If you’re no good, you don’t make any money.
That’s the hard truth about being a street entertainer. Anyone can stand on the corner and belt out a tune. But a bad singer won’t see that first coin fall into the tip box. Conversely, a good vocalist can rake in enough cash for groceries, rent and other necessities.
Fortunately, Jay F. Gypsy (the name he provided) was gifted with musical abilities that let him earn a living on the street by singing and playing his acoustic guitar. If the DNA of Tom Waits and Leon Redbone merged, Gypsy would be the result. His range moves smoothly from tenor to a gravelly baritone.
Lake Havasu City is but one stop on Gypsy’s annual journey from Oregon to Arizona and back again. He balks at being described as homeless.
“Right now, my home is kind of in McKenzie Bridge. That’s in Oregon. When I’m there, I live in the wilderness for six months and catch what I eat. When I’m in this area, I stay with friends in Quartzite,” he said. This is his seventh winter in Havasu.
On Tuesday afternoon, he was stationed on the sidewalk at a McCulloch Boulevard shopping center, braving the gusty winds that passed through.
“They’ve run me off a few times, but some (of the merchants) like me, so I only sit by them,” Gypsy said.
At 58, his skin has taken on the weather-beaten texture of a man somewhat older. His wiry build speaks to his lifestyle as a long-distance walker who hitchhikes when possible. His soulful singing voice is as strong as his conviction that living the life of a vagabond is the best there is.
“I don’t own a phone. There are no screens in my life at all. I don’t spend money on insurance, alcohol gasoline or rent. Think about how much money you spend on those things,” he dared.
Originally from Virginia and the District of Columbia area, Gypsy said he was classically trained on the violin as a child.
“But I wanted to play it like a fiddle. That made my teacher so mad,” he said.
As he rattled off his work resume, the jobs became higher in status. What began as construction eventually morphed into construction consultant. He also said that at one time, he lived on the Grateful Dead’s tour.
“I’d get there before they did,” he said of the band’s tour stops.
Gypsy remarked that he’ll be making his way back to Oregon soon. The only thing holding him back?
“I’m expecting a couple of pieces of mail that I’m waiting for,” he said, nodding in the direction of Havasu’s main post office.
He agreed that for all his efforts, a person can only live off the grid so far.