Singer-songwriter Logan Bruce: Making music and staying sober, one day at a time

Logan Bruce

The cracks first appeared on the dark horizon that had become singer-songwriter Logan Bruce’s life while he was sitting outside a pawnshop, cradling his last earthly possession.

The Ties That Bind UsHe was at the end of a three-month heroin binge, he told The Ties That Bind Us recently, and the future was a bleak one indeed. Getting high had become a guessing game, wondering if the next point of smack was going to be the one that killed him. And the worst part? He no longer cared.

Except, somewhere deep down, something told him not to go inside that pawnshop and sell the guitar in his hands. Because as black as the night was that blanketed his soul, that guitar represented the only light that was left.

“I knew that if I sold that guitar, it would be the last thing I would ever do, because I knew I had nothing else to live for,” Bruce said. “I remember sitting outside that pawnshop — I had owned three guitars and sold two of them, and this was the last one, and I just thought, ‘Man, I can’t go in.’ It was the only thing I had left, but I remembered that right before I had relapsed, in my old treatment center, I had played a couple of songs, including one about a friend that had passed away.

“And I remember playing it, and people bawling their eyes out, and how it got a couple of thousand views on my Facebook page. And that got me thinking back to all of the people who told me that the songs I was playing had helped them, to people saying they related to the music, to people who said, ‘I’ve never heard someone put my thoughts into a song the way you can.’

“I ended up checking myself back into treatment the next day, all because I chose my guitar,” he added. “I’ve been clean since that day, because for the first time, I started trying, and I took the suggestions of people in the rooms (of recovery) and all that.”

Music, he said, literally saved his life. And since that day in 2016, he’s remained faithful to it, as both an instrument of his Higher Power and a tool of recovery that allows him to carry the message to addicts and alcoholics who are still suffering.

Logan Bruce: Born on a field of dreams

Logan BruceIf you had asked a much younger Bruce to guess what object would wind up being his salvation, he probably would have chosen a baseball. Growing up in Amherst, Ohio, he had what he describes as the “perfect” upbringing — a younger brother, a basketball hoop in the driveway, friends from the neighborhood who were constantly hanging out, the latest video games and parents that drank maybe once a month.

“I had everything I needed and wanted, but I was always really shy growing up,” he said. “But when I played baseball, if I was at bat or pitching, the whole world just kind of disappeared. That was the only place I could be confident. I was really good at it, but I didn’t have to try. With music, I’m having to try to do it, and that’s a whole growth process, but with baseball, I knew I was good.”

He drank for the first time as a high school sophomore, and like many addicts and alcoholics, he discovered alcohol’s powers as a social suit of armor.

“I don’t really remember the first time I drank, but I do remember that eventually it became something that I would use to come out of my shell,” he said. “Obviously, you can’t play baseball 24 hours a day, so outside of that two-hour long game and outside of sleeping, there were all the other hours of the day that I wasn’t OK with myself.”

By his junior and senior years of high school, filching liquor from his parents’ cabinet became routine. If his folks noticed, they never said anything, probably because stealing booze from the mom and dad was and remains a rite of passage for a great many teens. He and his buddies also found a nearby gas station that sold alcohol to minors, and some peers introduced him to weed for the first time.

“I remember we would have these morning conditioning workouts for baseball, at 6 in the morning before school, and I would get up so my dad thought I was going, but I would sit out in the parking lot and smoke weed,” Bruce said. “I felt like I didn’t have to work for it. I was a spoiled kid, and when it came to working for things, I didn’t understand that process, and that ended up taking a toll.

“Within a year or two of me starting to drink in high school, I can look back now and see the behaviors — I was always the one getting the most drunk at parties in high school, and if I woke up hungover, the only way to get rid of a hangover is to get drunk again. Without drinking, I didn’t feel like I could talk to girls or take girls out on dates. Thinking back, it’s kind of sad. It was right there, the whole time, but I know I wouldn’t have believed anybody if they had told me.

“But it had become something: No matter what the situation was, any kind of social situation, I had to be on something,” he added.

From baseball to a PhD in partying

At the time, music was an ancillary part of Bruce’s life. He took guitar lessons at 11 or 12, he said, but the kind of songs he wanted to play were the heavy ones he and his friends listened to while playing basketball in the driveway — Godsmack, or Blink 182. He learned how to read tabs and play chords, but after a year, he quite the lessons — but music was always a comfort, whether it was a Staind record while cleaning his room or wallowing in college heartbreak with sad songs.

Not that he had a lot of time to wallow: He went to college on a baseball scholarship, with dreams of one day making it to the majors. It was, he said, a very real possibility … but partying got in the way.

“I was drinking every day, smoking weed, taking Adderall and stuff,” he said. “I remember I was patching in a fall baseball game and playing like shit because I was hungover, so much so that I had three beers before the game. I made a bad throw, just looking off in the distance, and I remember the coach saying, ‘Maybe if you cut out your recreational drinking, you could actually do this.’ And that was the first time I remember where someone had actually confronted me.

