Already a baseball guru on TV, he now steps into a Somerville studio to record his first album
You can tell Peter Gammons is a real guitar player because he doesn't know what to do with his hands when he doesn't have his instrument in them.
On a soggy Friday, just before Gammons's Hot Stove, Cool Music benefit, the 60-year-old host of ESPN's ''Baseball Tonight," sometimes called ''The Commissioner," was laying down vocals for his first rock album, which is being recorded at Q Division, a studio in Somerville.
In the sound booth with headphones on, Gammons, an inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame last year and a lifelong Red Sox fan, gesticulated matter-of-factly, as though he were making a point on ''Baseball Tonight." Occasionally, he played some mean air guitar.
''Peter, you totally warmed up on that one in the second half," said Mike Denneen a co-owner of Q Division who is in charge of Gammons's album and has produced artists such as Aimee Mann. ''Let's do another."
Clad in jeans, New Balance sneakers, and a gray shirt that looked as comfortable as pajamas, Gammons sang the same line over and over again. He nursed a cold with a tea from Dunkin' Donuts between takes.
For seconds at a time, Gammons sounded like Neil Young on his latest album -- thoughtful, weathered, and sometimes wounded. Then he sounded like what you might expect Gammons to sound like, a baseball commentator making emphatic statements over background music.
''She fell from heaven.
She fell from heaven.
She fell from heaven.
And landed . . . on her face."
It's a song called ''She Fell From Heaven," which Gammons wrote and on the album plays with his bandmates -- Bill Janovitz, Pete Caldes, Ed Valauskas, Mike Gent, and Phil Aiken. The band is a side project for the musicians, who play in groups such as the Gentlemen and Buffalo Tom.
Fans of Gammons won't be surprised that he's making a go of it as a rocker. Not only has he recorded a few songs before, for Hot Stove, Cool Music charity albums, but he's also made a career of blurring the line between music and sports. He has quoted Bob Dylan in rants about the Red Sox and constantly plugs his favorite albums, sometimes slipping them in as he gives updates on trades.
Gammons took a break from singing to chat with Denneen and the two other producers in charge of the still-untitled album, which the studio hopes to release during baseball season. Twenty-nine-year-old Matt Beaudoin worked the soundboards wearing a black hat and a ''Hard Day's Night" T-shirt. Matt Tahaney, 30, sported a Red Sox cap. The Q Division men love baseball and music, and when Gammons talked to them like buddies, they beamed.
The men bantered about baseball and music in the same sentence. Names were dropped -- Bob Seger and Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, who Gammons says is a Clash fan.
Gammons talked about a song he's working on with Janovitz for the album, ''like Lennon and McCartney."
''It's this whole thing about a couple with a screwed-up relationship," Gammons said. ''And Juliana [Hatfield] is going to sing the chorus."
Gammons disclosed to his studio friends that at Hot Stove, he planned to auction off the gorilla suit Theo Epstein wore to escape the media when he announced he was leaving the Sox. This was, of course, before Epstein decided to return.
''The big joke is, whoever buys it, if they spend enough money, [Theo] will come up and whisper why he left," Gammons said.
Denneen was quick on the uptake: ''It would be great if Larry [Lucchino] bid on Theo's whisper so he would have to tell him why he left."
''That's good," Gammons said, snickering.
Then Gammons was back at the mike. The next song on the agenda was a cover of Warren Zevon's ''Model Citizen."
''Don't bring the milk in/ Leave it on the porch," Gammons sang sternly.
After a few rounds with verse one, Gammons ran to the parking lot to get his Zevon CD so he and the guys could compare the original track to the cover.
''I carry it almost everywhere because this album doesn't exist anymore," he told them, explaining that ''Mister Bad Example," Zevon's 1991 album is out of print.
''I have no idea who the drummer is," Gammons said, listening closely, with the producers leaning in. ''I know Waddy Wachtel's playing the guitar. I think this was recorded in '90, two years before the Red Sox drafted Frankie Rodriguez."
The album features the late Zevon singing about a white man's burden weighing a ton. The background is a chant-like, rhythmic repetition of the phrase ''model citizen," which Gammons had Bronson Arroyo, Lenny DiNardo, and Jonathan Papelbon sing at Hot Stove, Cool Music.
''This background is so creepy," Denneen said. ''I like our tempo much better."
Gammons said he likes the lyric ''don't mow the lawn no more."
''At least I'm being truthful," he says. ''I haven't mowed the lawn in 25 years. I don't even have a hammer. I'd hurt myself."
''But you know who to call," Denneen quipped.
''I'm worried about our country's unemployment," Gammons shot back even faster, smirking.
The group refocused on the Zevon song, listening intently as they whipped out the air guitars again.
Gammons grabbed a real Fender and played harmony. ''I'll feel more confident with this in my hands, anyway," he said.
''It's all good, dude," said producer Tahaney. ''It's all good."