Larry Shafer of Langley has known what he wanted from life since he was 7 years old.
After a successful career as a lawyer, a judge and family man, he has finally accomplished one of his longtime dreams: he recorded his first album.
His CD, entitled “Larry Shafer, Songs from the Twentieth Century Songbook,” contains American standards like “Come Fly with Me” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” along with other popular songs like “Deed I Do” and “Stormy Weather.”
It is the music Shafer grew up with, the score that accompanied a somewhat tumultuous childhood. Born in Portland, Ore., in February, 1934, Shafer moved around a lot with his parents, who were itinerant farm workers. His mother was an alcoholic and his father “was the best of the two.”
“They would have a tendency, when I was very young, to take me with them,” Shafer recalled. “That was quite an experience, actually. The environments were all so unusual.”
Shafer said his father decided to give up the itinerant work to become a bartender. The family moved around still, but not as often.
“I started gaining my independence at about the age of 7,” he said. “I knew what I should do, and I did it. My first job was at 8 years old, and from then on, I worked.”
Shafer spent much of his youth moving from place to place, staying with different families. Some were good, he said, some not so much. He spent time in southern California and in Phoenix, Ariz., before traveling to Chicago, Ill., where he managed to finish high school.
While he always had a love for music, it was during his time in high school that he got involved with variety shows.
“There were two a year, one each semester and I was in every one of them for the three years I was at that high school,” said Shafer.
He loved to sing. Even though he had no formal musical training or education, he and his friend Bob Armbruster were inspired to write a song one afternoon after seeing a movie. It was based on a summer love affair between high school students.
“We sat down and I hummed out the notes and Bob later wrote the words. We took it downtown and had it composed,” he said, explaining how the two boys had gone to a “guy with a funky office who smoked short cigars.” The man tried to sell it for them, but with no luck.
“Nobody wanted ballads at that time,” he said. “We sang the song when school started again.”
For a time, Shafer said he considered trying to make music a career, but he said he was dissuaded by a close family friend named Delores, who was herself a singer.
“She had this beautiful voice. She worked for Paramount studios, dubbing in voices for the stars,” he said. “She took me aside and she said “Larry, you should be a lawyer.” I said “Well, what about singing?” She said “There are so many great singers and I’m sorry Larry, but you just would be one of them. No matter how good you are, it’s a stroke of luck that you make it because you found the right person at the right time.”
Shafer said Delores told him to become a professional and save music for later in life, so he could get married and have the family he had always wanted. Sadly, Shafer said, Delores wound up singing for booze in her later years.
So Shafer followed her advice. He joined the Army and then went to school on the GI Bill. He settled down, had three children, moved to Whidbey Island in 1976 and was happily married until 1999 when his wife passed away. He met his love, Dorothy, several years ago and they have been together ever since.
He commuted to Seattle for many years for his law practice. His legal career included memorable successes such as writing and drafting the first proposal in Seattle for the King County Legal Services program and serving as a municipal court judge in Langley for 13 years.
When he finally set aside the gavel at age 77, he followed Delores’ advice once more, taking voice lessons for the first time in his life. Then he tackled the problem of how to become a recording artist.
“When I thought how do I get back into music at the age of 79, 80, I just sat down and figured out how to go about it,” he said. “I found musicians, found accompanists and then I decided to do the CD, because I wanted to know what I sounded like.”
With a voice reminiscent of crooners like Perry Como or Bing Crosby, Shafer sounds just fine. He loves music in all forms and has enjoyed immersing himself in performing and recording.
“It’s invigorating, it makes me feel like I’m doing something that’s worthwhile,” he said.
One of his favorite melodies is “How Deep is the Ocean,” taught to him by Delores when he was just in high school.
“I’ve been singing that here on the island. It’s kind of my thing,” he said. “I have tender thoughts about it.”
Shafer’s CD is available Ott and Murphy Wines and Joe’s Island Music in Langley, and also wherever Shafer is performing. He recently suffered two strokes, but he has recovered quite well and still performs on the island, singing with local musicians. He even dances a little, he said, and enjoys the happy melody of his life.
“I wink at Dorothy, and she smiles,” he said.