“So instead of quitting the drinking, I quite baseball. It was like, ‘How dare you say that?’ The only problem was that I had been Logan the baseball player growing up, so the only character or identity I had left was, ‘Now I’m the party guy.’ Baseball was the only thing I had going for me, but I would have rather quit that than possibly even think about quitting drinking.”

He eventually transferred to Kent State University, following a girlfriend, and within six months of landing there, the two had split up because of his drinking. The girl, he said, had been one of the final anchors to sanity he had left in his life, and once she pulled the ripcord, he stomped the gas and continued barreling full-tilt down a road of self-destruction.

A month after turning 21, three weeks before his senior year started, his alcoholism announced its dominance in a viscerally ugly way: He had an alcohol withdrawal-induced seizure so violent that he broke his back.

“I had probably drank every day for a couple of weeks up to this point, because I had just turned 21 and thought, ‘This is great, because now I can just go and get it for myself!’” he said. “I remember that I drank an entire fifth of Jack Daniel’s the previous day, and my family wondered if they should take me to the hospital. I ended up not going and passed out, and that’s when I had the seizure.

“So here I was — three years after going to college with all of these dreams and goals about baseball. I had originally gone with two of my buddies who were baseball players, and one of them was still on the college team I had quit. The other had gotten drafted into the majors. And on the other side was me, who had just had an alcohol withdrawal seizure at 21 and broken my back.”

Logan Bruce and the rehab shuffle

Logan BruceAs bad as that was, it wasn’t his bottom. The broken back scared him so badly that he quit drinking for six months, but the idea of giving up all mind- and mood-altering chemicals completely was too terrifying a thought. Three days after he got out of the hospital, he said, he was hobbling around in a back brace, looking to buy weed and pills.

“I had to look ridiculous, but I didn’t care, I guess,” he said with a chuckle. “It was the only thing that was going to make me OK.”

That was in 2011, and when he started drinking again six months later, his parents, scared for his health, sent him to his first drug and alcohol treatment center in early 2012. Because he went begrudgingly, however, the hope that’s so abundant in those places was lost on him, he said.

“I showed up, and there were heroin addicts and alcoholics in their 60s with liver issues, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘Dude, I can’t believe in in here right now,’” he said. “I didn’t pay attention, because I didn’t believe that I was an alcoholic or anything.”

After leaving treatment, he started drinking and smoking weed again, and his family intervened a second time to send him to rehab, round two — this time to East Tennessee, where he stayed for 90 days at English Mountain Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Sevier County. This time, he brought his guitar, which had been a faithful companion since college.

“In college, I learned some cover songs to impress girls at parties, but up until this point, I hadn’t done anything with music,” he said. “I remember one time being hammered and singing with a couple of kids who were good guitar players, and they told me, ‘Dude, you have a really good voice.’ So I would get drunk and go hang out with them and sing, but never sober, because I couldn’t sing when I was sober.”

Singing wasn’t part of the treatment plan for Bruce at English Mountain — or so he thought. When music therapist and singer-songwriter John McAndrew (a Ties That Bind Us alum) came to the center a few times to tell his story and perform, and at the end, he always invited any patient with the willingness to join him on stage.

“I knew three Goo Goo Dolls covers that I would play sometimes while we were all smoking cigarettes, so when John would say, ‘Does anybody want to get up here and do a song?,’ everyone would look at me,” Bruce said. “I always said no — I wasn’t going to get up in front of everyone and play! — but three days before I left treatment to go to a halfway house in Florida, John came back and finished playing and asked, and for whatever reason, I stood up.

“I was more scared than I had ever been in my life, and I asked to use John’s guitar and played two songs. Everyone was really quiet, but they were in awe, and 40 drug addicts at once started clapping really loud and whistling. I sort of blacked out and just went up there and played the music, and when it was over, I remember wondering, ‘What the hell just happened?’ And it was because of John asking if anyone wanted to get up there and play.

“If it wasn’t for him asking that, I don’t think I would have ever found out that I had the ability to sing in front of people and have it affect people,” he added.

Baby steps: Building a recovery foundation

After leaving English Mountain, Bruce landed in Tampa, Florida, where he found residence in a sober living house not far from where his aunt lived. Everything seemed to be looking up, and his other aunt and his grandmother made plans to fly down to spend the Christmas holidays of 2012 with their newly sober relative.

The day they arrived — Dec. 23, he added — he relapsed and was arrested for drinking under the influence.

“Here they had come down to see me, their nephew and grandson who was turning his life around, but the thought had crossed my mind that it would be easier to hang out with all of them if I was a little messed up,” he said. “I was one street over — I had almost made it! — when I ran over a mailbox and fell asleep on top of it, and they arrested me. Meanwhile, they were all freaking out, wondering if I was OK, and there I was locked up in the Hillsborough County jail.”

Two weeks later, he found himself in another treatment facility in Delray Beach, Florida. During that two week stretch, he had started writing songs — mostly about the disappointment he felt in himself and the sadness that consumed him over his relapse. In Delray Beach he met a like-minded peer named Joe Nester (another Ties alum), and the two slowly bonded over music. When Nester borrowed Bruce’s guitar, their friendship was supercharged.

