Guitarist Will Pfluger fingerpicks his way around the Island

Guitarist Will Pfluger at his home studio in Vineyard Haven. — Photo courtesy of Will Pfluger

Musicians often lead nocturnal lives. And that was once the case for Vineyard Haven’s Will Pfluger, who spent years playing guitar and singing in coffee houses and night clubs around New England, Florida, and the Caribbean.

Now music is mostly day work. Mr. Pfluger teaches music at Island Music in Vineyard Haven. He has been on the faculty of the Cape Cod Conservatory of Music since 2008 as a guitar instructor, and he performs as a solo guitarist at wedding ceremonies, cocktail parties, receptions, gallery openings, Bar Mitzvahs, and other celebrations.

Mr. Pfluger specializes in contemporary finger style guitar. He was influenced early in his career by the guitarists Leo Kottke and John Fahey. He also teaches classical, Celtic, ragtime, blues, and jazz guitar.

His day job took an unexpected turn several years ago when he dragged himself out of bed at 5 am to play one song for a surprise wakeup breakfast-in-bed on a 100-foot yacht anchored in the Edgartown harbor. He took his guitar and joined the caterer. They snuck aboard the boat, entered the master cabin and scared the wits out of the sleeping couple.

“I thought we might get shot,” he said. “After they settled down they seemed to enjoy it. I got paid pretty well for that one song.”

In 2004, he released a CD of original compositions for solo 12- and 6-string guitar entitled “Half Moon Bay,” which he says is still selling pretty well. One of the pieces from the CD, “Horseman’s Pastorale” is included in a compilation of pieces by composers from around the world by Mel Bay Publications. He has composed pieces for a new album that he plans to produce from his home studio when he finds the time.

Mr. Pfluger has traveled on many different occupational roads. He has worked as a carpenter and a painter, a writer, and tax assessor, but a common thread throughout most of his 60 years has been music. In the seventies, Mr. Pfluger worked as a carpenter, and house painter, mostly up-Island. He was the Gay Head harbor master and head of the highway department in his twenties, and he’s bull-raked quahogs for living. He also worked six years as the principal tax assessor in Edgartown

In 1974, Mr. Pfluger was hired to build sets for the movie “Jaws” in Edgartown. He also rented his small sailboat to the production and was cast in the movie with a one-line speaking part, “Yeah, I got a paddle,” as the boat’s captain. He has received ever-dwindling residual checks every year since. “When it first hit TV I got checks for around $1,000 every quarter. It was such a popular movie. I still get six or seven hundred dollars a year,” he said.

He started plucking strings on a ukulele when he was eight, switched to guitar at ten. In 1966, at 13 he played a few songs at the legendary folk music venue the Mooncusser Coffeehouse in Oak Bluffs. He began classical guitar lessons at 14.

He was in one of the first incarnations of the Island old-time music band, the Flying Elbows, in the early 1980s and was part of the Elbows when they recorded the album “Everybody’s In The Same Ol’ Boat”

“The band is made up of an entirely different set of musicians now,” he said. “We once played at a party out on West Chop for former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, wearing straw hats and red and white striped shirts. It was just too much, all the Secret Service guys.”

After years of performing as a singer/guitarist, Mr. Pfluger stopped singing in the early 1990s. “I became more interested in the idea of solo guitar and began writing my own songs and focused more on classical music,” he said.

In the eighties, he ran a raw bar in Oak Bluffs for two seasons and was a commercial scalloper. He worked at the Grapevine, a 1970s and ’80s Vineyard newspaper, ran the Vineyard Haven office of the Vineyard Gazette from 1984 until 1990, and worked as a reporter for The Martha’s Vineyard Times in the early 1990s.

Exercising his dry, borderline sardonic, sense of humor, he wrote most of and edited the two editions of the satirical “Not The Vineyard Gazette,” a humorous takeoff on the Edgartown paper in 1982 and ’84.

It was during the spring of 1979 that he used the nom de plume Lance McFadden to sign a letter to the editor of the Gazette about how unspecified things were getting bad in various parts of the Island. “I know it’s been getting bad in Oak Bluffs and it’s even getting worse in Edgartown, but I never thought this sort of thing could happen here,” he wrote in a letter titled “Something should be done” from Chilmark.

“I don’t know how it slipped through the editors there,” Mr. Pfluger said. “A few readers responded in kind and by the end of the summer over a hundred had written nonsense replies.” The letter and three of the replies were reproduced in Harper’s Magazine. He said a few people still call him Lance.

Mr. Pfluger’s main job now, when he isn’t teaching music, is working for the Oak Bluffs tax assessor’s office and appraising property for several insurance companies.

Mr. Pfluger and his wife, Vicki, have been married for 22 years. They live in Vineyard Haven with two eight-year old black Labrador retrievers, who are sisters.

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