Tight harmonies and serious musicianship help band endure
A set by Galveston’s local band Salty Dog is a rousing and satisfying musical experience. The tight harmonies led by the gruff-voiced rhythm guitarist Jim Krebs are punctuated and elevated by the razor-sharp lead guitar riffs of Mark Kingsley, and grounded by the bass guitar of Jim Pregler, who also takes his turn at lead vocals and has written many of the band’s original songs. Gilbert Hernandez, a relatively recent member, drives the beat on drums.
The set covers a gamut of classic rock and blues standards, from Chuck Berry to Stevie Ray Vaughn, through the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, The Band and B.B. King. A favorite is the band’s cover of Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing,” during which Kingsley channels Mark Knopfler with precision and sensibility.
What saves the set from being just a nostalgic series of covers is the high level of musicianship the group brings to each song. After all, people have been “covering” Mozart for centuries. When it’s done well, it’s still fresh.
Salty Dog’s sound has deep and extensive roots. It’s the result of long lives lived in a community of music.
“The four of us have been a family since 1979,” Mary Pregler said.
She serves as the band’s manager and booking agent, and is the wife of Salty Dog songwriter and bassist, Jim Pregler.
If the band members are a family, they are embedded in a vastly extended family, whose influences, collaborations, recombinations and musical genres constitute a genealogy too complex to chart. They are all serious, well-trained and experienced musicians.
Mary Pregler owns the Silver Spot Saloon, 5202 Ave. S in Galveston, which serves as a frequent venue for the band. It’s a surprisingly extensive place, with large rooms, stages and dance floors, pool tables and dartboards, all behind an unassuming windowless storefront on an unglamorous street. It’s the latest in a succession of Galveston bars that Mary has owned.
And it has music.
“I would never own a bar that didn’t offer live music,” she said. “You can’t have a bar without music.”
It also would be hard to have live music without a bar, it seems, and Salty Dog is a bar band. The group also plays at various benefits around Galveston County, including the Jamaica Beach Volunteer Fire Department’s annual fundraiser and at “Recovery Month” benefiting the Gulf Coast Center, a Galveston-based mental health and addiction services agency.
Like all but the most famous recording artists and arena rockers, these musicians have day jobs. Kingsley works in construction, mostly as a brick worker on Galveston historic restoration projects. Jim Pregler is a tax adviser. Krebs has for years been a program manager at the Gulf Coast Center.
Krebs is well suited for his work with recovering addicts and alcoholics. All of the band members, now in their mid-to-late sixties, came of age musically in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an exciting time when sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll seemed inseparably linked, and suddenly offered the post-war generation a path to personal, social and artistic transformation.
Sadly, that path proved fatal to some of the most successful in the music business, and to many who were not so famous.
The members of Salty Dog were hardly untouched by the ethos of the time, but their survival in music through the years, maybe their survival at all, is due in part to the fact that they each separately renounced it — the drugs and alcohol part, anyway. They each proudly count their time — in recovery, clean and sober — by decades.
“When we were playing the Den on The Strand back in the ‘80s, customers would often offer to buy us drinks,” Krebs said. “I would refuse, and tell them I didn’t drink. The bar owner, Robert Ochoa, once took me aside and said, ‘Never refuse the offer of a drink. Ask for the most expensive one on my shelf. You don’t have to drink it.’”
Ochoa, of course, was in the business of selling drinks. He finally closed the bar, though, and went on to a career at the University of Texas Medical Branch as a psychiatric nurse.
Mary Pregler is a longtime abstainer.
“You can’t run a bar if you’re drinking,” she said.
In a sense, the teetotaling members of Salty Dog also are in the business of selling drinks. But their real business is, and has always been, making music. They do it better, they all agree, without the aid of anything stronger than the cranberry seltzer stocked at the Silver Spot Saloon.