Sheepshead Bay residents and visitors may not know Kenny Schaffer personally, but they certainly know and appreciate his work.
Schaffer, 53, is the street musician who plies his trade playing electric guitar near the subway entrance on Sheepshead Bay Road several days a week.
“Sheepshead Bay is a cozy environment and has a touch of ocean and there is a tourist trade here, not overwhelming, but it’s here, and the police are very open to me and protect me,” said Schaffer, a thin man with two earrings, a weathered face and light brown eyes.
“They [police] know I’m sober and play guitar to stay sober and they let me play because they would rather see me play guitar than be in the gutter because without it that’s where I would be,” he added.
Shaffer was born at the now-closed Shore Road Hospital in Bay Ridge and went to St. Anselm’s School on 83rd Street and 4th Avenue before joining the Merchant Marines and then the Navy.
At 21, Shaffer came back to Brooklyn with an honorable discharge and shortly thereafter found himself on the hardscrabble borough streets with substance abuse problems.
“I come from an Irish-German background in an alcoholic household that was quite dysfunctional,” Shaffer recalled.
“My father died from alcohol abuse when I was five and my mother, who died two years ago, also drank but gave it up years ago,” he added.
Schaffer credited two constants in his life that have kept him sober for the past three years – the guitar and God.
Shaffer said he began playing guitar as a boy and never gave it up, with his chief influences being the slide guitar work of Joe Walsh of the Eagles and Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band.
“People are very generous,” said Shaffer. “My view is people like what I do and they tell me they like what I do. I get ten dollar bills and old people throw in pennies, but it adds up.”
Schaffer, who lives with his girlfriend in the neighborhood, said his faith in God and Christianity also keeps him going, and he also spreads his faith.
“We try to minister and try to help homeless. There are more around here than you think. There are a lot of street people around here and people riding that edge. Just look what’s happening to the economy,” he said.
“I spent my life looking for God and through the guitar, I’ve been introduced to people everywhere, and I share my belief with people,” Schaffer added.
Schaffer said he used to play near the 86th Street subway in Bay Ridge, but there is another street musician at that spot and he now prefers to play in Sheepshead Bay.
It is in Sheepshead Bay where Schaffer now spends his time ministering to the growing enclave of homeless people, such as those near the subway entrance on Voorhies Avenue, and where he spreads his musical talent for all to hear.
“I put my whole heart into every song I do and it reflects my mood and the mood of the world as I look at the world,” said Schaffer.
“I believe my music is a reflection of where I live, I see a lot of hard times, and on the other hand, I see people going to work on the train trying so hard to earn a living. I believe the music motivates people. A lot of people will come out just to say hello and see what Kenny’s doing or to sit and listen.”
©2008 Community News Group
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