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A Reinvention: For Tim Coffey, life as a songwriter begins at 55 

Tim Coffey has been writing music for the past two years and now is preparing to release his first full-length record. This story sounds similar to that of other local musicians, but here's where Coffey's background strays - he's 55 years old.

Also, it's worth noting that he's not new to the world of music, it's just the songwriting angle that's somewhat recently become a part of his life. Coffey, you see, spent 20 years as a professional musician, touring the country with an array of bands, playing an array of styles. Most were cover bands, some were lounge bands, and some - he admits - weren't all that good.

"It was all cover stuff. There were a few originals, but it was pretty standard bar music for the most part," says Coffey.

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By the time he was 36, Coffey had for the most part placed his musical aspirations on the backburner. He ended up moving to Holland for two years, but never really caught on with the live music scene there and returned to Oregon where he became the general manager of a pair of spas. About eight years ago, he relocated to Bend, a place that had been on his mind since he was 19 years old when he came to town with a touring band called Nancy Day and Nancy Night.

"They were bad people, but I learned a lot over those six months," says Coffey of the experience."

He got a taste of Bend on that trip and then moved here once his children had grown up and left the house.

"I didn't move to Bend for music. I, like a lot of people, wanted to be close to the outdoors," he says.

He made himself a frequent visitor to our hiking and mountain biking hotspots and one day, about two years ago, he found himself hiking Broken Top. Along the trail, lyrics started flowing into his mind, which was odd - he'd struggled with lyrics for the entirety of his musical career, which is why he'd never really written a song. He got home and developed a melody. Soon, he had written his first actual song, "Already There," which appears on String Unbound, the 14-song album that he's celebrating the release of on Thursday night at McMenamins Old St. Francis School.

Around the same time as the songwriting breakthrough, Coffey had another musical awakening; he'd learned how to play fingerstyle guitar, which beefed up his acoustic sound and stretched the dynamics of his tones, something that's integral for a singer-songwriter.

"When I started writing those tunes, then I had something to offer. I got out and started playing and people seemed to enjoy it," says Coffey, who has been playing around town for more than a year now, primarily at cozier venues. He also partnered with Breedlove Guitars and the local instrument maker made him one of their sponsored musicians.

On String Unbound, Coffey welcomes a collection of well-known local musicians to help fill out his bluesy Americana sound. Patrick Pearsall (Empty Space Orchestra, The Mostest) lays down the bass lines while Julie Southwell adds violin and Shireen Amini lends percussion and vocals. But the most significant element of Coffey's new sound - in addition to some slick sound engineering by Joe Schulte and Franchot Tone - is probably Kat Hilst, the cellist who appears on several of the album's songs.

"It was so impressive how she could put her part down around what I was playing. I really fell in love with her cello playing," says Coffey.

Coffey was so drawn to what she brought to his sound that he decided to collaborate with her in a live setting. Now, his shows are billed as Hilst & Coffey, and he foresees a long-term musical relationship with the cellist, who is also skilled on the piano. Coffey didn't expect to be working on a burgeoning songwriting career halfway through his 50s, but he's clearly pleased with the detour his life has taken over the past two years.

"All of the sudden there's something new. I'd never been a writer, but this has been huge and I'm so grateful," he says.

Hilst & Coffey
7pm Thursday, February 24. McMenamins Old St. Francis School, 700 NW Bond St. Free.

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