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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

‘Guitar is about muscle memory’

Andrew Babin ’19 plays his acoustic guitar in his home studio (Photo by Rebecca Barus ’19).

Legally blind student guitarist performs at local music venue.

Andrew Babin ’19 first picked up his father’s guitar at the age of six years old. His first performance before a crowd was at his sixth grade talent show. Babin played the guitar while his friend sang Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”

A number of years and venues later, the entertainment marketing major now performs frequently at the Grape Room, a local bar in Manayunk. Located at 105 Grape St., the Grape Room hosts live music five nights a week and stand-up comedy on the sixth night.

People in the crowd at the Grape Room are able to see how talented Babin is as he performs a set of 20 to 25 songs ranging from originals to covers. But what the audience may not know is that Babin can’t fully see the audience.

Babin was diagnosed with Stargardt disease at the age of 13, leaving him legally blind. Stargardt disease is a juvenile version of macular degeneration, causing a lack of central vision.

“It started as just a little dot in the center of my vision, and it has grown to a giant blob, essentially,” Babin said. “When I look at something, it doesn’t look like anything because my vision in the center is damaged. It doesn’t exist, so it’s just a black blob in the center of my vision.”

Babin’s visual impairment has not deterred him from his musical endeavors. In fact, he said it has actually helped him gain a better understanding of the guitar.

“I’m not relying on my vision,” Babin said. “I have a map of everything that’s going on in my mind of what’s on the guitar, like different shapes, and how far you play each fret.  It’s all in my mind. I’m not relying on looking.  Basically, it has made my mind completely understand the guitar.”

While Babin was already a natural at the guitar by the time of his diagnosis, being forced to rely on his mind has only made him a stronger guitarist.

“Guitar is about muscle memory, and I only really function from muscle memory,” Babin said. “I’m not thinking. I’m not looking. A lot of people when they start playing the guitar, they are looking at the frets. For me, it’s just all muscle memory from my mind.”    

Music has always been a staple in Babin’s life, and when he came to St. Joe’s in 2015, his music career really began to pick up.

About a year ago, Babin linked up with a family friend, Ryan Corcoran, in Philadelphia, and Corcoran picked up Babin as his guitarist. Corcoran has played at the Grape Room 20 times, five to 10 of those times with Babin. 

The Grape Room’s manager, Brian Hassinger, who goes by “Scooter,” said having Babin perform at his bar is always a treat.

“He draws a real nice crowd, mostly a younger crowd with a lot of friends and family in the mix supporting him,” Hassinger said. “He puts on a great show, real cool, real smooth vibe.”

Corcoran said he and Babin have a loyal fanbase at the Grape Room, and their audience comes from all different walks of life.

“We draw everyone from college students to our empty nesters,” Corcoran said.  “Recently they have started to recognize the originals and are singing along.”

Babin and Corcoran perform with a band named Stella Ruze. With Babin on the guitar and Corcoran on vocals, they produce a show filled with a variety of songs from all different genres.

One of Babin’s favorite songs to perform is an original by Corcoran titled “Blueberry Muffin.” Some other songs on their set list include Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” as well as songs by Frank Sinatra, the Beastie Boys and “Baby Blue” by Action Bronson and Chance the Rapper. 

“I would call it jazz-influenced rock,” Corcoran said. “The music has a relaxed hop to it, but builds to something more. That’s usually where Andrew will throw in a guitar solo.”

Corcoran described Babin’s style as sounding similar to John Mayer, who happens to be one of Babin’s biggest influences. Corcoran said he can always trust Babin to sound good. Even if he doesn’t know the song, he always plays on key.

“Andrew is extremely talented,” Corcoran said. “Go watch him rip a solo, and I guarantee you are impressed.”   

While Babin has always been inspired by musicians like Mayer, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, right now his biggest influence is music producer Kevin Parker. Babin looks up to Parker for his producing skills for the band Tame Impala. Babin’s end goal is to produce music and gain royalties in the industry, like Parker.

“I definitely will be producing music my whole life,” Babin said. “I don’t necessarily want to become a professional performer, but I would never turn down an offer to play anywhere. I know as long as I love what I’m doing, I’m never going to stop.”

While Corcoran and Babin will not be back at the Grape Room until June or July, they will be appear Bourbon and Branch on April 20 and World Cafe Live on May 18. 

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