Chris Watson wants his stage name, The Bicycling Guitarist, inscribed on his tombstone.
The Roseburg musician considered legally changing his name to reflect his talent for riding a bicycle and playing the guitar at the same time. “But what if I break my leg and I can’t ride my bicycle?” he asks.
Watson, 52, plays guitar and sings every Wednesday evening at Till It Shines Coffee House & Deli in Roseburg. He composed all his original songs on a Fender Stratocaster guitar while pedaling his Schwinn 10-speed bike.
Since moving to Roseburg from Northern California in 2006, Watson has written several songs while traveling the Stewart Park bike paths. One song, “Up the Hill,” is about riding up a steep hill near the disc golf course. Fast, heavy guitar strums reflect pumping the pedals to climb the incline.
He estimates he’s ridden about 25,000 miles on his bike while playing guitar since the ’80s, but felt the most accepted for this talent in Roseburg.
“I’ve never been welcomed so much and appreciated so much as The Bicycling Guitarist,” Watson said.
Watson started playing at Till It Shines on Southeast Stephens Street in October. It’s his first time performing since he was part of a rock band in the ’90s.
“People just hear a little as I’m riding by,” Watson said. “This is my first feature performance.”
While he remembers the exact date he first learned how to play guitar 34 years ago — Dec. 20, 1978 — Watson can’t quite recall how he managed to combine it with bicycling. He was in his 20s when he discovered that he had a knack for balancing and steering a bike without holding the handlebars.
“I’m clumsy off the bicycle. I’m graceful only on the bicycle — and only with my guitar,” Watson said. “It’s such a zen thing. If I did think about what I’m doing, I’m sure I’d fall over.”
Watson, who has autism, said the unusual habit also helped relieve some of the symptoms. In addition to having a hard time recognizing social cues, he said he has heightened senses, to the point where they can become overwhelming, Watson said.
“All my senses, it’s too much,” he said. “What I’ve found is that if I go on a bicycle, and I play at the same time it calms me. My mind is on the music.”
Watson describes his music as alternative rock and considers the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix among his biggest influences. Inspiration for original songs comes from his many interests, including history and science. His songs include “Red Baron” about the World War I fighter pilot and “Evolution” about all the scientific evidence that proves the theory.
Most of his songs are written the same way, Watson said.
“Almost always for me, the music comes first and then the rhythm and the beat of the music it acts like a framework or scaffolding for the words,” he said.
Along with original compositions, Watson enjoys writing parodies of famous songs. He performed a parody of the Beatles song “Day Tripper” called “Tray Dipper” last Wednesday at Till It Shines. “Tray Dipper” is about a woman who can’t stop eating cheese from a buffet.
“Got a good reason for taking the cheesy tray out,” Watson sang. “She was a tray dipper, buffet ticket yeah.”
Watson’s friend Cindy Shepard, 75, of Roseburg attended his gig last Wednesday.
“He’s pretty interesting to be with,” she said. “I can’t even believe the things he remembers in detail. He’s always telling me about things he’s learned and heard about. We have very interesting conversations. I always love to be at his shows.”
Shepard said she’s impressed by Watson’s skill on the guitar.
“He’s extremely good on the guitar, and his lyrics he sings, just wild and crazy stuff,” she said. “A lot of times, he’ll just make up a song as we’re here.”
Till It Shines barista Debbie Laney said it’s been great fun to have Watson perform at the cafe.
“We get a kick out of him. One of a kind,” she said.
Watson said he loves entertaining people. It’s part of why he brings his guitar with him on bike rides, he said.
“When they see me riding along, it brings a smile to their face,” Watson said. “I hope that if somebody is having a real bad day, and they see me and hopefully it makes their day better.”
Watson performs from 7 to 9 p.m. each Wednesday at Till It Shines, 1459 S.E. Stephens St., Roseburg.
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or email at email@example.com.