Is it possible to breed love? What does that mean? Well, for one inspirational couple, who are partners in life and in music, to breed love is to create and share their ethereal sound with the world. As the first line of their website says, “Love is contagious and forever spreads in the presence of Jay Kirkland and Barbara Gorin, the Breedloves acoustic duo.” With Jay on ukulele, lead guitar, and mandolin and Barbara on her 12-string keeping rhythm, the two shape musical constructs that both amaze and move their audience.
Jay and Barbara met after Jay hired Barbara’s band, Led Graffiti, for a benefit concert. Barbara says, “We had a physical attraction the day we met…I didn’t know that Jay played guitar until months later.” As the story goes, they spent many weeks getting to know each other and growing closer, each sharing tales of family and youth. Barbara told Jay about being raised by loving Italian and Sicilian parents in Silver Spring, Maryland while Jay regaled her with his own history in Richmond, California.
Yet in all that time, she still hadn’t heard him play.
“When he stayed with me the first night…the next morning he was playing his electric guitar and I was in the other room. I had my mouth open and tears were streaming down my face,” says Barbara describing how she discovered his talent. Still shedding loving tears, she came up to him and said, “You didn’t tell me you could play like that.”
And so their musical journey began.
Born into a friendly Italian and Sicilian Catholic family in Washington D.C., Barbara was raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. This middle child with one older sister and a younger brother happily recalls lots of big noisy dinners with her extended family. Close knit, her paternal grandparents lived with them until they passed.
Surrounded by music from infancy, her mother, a secretary and medical transcriber, played piano while her dad played mandolin, bass, and guitar. Although both loved music, it was her Dad who influenced Barbara the most. Between writing for the Washington Daily News and running a newspaper delivery business, he led his own band. The Sal Caruso Orchestra was a popular 7-piece ensemble that usually had gigs every weekend.
Barbara took piano lessons from the age of six until nine and started playing guitar around eleven. Early influences included Motown as a pre-teen and teens rock and roll later. She took lessons for a couple of years in school, but a lot of her learning came from friends. Although she dabbled with it, Barbara preferred the sweet sounds of strumming rhythm over playing lead guitar. As a teen, she used to sit in her room and listen to bands like Eagles, America, CCR, and Neil Young while trying to figure out the chords. Barbara was one of the lucky few kids at her high school who could navigate from jocks to brainiacs to band geeks. Popular, friendly, and attractive, she was nominated prettiest eyes in 9th grade.
After high school she attended the University of MD planning to major in horticulture. However, the campus life did not suit her, so she dropped out and began working office jobs, moving to San Francisco in the late ‘80’s. Always trying to position herself for better opportunities, she eventually landed a job as a legal assistant at a law firm where she spent the next twenty-nine years until she retired to play music full time with Jay.
For many years she didn’t do much musically but strum her guitar now and then. All that changed in 2005 when she discovered Red House Studios, a cooperative organization dedicated to promoting musical learning. With a variety of classes and workshops, she was thrilled to find a place where you could bring a guitar and learn a variety of songs. They also taught people how to perform together and had “band foundries.” Her time there built both her confidence and chops but also helped her to meet the fellow musicians for the four bands she’d later become part of: Led Graffiti and Red Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin tribute bands, as well as an acapella group and Barbara and the 1, 4, 5’s.
For several years, Barbara was a legal assistant by day and a musician by night performing in shows and festivals throughout California. She loved the way the music richened her life and then, about fifteen years ago, she heard about a special organization that fostered guitar playing for underprivileged kids. She was at music festival cruising the stalls when she happened upon a Guitars Not Guns booth. She began to chat with the volunteers about music, playing guitar, and the group’s mission statement.
“Would you like to teach guitar to the kids?” Frank Darling, the President of the Contra Costa County Chapter, at that time, asked.
Barbara didn’t even think twice before agreeing to volunteer, a decision that forever altered the course of her life. She loved teaching the kids and watching their confidence grow with each passing week. Later, she began to take on organizational duties such as putting together “graduation” gift bags for the kids, garnering donations, and public relations work in the community. Within a few years she was the president and director of the Contra Costa County Chapter, a position she holds to this day.
In 2009 she was honored by Diablo Magazine with The Threads of Hope Award for her volunteer work with Guitars not Guns. She says, “It was honor I will always cherish. My Dad evenflew out from Maryland to come to the award ceremony.”
What exactly is Guitars Not Guns? Their mission statement says, “Guitars Not Guns, Inc. provided guitars and lessons to foster kids, at risk youth, and other deserving children in a classroom setting with qualified teachers. No child is turned away for lack of funds.” They loan guitars to students that are used for learning and practice during the eight-week course. Students and guardians must sign a lease contract for the equipment, agreeing to care for it. One of the goals here is to teach the students to care for their possessions. The students are not told this but those who successfully complete the course, are gifted with the guitar at a completion ceremony. There the students perform, and accomplished musicians are brought in to further motivate them to continue playing.
Barbara was already living a life of purpose when she met Jay ten years ago. With their immediate attraction they started to do things together like do live karaoke with a house band. She would play guitar and sing while Jay played guitar with the band. They had different styles; Barbara strumming to the Beatles and Zeppelin while Jay preferred the rocking sounds of Van Halen and Hendrix.
One morning at Barbara’s they decided to give playing together a try. Although Jay rarely played acoustic, he slowed down and started to teach her the rhythm parts of his originals. Barbara found his pieces both moving and inspiring. As time went on Barbara shared some of her favorite classic rock tunes while Jay played lead.
Barbara says, “I started playing…and I knew magic was made.”
Yes, it was. And we, their fans, all are so thankful.
About Laurie: The author of the recently released Finding Joy as well as The Pharaoh’s Cry, Portal Shift, Kidnapped Smile, and Dragon Sky of the fantasy series The Artania Chronicles, and Laurie Woodward co-wrote Dean and JoJo: The Dolphin Legacy. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies and she was a collaborator on the popular anti-bullying DVD Resolutions. Bullied as a child, Laurie is now an award-winning peace consultant, poet, and blogger who helps teach children how to avoid arguments, stop bullying, and maintain healthy friendships. She writes on the Central Coast of California. More about her work can be found at artania.net