This evening I have returned home after a five-hour memorial jam session for some one who most of you have never heard of but someone you knew at one time, Jerry McGinnis. Don’t worry… this is not going to be some long drawn out sad story to bum you out or make you cry. Hang in there for a minute.
Jerry was a fine guitarist and singer with a love for music which was second only to his love and dedication to family. He grew up and lived, and died in a small town somewhere in the USA . The name of the place would mean nothing to most of you but you can make up your own name because you’ve been there. Jerry was a baby-boomer who had gravitated to music and the guitar at an early age. He excelled at vocals and guitar- the Fender Stratocaster to be precise. A handsome young man and one of those guys who could wear long hair, a full beard and he always looked sharp! Jerry played in a lot of bands but most of the time in the early years he worked with his brother Ron, who also happened to wield a Fender Strat. They were one of the first groups to ever come out of our area that had that Allman Brothers thing going on with the dual lead guitars playing in precise perfect pitch harmonies and they not only blew the audiences away but also all the other bands and musicians who would drive long distances just to hear Jerry and Ron play those hot guitars and sing. At some point down the road, the brothers went different directions and both would earn the respect and many accolades of their peers and fans alike. I was fortunate to have worked in bands with each of the McGinnis Brothers at different times in my own professional career, first with Jerry over twenty-eight years ago and then with Ron a few years later. There was never a dull moment with either of the guys and the musicianship was always on a higher level than some of the other bands I’d played in, but back when I worked with Jerry McGinnis he was the guy who was always motivating the band to push the envelope, go outside of our comfort zones and learn some of the newest material being played on the radio. He always brought something new and fresh to rehearsals and the stage and was a strong front man and leader.
There was something more about Jerry that everyone loved and that was his smile. He had such a great smile and it was never hard to make him laugh and he loved to amuse others as well. When he was in ” the zone ” and playing that guitar I’d look over and see this little grin coming from him. He truly loved to play and sing in a band. To him, there was nothing else quite like it in life. About a year ago after a series of heart attacks which had come and gone over a period of years, Jerry had a serious one while performing on stage with the band he had been working in for a long time, Backfire. The EMT’s worked on him on the stage that night. Later his doctor would ground him from ever playing music on stage professionally again. His dream, passion and livelihood had come to an end and I can only imagine what it was like for him to be forced to give it up.
About ten days ago Jerry McGinnis fought and lost his last fight with a weakened heart and we lost a brother and a great friend. Today through the concerted efforts of the community, The Backfire Band, family and friends and the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, Jerry was honored in an all-day jam session. Musicians from all over came to play tribute to their fallen Brother. I was so lucky to have had the chance to get up and play in remembrance of one of my friends who happens to be one of my own personal guitar heroes.
In life as we meander down along that long lost highway of time and experiences we have all enjoyed music – though not all of us receive the calling to be a professional musician and an entertainer, nor do most of us become great ball players or authors. We’ve all known someone like Jerry who could play the guitar or throw a ball better than most anyone else in our home town. And, we’ve admired and sometimes even idolized these people although the major leagues and the major labels never heard of them. The fame thing really doesn’t matter does it ? It didn’t matter to Jerry and do you know why? Because when you’re a musician and it’s embedded into the core of your being, your essence and your soul – you play for the pure love and the joy of playing. And that my friends is true greatness.
Jerry McGinnis leaves behind a large close family, many friends and a community which will never forget him. The Eagles hall was filled with hundreds who would rather raise a glass of cheer to his memory than to sob in their emptiness alone. For a few moments we sat in silence as the band played along with a beautiful rendition of Jerry singing Bob Dylan’s immortal ” Knocking On Heaven’s Door “. His voice clean, clear and sweet. His ever tasty guitar soothing like a beckoning to the Angels. Jerry McGinnis didn’t have to knock for long – there were smiling faces eagerly awaiting his arrival on the other side.