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Claremont Neighbors: Gabe Bohm

 

Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com

When Claremont resident Gabe Bohm was growing up in Romania, he had to wait until after sunset to listen to his favorite music. It’s not that his parents were strict about how he spent his time, rather it was due to a quirk of the ionosphere that allows radio signals to travel further at night.

The teenage Mr. Bohm would tune in radio stations from Western Europe that broadcast an eclectic mix of music that was virtually unheard in his hometown of Timisoara. The reception was not the best, sometimes disappearing into a fog of static, but he was hooked and a lifelong love of music was born.

“My interest in music is rooted in my childhood. I was born and raised in a country where there were no stores where you could go get the music you liked. British and American music was prohibited, so anything we heard [on the radio] with the static and half songs was priceless to us—every song was something super valuable,” Mr. Bohm said.

Unlike radio in the United States where a station would play one type of music, the shows he remembers would commonly play Perry Como followed by the Rolling Stones or Fats Domino. Not surprisingly, Mr. Bohm developed a taste for a wide range of very different musical styles. A passion for live music followed, although he would have to wait over a decade and travel half way around the planet before attending his first concert.

Mr. Bohm met his wife Rodica on the first day of elementary school. He was a Romanian national swimming champion in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay in 1967. In 1968 he took second place in the 1500 meters and third in the 200 butterfly. He’s fluent in several languages including Hungarian, Romanian, Hebrew and now English.

He doesn’t like to go into the details about how he escaped “the old country,” as he describes communist Romania. But in 1976 Mr. Bohm, his wife and their son Danny moved to Israel, then to Greece. He describes it as a “long, contorted and complicated story.” In 1979 they finally settled in Southern California as political refugees.

Life in America was hard. Employers did not accept the structural engineering education and experience that Mr. Bohm had earned in Romania, so he had to take a minimum wage job.

“Nobody would hire me as a new immigrant, so I got a job at the bottom of my profession. And then I slowly worked my way up,” he said. He eventually landed at the Claremont company Technip.

Even on a tight budget he was finally able to indulge his musical cravings. Buying records at garage sales and swap meets for fifty cents or less, he soon amassed a nice collection. And then in 1979 he heard an announcement for a Merle Haggard and Marty Robins concert, and he just had to go. That was his first experience with live music aside from the symphony back in “the old country.” Forty years later, Mr. Bohm has seen exactly 900 concerts, which he has documented on a spreadsheet with venue, opening acts and a five-star rating system.

“Concerts really became to me the best way to experience music. My passion for live music never changed, but it has evolved,” Mr. Bohm said.

In the 1980s the family bought a home in Claremont and soon had a second son, Ryan. Rodica also rose up through the ranks of her career, eventually becoming a comptroller. The Bohms are now both retired.

In the early 1990s at Claremont’s Rhino Records he had a chance encounter that would change how he experienced live music. An employee was listening to English singer songwriter John Wesley Harding, and Mr. Bohm was captivated. A short time later he learned that Mr. Harding was performing at a place called McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.

He had never heard of the venue, so he drove out early for the show. “I walk in and I find myself in a store,” he said somewhat sarcastically. 

“I said where is the concert? And they responded, ‘We have a back room, and you can just go in now if you want.’ So I walk in and I froze. On the stage was John Wesley Harding doing his sound check. I am standing there against the wall and I am paralyzed. I think this is paradise for me,” Mr. Bohm said.

Thirty years later he has seen 526 shows at McCabe’s.

“Everything about the venue and the people was just up my alley. No alcohol, no food, the only reason you are there is for the music and the performer. So, you are in a family surrounded by like-minded people.”

Mr. Bohm’s blog, fittingly named “Concert Overload,” records the last ten years of his musical goings (the blog is currently on a temporary hiatus). His rave review of Canadian duo Madison Violet’s show at McCabe’s caught the attention of the band. They reached out and invited him be a guest the next time they performed in Los Angeles. But Mr. Bohm had another idea.

So, he celebrated his 70th birthday in classic Gabe style by hosting Madison Violet at the Folk Music Center.

“In my mind it was never about my birthday, it was an excuse to do something different. I have been dragging people to concerts [for years], so I said, join me—let’s bring the artist here.”

His passion for music continues. As this COURIER reporter was putting the final touches on this story, a text came from Mr. Bohm. He was at McCabe’s watching Wynonna Judd.

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