Professor sings of love, life, insects

Mesa State College biology professor Dr. Gary McCallister strums a mandolin as he composes music in his home office and then uses a computer to create the songs on his albums.

Musicians typically love their guitars, but rarely does one find a musician equally interested in parasite-infected cockroaches.

Then again, Gary McCallister isn’t like most musicians.

McCallister, 64, is The One Man Mormon Blues Band as well as a biology professor at Mesa State College. He writes and performs his own music but rarely books personal performances. When he does perform, it’s for a niche audience. He doesn’t spend much time talking about his music.

However, in 2009 McCallister released a CD titled, “Valentine Blues: the many faces of Love.”

The CD contains 12 songs written by McCallister for one reason or another during the past 15 years. The central theme is how love manifests itself in various ways.

For example, the song “A Long Time” is based on a first date one of his sons went on as a teenager, and that son’s subsequent realization that it would be a long time before he went on another date because the first one was so expensive.

Another song, “Insect Eyes,” is about a female praying mantis eating her mate and how a woman’s eyes can be equally dangerous to a man.

Blues music is McCallister’s favorite to sing, which is why the music on “Valentine Blues” and the three other CDs he has compiled since 2005 have a blues influence.

Compared to his other CDs, though, “Valentine Blues” is unique in that McCallister’s love of bugs shines through.

The biology professor has played his songs about insects and DNA for some students who “get a kick out of it,” McCallister said. He doubted many of his students know he plays the guitar.

Another thing those students likely don’t know is that their biology professor didn’t always love science. If someone had told McCallister when he was 21 that he would one day be a biology professor, he would have called that person “insane.”

As a young man, McCallister toyed with the idea of majoring in music in college and sang folk music in the early 1960s before being drafted to the U.S. military.

Once in the military, McCallister became a medic and quickly grew fascinated with biology, which he later studied at Brigham Young University.

“The Army made me a medic, and all of a sudden, I’m saying, ‘Whoa, this is interesting stuff,’ ” McCallister said. “It’s not that I didn’t love music, but I didn’t want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star.”

McCallister used his biology degree to become a professor at Mesa College in 1972. (Mesa College became Mesa State College in 1988.) He has taught at the college ever since, only taking some time off to pursue his doctorate with a particular interest in parasitology, which is the study of parasites, their hosts and the relationship between the two.

McCallister keeps a cage of cockroaches in his office to observe how the insects respond to hosting a parasitic worm.

Although a parasitic relationship seems an unlikely place to find musical inspiration, it works for McCallister, who likes to joke around with his lyrics.

Who knows? Maybe a song about cockroaches will appear on his new CD slated for release this fall.

McCallister and his longtime friend and local producer, Gary Smith, are putting together a 17-song CD of original works McCallister wrote during a two-week period.

“Lyric writing comes easy,” McCallister said. Now, he wants to challenge himself to make his music more complex.

Although McCallister never became a professional musician, no one can take the musician out of him.

“In my heart, I’m probably a poet,” McCallister said.

To listen to McCallister’s music or to learn more about him, go to


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