Barry Stagg is 'driven by music.'
SPRUCE PINE – Music is an expression of Barry Stagg’s voyage through life.
Now in his early 70s, Stagg has been a songwriter since he was barely a teenager growing up in Montreal, Quebec. His first album, “Anthony Green and Barry Stagg,” was released in 1969 and featured the hit song “To Love Means to be Free.”
“I draw from within my own journey of life,” Stagg said.
He talked about his music career on a recent Tuesday at The Dispensary, a private club on Oak Avenue in Spruce Pine he and his wife, Barbara, have operated for about four years. The club offers live music and Stagg performs on Tuesday nights.
Stagg said he got into music around age 11.
“I was playing hockey at the time, too, of course, like all good Canadians, playing hockey,” he said. “By the age of 13 I discovered that it was the guitar players that got the girls, not the hockey players.”
He’s been writing and singing his own songs ever since. He’s written for other artists and his songs have been translated into German, French and Italian. He mainly plays guitar, but also the piano.
Stagg, who has a doctorate in philosophy and a master’s in English, said music connects people because everyone has similar journeys in life.
“I feel if I write with total honesty about my journey, it will touch other people’s lives,” he said. “I kind of think of life as a big river going down to the ocean. We’re all coming in from different tributaries.”
The first 29 years of Stagg’s life were spent in Montreal and the next 34 in Nova Scotia, where he raised four children during a previous marriage and started a theater school, Nosco Academy of Theatre Arts, which had four campuses in Canada. Stagg has written plays and musicals.
He met Barbara in Nova Scotia, where she had a second home, at one of his concerts. They got to know each other and Barbara, a doctor, encouraged him to bring his theater school to Mitchell County where she was practicing family medicine.
Barbara’s been a dancer since she was 3 years old – her parents were in theater. And she said she performed in her first musical when she was 8.
Stagg ran the theater school in Mitchell County for about 17 years, first at the Carolina Theatre and then at Mitchell High School, while splitting time between Canada and North Carolina. He and Barbara married in 2007 and Stagg settled in Spruce Pine the next year. The theater school had its final performance in 2016.
Over the years, Stagg kept making music. In 2010, his song “Appalachian Prayer” reached the top of the charts for traditional country music. His hit single, “Crazy Love,” topped the charts this past fall.
“Love transforms,” Stagg said about “Crazy Love.” “That’s what the song is about, a transformation.”
He and Barbara opened The Dispensary because Mitchell County didn’t have a venue for live music, he said.
As Stagg performed with Barbara and other musicians on The Dispensary’s stage, Bill Silkstone and his wife, Gail, sat at a table with another couple, Kit Healy and Melinda Thomas. Bill said he and his wife come every other Tuesday to hear Stagg sing.
“Tuesday night is really special,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Healy and Thomas were first-time vistors to The Dispensary. “Very vibrant,” Thomas said about the music. Kit said they will “definitely” come back.
Stan and Marie Beach sat at the opposite end of the club, drinking wine and listening to the music. Stan played in a folk group called The Briarwood Singers in the 1960s – the group opened for The Beatles at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1964.
Beach said he’s a big fan of Stagg’s harmonies and upbeat rhythms.
Stagg said he’s writing new material all the time and doesn’t plan on stopping.
“It’s who I am,” he said. “It’s part of my soul. It’s part of my spirit. I’ve just been driven by music.”