It was always about the music with Jack.
The first time I ever heard from him, almost exactly 20 years ago,
he sent me a note about "the spirit" he and Andy had tried
to capture on the Scorchers' first EP.
I don't know how you summarize a spirit, but that is what Jack and
Andy (because that's how I always think of them both) were
and are all about.
I always think of Jack kind of figuratively or maybe it was
even literally sometimes sitting at Andy's feet, with his
great aureole of hair making this bold statement that his silence
did nothing to dispel.
That was the thing about him then: he was very quiet
but he was a total contributor to the conversation, in his
attentiveness, in the way that you knew he picked up on every single
word that was spoken, in the way that you could be certain he would
go out and take the subject under discussion whatever
that subject was in new, thoroughly assimilated, and
idiosyncratic directions of his own.
I don't think anyone present is ever going to forget the revolution
that Praxis wrought. It was everything that corporate Nashville
was not at the time, and undoubtedly still is not today. It was
about truth and belief and following your instincts in the same
way that Sam Phillips had taught both Andy and Jack by example.
It wasn't about hits though hits never hurt it was
always about seeking out that unplowed row.
The music that they helped give birth to is music that we all cherish
but the spirit that they contributed, the manner in which
they were willing to risk everything for what they believed in is
an example by which we might all try to live.
There were touchstones for me in any conversation with Jack and
Andy. Sam Phillips. Jerry Lee Lewis. The truth of Billy Joe Shaver's
songs. Whatever they were working on at present. The ghost-like,
intangible, but always prevailing spirit of the music.
They took me by the hand, they took us all by the hand and led us
past skepticism into a room that was populated by hope and belief.
There wasn't much room for skepticism in their world well,
maybe a little. But there was NO room for cynicism.
That's what I'll always remember about Jack: the openness of his
enthusiasms, the openness of his belief, the generosity of his appreciation
not just for the present but for the past, and for his vision of
the future, too. That's what I'll try to carry with me: that faith
in the future. I know I won't do as good a job as Jack I
don't know many people who do. But it's an ideal to try to live
James Barber, written Saturday, Nov. 22:
Jack Emerson, one of my greatest friends and mentors, died this afternoon
from a heart attack at home in Nashville.
Im sending this to you because I dont think enough people
knew about Jack and how much he contributed to the Cause. Please send
it to anyone you know who knew Jack or should have known him.
Jack was a friend, advisor and confidante to some of the greatest
artists in the world: Jason & the Nashville Scorchers, the Georgia
Satellites, Steve Earle, Steve Forbert, Billy Joe Shaver and Sonny
Landreth are just the beginning of a very long list.
first met Jack in 1981 when I was a college radio DJ and Jack was
a Vanderbilt student with a tiny DIY label called Praxis Records.
He put out a 7" by Our Favorite Band that managed to be anarchic,
funny, scary and profound all at once. I wrote my first fan letter
and he wrote back.
When he sent me an advance pressing of the first Jason & the Nashville
Scorchers EP, it began a friendship that lasted more than 20 years.
The Scorchers were maybe the greatest live band Ive ever seen,
a band that managed to conjure the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones,
Bob Dylan and George Jones all at the same time. Jack and his partner,
Andy McLenon, ran Praxis more as a School of Rock than a management
company and I proudly count myself as one of their students.
It seems so hard to explain now, but underground rock in the 80s was
a Cause and bands like the Scorchers, R.E.M., the Replacements, Husker
Du and the Dream Syndicate paved the way for everything good that
happened for us in the 90s.
Ill also confess that I just flat didnt understand Bob
Dylan until I was almost 30. And it was Jack who kept leading me back
to records that I insisted werent as good as the hype. Of course,
I was profoundly and embarrassingly wrong but it was Jacks persistence
that made sure I was able to eventually fall in love with some of
the most important music in my life.
When I decided to quit the music business in 1988, it was Jack who
summoned me to Nashville and convinced me that the Cause needed me
too much for me to give up. I took his advice and have thanked him
a million times since.
day of my life I try to remember what an enormous privilege its
been for me to make my living doing something that I love and try
to witness to someone else about the True Faith.
Jack was the person who first and best taught me how to do that.
