Portage County Commissioner Chuck Keiper sings during the recording of his album “Heart on a String.”
Credit: Beth Rankin
Cruising in a red convertible with the top down, Portage County Commissioner Chuck Keiper looks directly at you through his black shades. He adjusts his rear-view mirror with his right hand as a heart dangles from a string.
This might sound like a peaceful cruise on a Sunday afternoon, but for Keiper, this is his life and heart.
The scene happens to be the cover from his first nationwide album release, called Heart on a String, that hits stores in September. For Keiper, the album happens to be a nice stop on the road of his musical career.
“I have invested a lot of time and music in my career, and it’s just a thrill to have an album that is coming out,” he said. “I hope people will now recognize me for being a musician and not just a public official.”
Keiper has spent 28 years of his life in his musical career. He got his start playing the trumpet in his fifth grade band but switched to guitar. Keiper said he remembers stringing his first guitar and playing his first shows in bars and restaurants.
He played for money and free drinks, even though he wasn’t legally allowed to drink. But he had another reason for playing the local scene.
“I could finally get a date,” he said with a chuckle. “I was shy and didn’t think I was the most attractive person around. I felt comfortable when I was on the stage.”
Keiper writes a majority of the music on the album, plays guitar and is the lead singer. He said he gets a majority of his inspiration from everyday things and has learned to write from years in the music business. He has also had some help from long-time friend, Bonnie Eaver.
Eaver, who is a communication professor at the University of Akron and an author, provided some of the inspiration for songs on the upcoming album. Her recently released book, Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That, is also a song title on the album. She wrote the lyrics to that song and co-wrote the lyrics to the song “Marys and Earls,” which is a poem that she wrote to her grandparents.
“I still have to pinch myself,” she said. “It’s amazing to be part of something like this. I can hardly stand myself.”
Keiper sent demos of his songs to record labels and was finally noticed by producer Bob Johnston. Johnston, who has also produced records for Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, loved the songs and decided to produce the album for his own record company, called Jam Records.
Keiper said he had to travel between Nashville, Tenn., and New York City to get the album done. That’s a lot of time away from his county commissioner’s job.
“If someone took the commissioner job away from me, I would be all right if I still had my music,” he said.
Keiper said he realized he had finally made it when he heard one of his songs played on the radio.
“It was a thriller hearing one of my tracks on the radio,” he said. “I had to pull over on the side of the road and turned the radio up.”
Keiper said a tour isn’t planned yet for his album because his band members also will be touring in other groups. His band members include: Shane Keister, keyboards; Pat Buchanan, guitars; George Marinelli, guitars; Joe Chemay, bass guitar and Greg Morrow, drums. They have performed with bands from Brooks & Dunn all the way to Jimmy Buffett.
But when the band has time, Keiper is planning to hit the road. He said the record company is going to work around his schedule and work any possible tours around his county commissioner job. Keiper would tour on the weekends and still have time to do his other job during the week.
“If I have to, I will fly out Thursday night after the meetings,” he said. “I will tour and get back sometime Monday before the next round of meetings start.”
For more information about the upcoming album and clips of the songs, visit www.chuckkeiper.com.
Contact public affairs reporter Joshua Hudson at [email protected]