Forever footloose, famously fancy-free Barefoot: A nationally known Columbia keyboarder is sold on being unsoled: Except for rare occasions, this barefoot minstrel resolutely eschews shoes.

September 28, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

He puts on flip-flop sandals before walking into restaurants. He wears black dress shoes to funerals.

But for all intents and purposes, it comes down to this: Glenn Workman -- a 38-year-old Columbia musician renowned nationwide for connecting computers to keyboard synthesizers -- has not worn shoes in 20 years.

His bare feet take him everywhere -- walking through stores, sitting at Camden Yards, standing in delivery rooms, shoveling snow, driving his car, working for the Rolling Stones, grading tests as a volunteer at his daughters' elementary school.

Workman did not even wear shoes while playing as a guest keyboarder with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.

"You know how you feel so good when you come home and kick off your shoes," Workman says. "I feel like that all the time."

Workman's feet are not the callused mess one might expect. He credits rough pavement, which he says rubs away thickened skin at regular intervals. His toes are straight and spaced apart, in contrast to the bent and squished toes of so many shoe wearers.

There's nothing complex or mystical about it. He just hates wearing shoes.

Those who know Workman have their favorite stories -- such as the one about the traffic court judge who asked him if he expected to win his case while standing before him barefoot. And they have long accepted him as a person who, even from the ankles up, is not entirely normal.

By several accounts Workman is a genius, working out of his basement filled with computers, synthesizers, wires, cables, speakers, amplifiers, guitars, a drum set and a variety of black boxes known as Musical Instrument Digital Interfaces.

His mop-top hair and bushy mustache, not to mention a propensity to wear shorts until temperatures approach freezing, complete the look. But the man seems well-grounded in reality -- never, it seems, without a smile.

As a Mr. Mom -- his wife Mary works for Northrop-Grumman as an electrical engineer -- Workman says he enjoys nothing more than looking after his daughters.

"He doesn't answer to anybody but himself and his family," says longtime friend and Marine Staff Sergeant Tom Ginsberg, who arranges music for "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band.

Adds Glenn's mother, Carolyn Workman of Reisterstown: "I figure if he's happy and raising his kids well, who am I to complain about shoes?"

His father, Bill Workman, recalls looking out his window during a blizzard 15 years ago. There was Glenn, bounding barefoot through snow to check on him.

Says Bill Workman, now a retired Episcopal priest living in Kentucky, "I delight in telling my friends I have a son who is 38 years old and doesn't wear shoes."

Glenn's parents knew from the start their son was unusual. As a toddler, Glenn crawled under the grand piano one evening in the family's Washington home. "I was playing Bach's Two Part Inventions," Bill Workman recalls. "And he was bobbing his head perfect rhythm."

Growing up, Glenn did wear shoes -- somewhat reluctantly. When he was 8 he studied music theory at American University. And when the family moved to Reisterstown, Workman took piano lessons at the Peabody Institute.

While at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Workman was the only boy on the cheerleading squad -- a practice he now recommends to any high school boy interested, as he puts it, in spending two hours a day with the prettiest girls in school. After all, he and Mary started dating when they were cheerleaders.

"He's just always been marching to a different drummer," admits Glenn's mother Carolyn, who forced him to wear shoes until he was 18.

"I graduated from high school," Workman says. "And thereby stopped wearing shoes."

In the 1970s early 1980s, that meant lots of barefoot performances with "Off The Wall," an eclectic rock band that played regularly at the Marble Bar, an alternative music hot spot in downtown Baltimore. On the back of the band's only album, "Ground Zero," Workman and his band-mates are pictured amid construction rubble. Workman, naturally, is shoeless.

His feet sometimes got more attention than his music. Says lead guitarist and close friend Jim Ball, a touch of regret in his voice. "In a way it has eclipsed how talented he is."

The more Workman played music on electronic synthesizers, the more he fiddled with them. Not having attended college -- he says he was scared of being bored -- Workman taught himself computer programming. He found new ways for keyboarders to link computers to their keyboards, allowing them to store computer data as they played. Once music is in a computer, keyboarders can edit it as if it was a word processing document. They also can make the computer play the edited song by sending it back through the synthesizer.

Today, Workman sells digital equipment and software from his basement and offers technical support to musicians throughout the nation. He also evaluates new products -- a process known as Beta-testing.

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