“The first half of my life, I was known as the son of Yule; the last half, I’m known as the father of Jewel,” reflected Atz in 2007 to Mike Dunham with the Anchorage Daily News.
Diving into some old newspaper clippings, stories told about Atz through the years go beyond his identity as a reality show star. Long before the show started, Atz was a musician, artist, ski coach, and teacher in Anchorage and Homer.
“But he might also be called Alaska’s grand old man of music. He’s been writing songs here for most of his 59 years and getting paid to perform them.”
At the time of the interview Atz was performing in Anchorage at the Wild Berry Theater with his original Alaskan songs sung with a backdrop of historic family photos and video footage from his childhood growing up near Kachemak Bay.
“After a sting in Vietnam Atz got a master’s degree in social work at the University of Utah and, later, a degree in teaching at Alaska Pacific University. He also took art classes – but he never needed to study music. That cam instinctively.”
Atz’s LP album “Early Morning Gold” with first wife and high school sweetheart Nedra Carroll sold 5,000 copies within a year – a hot seller by the standards of the day. The album was produced at professional standards by Alaska artists, which was also unique at the time. Atz, Nedra and their kids Shane, Atz Lee and Jewel performed around the state. Though Atz meant to leave Homer behind forever, he went back after the family broke up.
“I wound up teaching music and coaching skiing at a school a mile and a half from where I grew up singing and skiing,” Atz told the ADN. “What were the odds of that?”
As the years strolled by, Atz continued making and performing music. His performances have been an attraction of interest to tourists and locals alike.
“Frankly, our typical summer tourist fare makes me grind my teeth. But here’s a chunk of real-deal Alaska, presented in the flesh by a guy who lived it. It’s a tourist show not just for visitors from afar but for PFD-eligible Alaskan’s who’ve never known a working horse, subsisted on homegrown vegetables or heard singing like we sang for ourselves and each other before telephones and television.
“He was a hard man. It was a hard land,” Atz sings, referring to his father. But it’s a life and land that he has chosen to stick with, and he voices few regrets.
“The thing that’s most gratifying to me at this point is that people really like the story,” Atz said. “And I’m telling it where it came from, with what my folks Yule and Ruth started, passing it on to my own kids. You know what? I’m part of it all.”