“He started singing and doing a beat on this thing, and I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’” Bruce said. “‘How is this dude singing like this?’ So we started hanging out all the time and I started asking him to check out these songs that I was writing and putting music behind, and eventually, we both started playing in front of everyone. Wherever Joe and I went, we would take the guitar with us and play, and it was super cool, because our stories were different, but the meanings behind the songs was the same.

“That’s where I kind of started to realize what music can do. After I got out of treatment and went to another halfway house, Joe started dragging me to these open mic nights, which sucked, because I as super shy, but I knew I couldn’t drink!”

He pushed through the fear, however, and it’s a point of good-natured pride that at one particular 12 Step talent show, in which a couple hundred addicts and alcoholics were in attendance, Bruce emerged the victor — over Nester, who had originally dragged him to perform at it in the first place.

Life, it seemed, was good — recovery and music made for a healthy heart, but addiction wasn’t done with Bruce yet.

Logan Bruce: One last stumble, then success

Joe NesterAfter being clean and sober for a year, his disease began testing the waters of Bruce’s mind, and before long, he was convinced that there was no was a person could be addicted to weed. “Emotionally and mentally,” he pointed out, “It’s just as addicting as anything,” and shortly thereafter, he was back in Ohio and adding alcohol and benzodiazepines to the mix.

“I completely forgot about everything I said I was doing and everything I had started doing,” he said.

By 2015, he was back in Florida, shuffling in and out of treatment and attempting to make advances in a music career. He still cringes when he thinks about a particular Daytona 500 party at one of the biggest bars on the Daytona strip that he was booked to play, but the thought of doing it sober gave him a panic attack — and so he drank, never showed up and blew the opportunity.

“I bounced around a couple more times, and it finally got to the point where I was using heroin,” he said. “I had gotten into a relationship with someone in early recovery, and even though they tell you not to do it and I had heard the warnings, I didn’t care. We got engaged, we started drinking, and things went south, and that’s when I started using for the last time.

“I ended up doing dope for three months. Alcohol beat my ass for eight years, but heroin kicked the shit out of me in three months. I’ve never felt that low in my life. I’ve never pawned so much or weighed less in my life.”

By October 2016, he had lost virtually everything … except that lone guitar. Sitting outside that pawnshop, he made the decision to go back to his apartment, and the next day, he went back to treatment for one last time. He’s been clean and sober since Oct. 11, but in that moment, he didn’t have grand plans to remain so: He just wanted the pain to stop.

“I remember thinking, ‘Just hang in there until tomorrow morning,’” he said. “I never felt so empty before, sitting outside of that pawnshop. I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

For the first time, he added, he got out of self-will and started taking the suggestions of his predecessors in the rooms of recovery. He attended recovery meetings religiously, getting involved in the fellowship and doing the work necessary to prevent the cycle of relapse that had long plagued him. The guitar that had saved him was a constant source of comfort, and around the time he marked a month clean, a friend asked him about doing a Facebook Live video of a song.

He was hesitant at first, that old self-doubt creeping back in, but he embraced the principle of willingness and persevered — and the reaction changed everything.

“I got a couple of messages after that — things like, ‘You sing really good,’ or, ‘That song you sang about your friend overdosing really touched me,’” he said. “I started getting these messages, and people started asking if I wanted to do it again next week, and even though I didn’t really, I said, ‘Sure.’”

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It was, in some ways, excruciating at first — putting himself out there and being vulnerable, but the feedback he received from those who discovered his music was instrumental in building his self-confidence and his self-esteem.

“Getting those messages really kept me going,” he said. “I needed the reassurance that I was good, that I could do this music thing, and today, my (Facebook) page is up to 45,000 people, more than I could have ever imagined. I’m nowhere where I want to be with my career, but the amount of support I’ve gotten, inside and outside of the recovery community, is amazing.

“Even some people in my hometown, who saw who I was before I got sober, are reaching out to me. That’s what this whole epidemic needs, because it’s going to take more than people in recovery, so to see people not in the program rallying around a good comeback story is awesome.”

This year has seen an output of new material by Bruce, building on a collection of Christmas covers and singles released in 2019. A song like “Colors” shimmers and chimes with the indie-folk vibe of like-minded artists like Josh Rouse or Jack Johnson, while a track like “Don’t Walk Away” turns on a bluesy groove that rides beneath Bruce’s rich vocals lamenting the distancing of a loved one. At 41 months sober, he went into the studio earlier this month to work with Grammy-winning producer Austen Jux-Chandler, a veteran of projects by Adele and Ed Sheeran, further proof to him that through recovery, anything is possible.

“Sitting outside that pawnshop, all I wanted was to be a well-known musician, because I wanted to tell my story with my music, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” he said. “The music thing has been just like recovery, though. That’s such a cliché saying, but I’ve built my music thing one day at a time, just like I’ve stayed clean and sober one day at a time.”