Blueberry the Piano Tuner — One of the Most Interesting People I’ve Ever Met
There was a man who called himself Blueberry. My mom would invite him to our house in Davenport, Washington, once a year to tune our piano. He was definitely a hippie, and the coolest thing about him was how he worked: by playing for hours and tuning by ear.
My mom would give us a few days notice. She'd let acquaintances know she was ready for a tuning, and Blueberry would arrive when he'd arrive. There was no telling what day. But at 6 a.m. I'd be woken by some of the best piano playing I've ever heard in my whole life.
Every year he came it was like a four-hour piano concert in our house. He'd play, then stop and tune, then play some more before stopping and tuning. I'd make him lunch or breakfast and sit and listen and chat with him.
This happened about 7 or 8 times in my childhood from the 5th grade through high school.
Out of all the people I know, the musicals I've been in, the classical training I have, the best piano player I know was a man named Blueberry -- I didn't even know his real name. Believe it or not it's one of the highlights of my childhood.
Well, fast forward 20 years and I used social media to find Blueberry again. His real name is Kindler Stout and he currently tunes pianos in Ashland, Oregon. We called him up and cleared up some holes in my memory.
Q: Where did you get the name Blueberry?
A: My parents used to call me Barry. Once when living in a commune near the Oregon coast we were hiking along a river and for fun one of the group decided to give everyone a nickname. Mine went from Barry to Blueberry. None of the others stuck, but mine did. I actually tried changing my name to Kindler, but people who already knew me wouldn't let go of Blueberry, so by some I'm known as Blueberry the Kindler.
Q: How did you learn to tune?
A: I was trained to do it without a machine. When I started out there were some electronic tuners, but you needed a cart to move them around. They included several units. Now they're the size of a pack of cigarettes and are faster and more accurate. But my ears are trained, so I can rely on my ear. My father was my primary piano tuning teacher, but you mostly learn by yourself.
Q: How did you learn the piano?
A: My father was my first piano teacher. But usually my teachers were his students at the college. As an undergrad at WSU I studied music and was able to play by ear after that.
Q: I remember you lived in a van, what that true?
A: Not when I tuned your piano. I didn't have a van then. For years I was voluntarily homeless. Before moving to Oregon Coast in 1977 I sold my van and gave the proceeds to neighbors in return for a ride when I needed one. I would hitchhike around. When in the Davenport area I stayed mostly with friends.
Q: What do you remember about Davenport?
A: The first commune -- and definitely largest -- in Washington state was in Davenport called the Tolstoy Farm. It had as many as 20-30 people there at one time. It's not near as much a collective anymore, but it still exists. I tuned in over 150 towns in Washington state -- including Richland, Pasco, Kennewick and College Place. I tuned for Whitworth College in Spokane for 20 years. Over 50 percent of the students at the time could play the piano. So each dormitory had one. I found it really unusual how as many boys and men played piano as girls and women. That's very unusual.
The next time Mr. Stout comes to Tri-Cities I promised to buy him lunch -- but only if it's made with unpasteurized dairy! Hopefully we can find a place with a piano.