He always cautioned me not to get sucked in by what we called the
Hustle. Whenever I felt like it was going to get me, I could call
him and wed talk about Lefty Frizzell or Wire or Gram Parsons
or the Rolling Stones and Id invariably find my center and live
to fight another day.
We often talked about the famous bootleg of a studio argument between
Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee Lewis where Sam tries to convince Jerry
Lee that hes not going to hell for playing rock music. Like
Mr. Sam, Jack believed that rock and roll had the power to save souls.
In a more perfect world, Jack would have been the head of a major
record company. He was one of the greatest music men Ive ever
known and its the faith he always had in the power of music
that has inspired me for my entire career.
I know he affected dozens if not hundreds of lives the way he affected
Lots of us grew up in provincial towns where music was the lifeline
that let us know that there must be a better life somewhere else.
Jack understood this and knew that it was our sacred charge to keep
making music that might change lives.
I will miss him every day.
read by Jack's sisters, Emily and Amy:
I should ever leave you
whom I love
To go along the Silent Way,
Nor speak of me with tears,
but laugh and talk
Of me as if I were
beside you there.
(Id come I come,
could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief
And when you hear a song
or see a bird
I loved, please do not let
the thought of me
For I am
loving you just as
I always have
You were so good to me!
There are so many things
I wanted still
to do - so many things
to say to you
Remember that I
did not fear
Just leaving you
that was hard to face
We cannot see Beyond
But this I know:
I loved you so---twas heaven
Here with you!
"To Those I Love", by Isla Paschal Richardson
give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the mornings hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone,
I am with you still, in each new dawn.
Native American Prayer
as the soft rains fill the streams,
pour into the rivers and join together in the oceans,
So may the power of every moment of your goodness
Flow forth to awaken and heal all beings,
Those here now, those gone before, those yet to come.
By the power of every moment of your goodness
May your hearts wishes be soon fulfilled
As completely shining as the bright full moon,
As magically as by a wish-fulfilling gem.
By the power of every moment of your goodness
May all the dangers be averted and all the disease be gone.
May no obstacle come across your way.
May you enjoy fulfillment and long life.
Prayer For Healing
all in whose heart dwells respect,
Who follow the wisdom and compassion, of the Way.
May your life prosper in the four blessings
Of old age, beauty, happiness and strength
Traditional Buddhist blessing and healing chant
if I go, while youre still here
Know that I still live on, vibrating to a different measure behind
the thin veil you cannot see through.
You will not see me, so you must have faith.
I wait the time when we can soar together again, both aware of each
Until then, live your life to the fullest. And when you need me,
just whisper my name on your heart
I will be there.
can love and appreciate people during their lifetimes, but when they
die -- particularly when they die unexpectedly -- the role that they
played in your life and that of everyone around you becomes painfully
clear. As does the depth of the loss. That's what I felt recently
when I learned that Jack Emerson, a passionate music fan and independent
label head, died of a heart attack at the far-to-young age of forty-three.
A friend of his sent around an email about Jack that explained, "I'm
sending this to you because I don't think enough people knew about
Jack and how much he contributed to the Cause." He's right, and
that's why I'm writing this.
I first met Jack about twenty years ago when he and his dear friend
Andy McLenon were running a small label in Nashville called, hilariously,
Praxis International. Praxis was about as international as hand-stamped
packages to music writers in England could make it. But soon its impact
would be felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Jack and Andy had just
put out the first releases by Jason and the Scorchers, a band that
combined raw rock & roll energy with the depth and conviction
of classic country music. In other words, Jack, Andy and the Scorchers
were helping to create and define what would eventually become know
as alternative country. They've never gotten sufficient credit for
that, but it's true nonetheless.
I was living in Atlanta at the time, and just starting out as a rock
writer. The Scorchers were coming to town, and I got an assignment
to profile them for Record, a now-defunct music monthly based in New
York. That was a big deal for me. I met the band just before their
soundcheck at 688, the New Wave and punk club that gave a Hotlanta
home to progressive bands from nearby Athens, as well as from the
rest of the U.S. (particularly the South) and England. And that's
when I met Jack and Andy, too. The interview that day turned into
a conversation that essentially never stopped.
