching at the high school there, trained her as a drummer. Bob and Florence married and had four boys: Bob, Bruce, Brad and Billy and the music continued.
All four boys are musical, and Bruce and Brad continue to fill the East End with the sound of their music — but it’s not just their music that stays with you — it’s their kindness, their generosity, their love of their hometown and their willingness to share whatever they have with others.
The second oldest of the boys, Bruce, shares his memories of growing up in a house filled with music. “There was a happy noise in the air all the time,” Bruce recalls. “My grandmother used to dance around the living room to ‘Red River Rock’. It was always uplifting. My uncle, Ellis, lived with us and taught me how to use the record player. He gave me my first records-Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins. We would have parties at our house and play music all of the time. Everyone was welcome. Music was part of our heritage. It has become our legacy.”
“My mom and dad were charter members of the Sag Harbor Community Band, which has been together since 1957. “Pop Mazzeo wanted to have a band for the Veterans to march to. It was a real family thing. Wherever the band traveled to play all of us kids traveled on the bus with them. I was only about seven years old. The older kids looked out for the younger kids.”
Surrounded by music all of his life, Bruce began to play the drums. “Music has always been a joy, and drums are a lifelong passion. I never considered myself a musician; I never studied; it was in my blood. My brother Brad and I saved our money and bought our first drum kit from Harold Green for $299,” he said. “It was a Shelly Manne kit and whenever I tried to study in my room, I couldn’t concentrate because all I could think about were those drums. We learned to play by listening and playing along to records.”
Bruce remembers a time when he and his friends would go to Long Beach with a battery-operated record player, “We’d set it on a towel, light a fire and just listen to 45’s as the sun set. It was guys of all ages getting together, and music was at the center of it.”
One of Bruce’s most important gigs was when his father asked him to sit in with his band playing at a dance in the Amagansett Legion. “I was only16 and there I was out in front of the crowd for the first time. It was a thrill for me. When people started to dance, I knew I had something. I had the feel for it,” he said. “Another important memory was when Fred Hines called me and asked me to play for the first school musical. Music was a gift from God but it was their love, faith and encouragement that helped pull it out of me. Not being athletic, I found my niche. If you couldn’t dribble a ball, you’re were kind of an outsider. But drums are where I felt comfortable.”
Bruce has played and continues to play in a variety of bands on the East End with just about every musician in the area. Most people remember the band “Hot Wax’” of which Bruce has been a member for decades. “When I play at some of the local dances, I see the little old couples dancing and holding each other; there is no greater thrill than making people happy, sharing the experience with others and letting them forget about their worries for a while.”
Reminiscing about his childhood in Sag Harbor, Bruce says, “It was a great place to grow up. People looked out for each other. It was safe. Everyone was equal and on the same level. We all lived in the same modest houses. There were no extremes. We all had what we needed. Life wasn’t a race. Everyone knew who you were, where you lived and when you were supposed to be home. We’d hang out in the sandlots and play backyard ball. I remember going out on my bike and knowing to come home when the streetlights came on. We’d walk to town after school to the soda fountains at Doc Races or the Ideal. We’d go to the Old Shack on Long Beach where there was pinball, a juke box, Hires root beer and sand on the floor.”
In 1976, Bruce married Linda Strong from East Hampton; “I couldn’t have married a better person,” Bruce says. Together they have raised four wonderful children: Shawn, Shannon, Bryan and Deanna, and now they love spending time with their 11 grandchildren. “It has been such a pleasure to raise this family. I can’t imagine my life without my kids. Linda and I were always on the same page with parenting. We tried to raise them with mutual respect, open communication and music. What a thrill it was when my daughter asked me to play at her reception. Who gets to play rock and roll at their daughter’s wedding? When I looked in her eyes I could see all the way to heaven.”
Along with carpentry and music, Bruce does whatever he can to help his community. He has recently become the president of the Sag Harbor Community Band, and he was part of the Old Whaler’s Presbyterian Session, served on various committees and was a deacon there. He has sung in the Whalers Chorus, played with Big Band East and has played the drums for countless community events. “Whatever I can do to help, I’ll do it,” he says.
As a Pierson Graduate of the class of 1968, Bruce will be celebrating his 50th class reunion on September 29. He’ll not only be a guest at the festivities, he’ll also be playing in the band that night. “We have a lot of great memories. It was a really good class.” That same weekend Bruce will be playing in a number of bands for the Sag Harbor American Music Festival.
“If you wake up with a positive attitude, life goes better for you. I have learned to be patient and tolerant and to do the best I can. For me it all comes from the joy of life and the joy of music.”
Sag Harbor is lucky to have Bruce and all of the Beyer family to help fill our world with music, and we are so grateful that they call Sag Harbor, Home!