One of the earliest second-generation ragtime performers, Gale “Gaslight” Foehner died on February 9th this year. He was 91. His career as a ragtime pianist goes back to his teenage years in the 1930s. He had discovered Scott Joplin’s compositions and vowed to learn them all.
After his Army service in World War II he married and began his itinerant career as a traveling ragtime performer. To better support his growing family of three sons, Gale built a stable piano tuning business. His son Doug is a popular St. Louis musician.
His family moved from upper New York state where he was born, to St. Louis in 1983. He became a daily entertainer on the Goldenrod Showboat and could often be found playing around the city in other clubs and restaurants in the evening.
With the advent of ragtime and blues festivals, Gale was a frequent headliner and played all the major gatherings several times. He was also a composer of some renown. “Huddie’s Lament” recalled Huddie Leadbelly and he won the World Championship Old Time Piano Playing New Rag Composition Contest in 1997 with his “Crondolette Rag.”
He made two solo albums: Rhythms in Ragtime (1981) for Stomp Off Records, and the self-produced Alabama Bound (2006). His son Andrew has posted a number of videos of his father on YouTube.
Foehner retired from actively performing in his 80s but still played occasionally for select audiences. He was a versatile stylist and brought his unique jazz interpretations to his ragtime playing. He will be buried in a private ceremony in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, in St. Louis, Missouri.