Gary Lee Wingard recalls the day he met his wife Carolyn, “We were on a KC 135 from Birmingham, Alabama to Portland, Oregon.” While their life together started far from the Ancient City during a time of world conflict, their retirement years are immersed in music and art and split peacefully between the city they call home and wherever their forty-five foot 2006 Monaco takes them.
Starting early, Gary learned piano at the tender age of 5. Those youthful days of tickling the old ivories were the seeds of an ever-flourishing music career. In college, Gary began shaping his own music style. “While attending Kent State University, I met and studied music theory under David Kellogg of The Allman Brothers Band. He helped me expand my horizon and figure out what I wanted to sound like.” Kellogg was only the first of many rock legends that Gary would come to draw inspiration from.
After moving to Florida in 1979, Gary formed The Stratus Band. “We were a seven piece ensemble. We played all around Northeast Florida,” he says. Gary and his bandmates ran in the same circles as some of Southern rock’s finest at a time when First Coast musical talent was exploding onto the international scene. “We had built working relationships with members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and Blackfoot. We had multiple requests to tour with them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be away from my young family for long periods.”
Despite the Stratus Band’s musical aptitude and popularity gains, the group was unable to capitalize on recording studio opportunities, and ultimately, the guys went their separate ways in 1982. Initially, disappointment led Gary to step away from band life. However, he found his way back and most notably started the 3 Up 3 Down military benefit band in 1993.
Just as impressive as Gary’s musical tenure is his career in the Army National Guard. “The military fed my family and helped me buy music equipment,” he says with a smile. Deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 and stationed in Kuwait as a Command Sergeant in ‘Task Force Aviation’, Gary proudly recalls, “We came home with everyone we brought over.”
Today, Gary enjoys his retirement by travelling six months out of the year and playing solo gigs at different St. Augustine venues as well as when he is on the road. Married twenty-five years, you won’t often see Gary playing without Carolyn nearby. “She manages my gigs when we travel,” he says. Gary has worked with Lucio Rubino of Fish Tank Recordings and Jim Stafford of Eclipse Recording Studios. He has also recorded at Toes in the Sand Productions. He is currently recording his second album of original blues music in his home studio where he does all of the mixing and prep work himself. “As long as I’m enjoying it and people like what I’m playing,” says Gary, “I’m doing alright.”