(Jerry’s official, self-penned obituary can be found here.)
Instead of offering any additional commentary on my friend, I’ll share with you what I shared with the folks at his memorial service earlier today.
I’ve had a week to grieve, and I feel like I’m just getting warmed up.
(I didn’t have any prepared comments…I made notes before I left – which I glanced at and then sat down beside me and forgot about. This is from memory, and isn’t exactly as I recited it, but it’s pretty close.)
It’s been 32 years since I’ve been here – this room wasn’t even here when I graduated in 1983. I actually had to use my GPS to find the high school…it’s been that long since I’ve been here.
it’s been that long since I was in a band with Opie, too, but that relationship went beyond Jerry’s talents as a musician. The few times I came back to town, I always sought him out.
Jerry was the person who broke the news to me that David Philips died a few years ago…I know a lot of you knew David as the co-owner of Maxine’s House of Music on Florence Road that I used to haunt as a teenager. I remember telling Jerry that day that I could count the people in Savannah that I went out of my way to keep in touch with on my testicles, and now that David was gone he was gonna have to be careful or he was gonna leave me in a hell of a bind.
Well, folks, I stand before you today as a man with no testicles.
Jerry has left us – and some of us may have expected it, but after him battling back from everything that life’s thrown at him, I fully expected him to battle back from this, too, and I’m sorry to have been wrong about that.
At almost 50, I think I’d rather be without my testicles than to be without Opie.
I see a few faces here that I know, but a lot more that I don’t, so let me introduce myself – as Debbie told you, my name is Tom Hampton. I doubt many of you know me, but I met Jerry when I was a teenager and we played in a band together called the New Hope Music Project.
When I was 14 years old, I had the audacity to dial a number I heard on the radio to call the studio that Jerry shared with the band because I’d heard them on the radio, talking about a 45 they’d just released, and I called to ask if they ever needed session musicians. I was 14 – I didn’t know if that was how it worked or not, but they actually told me that if I wanted to come down and try out, that I was welcome to.
I think I knew even then that they were probably just being nice to a green kid who’d never been in a band before – but my aunt took me to the studio, i went in and played three songs with them, and they took my number and wrote it on a card and hung it on the wall in the control room. and time went by…a lot of time…and one afternoon i got a phone call from the band, because their drummer had taken a job out of town and had to leave the band – so would I be interested in coming in and auditioning for their band?
It was the beginning of a two year run playing drums behind Jerry with a group of musicians who were all at least a decade older than i was…and in bands, there are inevitably cliques that emerge – Pat and Frankie were longtime friends, and Ricky the soundguy was dating the lead singer, so Jerry and I were the last two left. If we were gigging in town, Jerry would drive me to the gig in his turd-brown Toyota Tercel hatchback and he’d brainwash me on the way to and from the gigs by playing Little Feat incessantly in the car. We’d go back to Jerry’s house after shows and he and I would rifle through his album collection and he forced me to fall in love with Karla Bonoff…we covered her song “Trouble Again” and I had to hear where that came from.
I talk about Jerry and David Phillips in the same breath because just about everything good that’s happened to me in my life since crossing paths with them was made possible by the fact that they took an interest in me. I was a dirt poor kid, living in Walnut Grove with my mother, brother and sister, and if those two hadn’t shown me the possibility that there was something else life had to offer, there’s absolutely no way that I’d have had the experiences I’ve had. It might sound cliche’ to say it, but it’s absolutely true that Jerry changed my life.
I joined the Navy and left town, and took my guitar with me because it was impossible to travel with drums…and Jerry’s ghost followed me too. In fact, I listen to recordings of myself playing guitar during the years that I was “graduating” to playing lead, and if you listen to him and listen to those tapes back to back, the influence is undeniable.
When I came back to Savannah the first time after having left, I looked Jerry up and he told me to meet him at the old drive-in…I thought he was nuts, as it had been closed for ages, but Jerry had helped convert the refreshment stand at the old drive-in to the first Elks Club in town, and we talked for hours and hours…I remember snippets of the conversation, and I remember him saying several times that “your money ain’t no good here” when I’d try to pay for drinks. After a while, I don’t really remember much else about that night…or leaving…or how i got home.
Our paths crossed time and time again over the years – he came to Nashville to see me play with my band, he came to Nashville to pick me up at the airport when my car crapped out on the way to a gig with Daryle Singletary…and he was always a phone call away. I’ve still got voicemails on my phone from him. I talked to him at 9 o’clock the night before he died. Even after all that he’d been through, he was a rock. I truly believed that we had a lot of miles left on our odometer.
About a month ago, I came to town with my friend Bert, who’s here today, to visit with Jerry…I brought my wife and 5 year old son, neither of whom he’d ever met, and we spent the afternoon together. Capped it off with a shot of Jack, his favorite drink. And I remember thinking on the way home that we should’ve taken a picture…but that we could do that next time.
One of the things I find a lot of peace in is the fact that there wasn’t anything unsaid between Jerry and I…he knew I loved him, and I told him everything I’ve told you today. He was aware of the profound effect he had on my life, and I’m so happy that we got that afternoon together last month. I thought it would be the first of many more, but it turned out to be the last.
If there’s a silver lining that we can take away from losing Jerry…all of us…go home today and pick up the phone. send an email or a text. Find somebody that you haven’t talked to in a long time and start a conversation. Let them know you miss them. I’m incredibly fortunate to know, at the end of the day, that Jerry and I said everything we needed to say to one another.
I was lucky in that respect this time. It’s not usually the way it ends…but that’s the way I want to do it from now on.