How Pearl Jam Met Their New Secret Weapon, Boom Gaspar
In 2002, a new face appeared on the Pearl Jam stage. A little older than the rest of the group, with long, curly hair, this newcomer further enriched the band’s sound by infusing keyboards and organ into the mix. His name was Boom Gaspar and since that time he’s been a regular part of the Pearl Jam lineup.
Though the band’s hometown is famously Seattle, this story begins in a far more tropical location: Kailua, Hawaii. The gorgeous beachside town, found on the island of O’ahu, is where frontman Eddie Vedder spends much of his time when not recording or touring.
Vedder, an avid surfer, was catching waves with friend and fellow musician C.J. Ramone (of the Ramones) when he was introduced to a local by the name of Kenneth “Boom” Gaspar.
Gaspar was a known commodity in the Hawaiian music scene, having performed with a bevy of artists throughout the islands for the better part of four decades. Vedder was blissfully unaware of this fact, much in the same way that Gaspar had no idea who this "Eddie" character was.
"I thought he was a swell guy," Gaspar later said of Vedder, admitting the the Honolulu Advertiser that he initially had no idea he’d befriended a rock star. "I knew him as my friend Eddie. I didn't know how big he was. I just loved him for how he was ... and how he came off to us."
Nine months after meeting and becoming friends, Gaspar discovered that Vedder was in a band. Still, the grunge pioneer was reluctant to reveal which particular group he fronted.
“He said, ‘Oh, a Seattle band. We're just kicking it around,’” Gaspar recalled. When the Hawaiian continued to ask about the name, Vedder relented and admitted it was Pearl Jam.
"Who's that?” Gaspar responded, genuinely unaware of the group’s iconic stature. The reaction caused Vedder to bust up laughing. "He had a big smile on his face because he knew I had no inkling about his life (or) who he was," the keyboardist admitted.
Not long thereafter, the two decided to jam. It was a simple session; just the men and their respective instruments. The duo quickly sensed a creative chemistry, recording a demo which would eventually become the song “Love Boat Captain.” At the end of the session, Vedder reportedly turned to Gaspar and asked, “Are you ready to go to Seattle?”
Much like Vedder, the rest of the band quickly found comfort with the keyboardist. For his part, Gaspar was careful not to overstep his bounds. “I didn’t want to take anything away from what the band had already laid down or pull songs in a completely different direction,” he explained to Keyboard Magazine. “My approach was to stay in the flow and do my best to enhance what Pearl Jam had already established.”
Gaspar’s recorded debut with the band was 2002’s Riot Act -- the LP which featured the aforementioned “Love Boat Captain.” Following its recording, he flew back to Hawaii, unsure what would come next.
It wasn’t long afterward that Gaspar’s phone rang, with Vedder on the other end. “He told me, 'All the boys had a meeting and decided that we want to take you on tour with us,'" the keyboardist recalled. "I lost it. I was yelling. I was jumping. My house was shaking. I was so happy."
Since that time, Gaspar has been a Pearl Jam regular, contributing to 2006’s Pearl Jam and 2013’s Lightning Bolt, while also consistently touring with the group. “Every night is different and playing with them is amazing,” the keyboardist said of his bandmates. “I love challenges. They make you a better player and challenges are what music is all about.”
Gaspar’s official title in the group is undefined -- he’s been called the “unofficial sixth member” by fans and media alike. Still, the musician is keenly aware of his fortune and grateful for his Pearl Jam position. “Who would think that a Hawaiian like me from a small island would be able to see the world because of music and playing keyboards?” Gaspar rhetorically asked. “I’m living the dream.”