Politician rocks out

Meredith Compton

Portage County Commissioner Chuck Keiper recently released his debut CD titled Heart on a String, which he recorded in New York and Nashville. Keiper has been playing guitar since he found one in his attic at age 16. MICHELE ROEHRIG | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

When people hear the title Portage County Commissioner, they don’t often think of music, but for one local commissioner, music is part of his job description.

Portage County Commissioner Chuck Keiper describes himself as a “song writer, playwright, author, and county commissioner.”

Keiper has recently released his debut CD titled Heart On A String, which features Keiper’s own original work.

Keiper sent out his material to record companies for most of his life when he received a phone call from producer Bob Johnston. Johnston told Keiper he wanted to produce his music.

“I got a call from a legend who said ‘I want to help you record your music,’ and I jumped on it,” Keiper said.

Keiper recorded Heart On A String in New York and Nashville and said the CD is more than just a collection of songs.

“I’ve written songs about lots of subjects,” he said. “They’re products of my heart, hands and mind working together.”

He cites growing up during the Vietnam War as one influence on his music.

“I remember people in my neighborhood screaming that their number got pulled for the draft,” he said. “My favorite song writers were people who were involved like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.”

This influence can be seen in one song on Heart On A String titled “Rising Up Together.”

“It’s about questioning any establishment that says speaking your opinion is un-American,” Keiper said.

Keiper said he has always enjoyed music and singing.

“I think that I came out of the womb singing,” Keiper said. “I always loved to sing.”

Keiper began with singing memorized songs to his family at age two. At the age of 16, Keiper said he found a guitar in his attic and “the love affair began almost instantly.”

Keiper then took lessons from a local music store and taught himself guitar chords from a book. After learning all 1,048 chords, Keiper began to sit in with bands in the Kent area. He used the money he earned from these performances to pay his way through college, eventually earning an MBA from Kent State.

Keiper said he enjoys performing most because it allows him to interact with people.

“I get a chance to experience the entire range of human emotion,” he said. “I get to connect with the audience and help them find their own hearts.”

Keiper said he knew at a young age that, though he loved music, it would be a tough career. He knew he wanted to eventually have a family, so he decided he was going to need to have a couple of careers to support his family.

He began his political career at age 15 when he, along with some of his high school friends, decided that they wanted a younger person on their school board. They joined the campaign of politician Leigh Herington, who Keiper said was younger than all the other candidates, putting up signs and passing out campaign literature. Since then he has never stopped being involved with politics, though he said it has been a long path to elected government official status.

“I love this community,” Keiper said. “I believe I’m offering a viable and critical service to this community.”

He does not see much difference between his musical career and his political career.

“I have an advantage over other people in that I’ve chosen to live my life on a stage,” he said. “I don’t see a big difference between the two stages I’m on. I like what I do during the day and I like what I do at night.”

He does say, however, that if either career gave him the right opportunity to pursue one over the other, he would have to think about it.

For right now, Keiper is going to continue balancing both careers.

“If I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to, I would do exactly what I’m doing right now,” he said. “I have the best of both worlds and I love it.”

Contact performing arts reporter Meredith Compton at [email protected]