Like the Scorchers, Jack and Andy were true believers, and they made
you feel the fire that they felt. At the time so many great young
bands were starting out that had roots in the South -- R.E.M., the
Swimming Pool Q's, Pylon, the dB's the B-52's, the Georgia Satellites
and, of course, the Scorchers among them. The inventiveness, smarts
and sheer joy of the music made supporting those bands feel like a
mission. The especially great thing about Jack and Andy, however,
was their visceral sense of history. They loved the Clash, and they
loved Johnny Cash. They loved the Ramones, and they loved Jerry Lee
Lewis. They made no distinction between music that was happening right
this minute, and music that had changed the world decades before.
All it had to be was great.
Jack was the sort of person who elevated the music industry merely
through his involvement in it. He and Andy went on to launch the Georgia
Satellites, and worked with artists of the caliber of John Hiatt,
Steve Forbert, Billy Joe Shaver and Sonny Landreth. After Praxis ended
its fourteen-year run, Jack joined forces with Steve Earle to form
the E-Squared label, which put out The Mountain, Earle's blistering
collaboration with bluegrass wizard Del McCoury, along with albums
by Cheri Knight and the V-Roys. Most recently Jack was running his
own label, the aptly -- and now sadly -- named Jack of Hearts.
The simple fact is Jack was all about heart. If Jack was involved
with a project, you knew it was going to be good. Not that every album
or every artist he ever worked with was destined for the ages. But
anything he touched was always substantive and real. Jack didn't have
a cynical bone in his body.
that's a big part of what his friend Jim Barber meant when he wrote
about Jack's contribution to "the Cause." The cause was
not just music, though music was essential to it. The cause was caring.
Bothering to make whatever you were working on as good as you can
make it. Bothering to let other people know when they did something
good. If the term alternative means anything, Jack embodied it. His
every action provided a vision of what might be possible, and gave
testimony that the music business could be and should be dignified,
honest and fun.
the news of his death, the emails and phone calls started flying,
and the theme in them was always the same. How Jack had encouraged
someone. How he had inspired them. In recent years, he and I had spoken
and seen each other less than we used to, but I kept up with him through
mutual friends and, needless to say, the sheer quality of the music
that he made possible. Even when we were not in touch, it always heartened
me to know that he was out there doing what he loved and communicating
that commitment to others. He was a living ideal, one of the good
guys, and it will take the dedicated, ongoing efforts of all of his
friends to fill the hole that he left behind, and to create the musical
legacy that he deserves.
(November 26, 2003)
of the cradle endlessly rocking
THANKS JACK BENEFIT CONCERT
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12TH @ MERCY LOUNGE
in Nashville, Tennessee
Promotional support provided WRLT- Lightning 100
JOHN HIATT & THE GONERS
STEVE EARLE (backed by the Scorchers)
JASON & THE SCORCHERS
BILLY JOE SHAVER (backed by the Scorchers)
WEBB WILDER & BAND
TIM KREKEL & THE SLUGGERS
Also shorter solo sets by Steve Forbert, Bill Lloyd & Jake Brennan!
Emcee: Rev. Keith Coes from Lightning 100
an effort to help Jack Emersons family defray the medical
costs that mounted over the months preceding his untimely passing,
many of the artists he worked with over the course of his twenty
years in the business have organized a concert at the Mercy Lounge
in Nashville on Friday December 12.
Doors 7:00pm, Downbeat @ 8:30pm.
Advance tickets go on sale, Friday December 5 at www.mercylounge.com
or by calling 1-800-594-8499. Ticket price is $30 (see note below
for making an additional donation beyond the ticket price).
There will also be a silent auction with some irresistible cd collections
& box sets, XM Satellite radio system, guitar signed by Billy
Joe Shaver and much more. All proceeds go to the family.
If you want to make a donation beyond the ticket price, additional
donations will be accepted at the show or can be mailed to:
The Jack Emerson Memorial Fund
Kurt Vitolo c/o Gudvi, Sussman & Oppenheim
1222 16th Ave South, 3rd Floor
Nashville, TN 37212
Checks can be made payable to the Jack Emerson Memorial Fund