Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend 2009 was asthetically perfect. Pristine blue skies, low hanging, almost 3d clouds ...smooth sailing as they say
The days perfection broken by voicemail.
Gary Gerloff, who passed away Saturday morning, made an indelible impression on not only me but on everyone he encountered. A gregarious, warm, larger than life character -Gary always brought his "A" game. Always.
He had a natural ability to draw everyone to him; an uncanny abilitiy to make bring out the best in everyone he encountered and an amazing knack for encountering life's most interesting characters. To put it in layman's terms: following Gary through a 7-11 could leave you smiling for days.
Gary was blessed and in turn we were blessed to know him. One adventure of many comes to mind - I had the great pleasure of accompanying Gary to Vegas for three nights of Grateful Dead concerts - and a lifetime of memories; From meeting and partying with Jerry Garcia's guitar builder Doug Irwin to being threatened by a drug dealer on the Vegas strip with an Uzi to winning a grand playing blackjack at 4 AM - hell it was all expected with Mr Gerloff. His magic was contagious.
Gerloff generosity was well known in the community . He helped launch an annual concert series to support the Positive Vibe Café, a restaurant in South Richmond with many handicapped employees He performed at numerous fundraising events, helped organize an anual benefit for the Massey Cancer Center and was on the program committee for the Richmond Folk Festival.
After 25 years on the road, in the noisy clubs and the beery bars, he’s signed a major-league Hollywood contract, and now his “Psychedelic Dixieland” music, once confined to Virginia and the Carolinas, delights fans the world over.
He’s never left his hometown for more than a month. And if the former capital of the Confederacy, an aloof and well-mannered place, never will be considered a musical Mecca, it does hold special appeal for him.
“I just love the dignity of living in a once-defeated city,” he says. “A great deal of pride once carried us here. It gave us a noble cloak, and adorned us with the air of some ancient Greek city-state. Richmond is like some old whore or piece of architecture. She’s been around forever, it seems. But when you notice her in a certain light, why, there’s a real charm to behold.”
He’s talking in his basement over a 20-foot bar with three sinks. (“One to wash your hands. One to wash your face. And one to throw up in.”) Behind the bar are display cases jam-packed with the things he holds precious: bobble-head dolls of Satchel Paige, Grady Little and Keith Richards; miniature ceramic hand-painted jazz ensembles from New Orleans; an autograph from Hunter S. Thompson; a collection of Three Stooges shot glasses; an English nose whistle; two James Brown posters from concerts at The Arena; a stuffed and mounted bear’s head casually draped in a feathered Mardi Gras mask and beads; and a 1970s photograph of his late brother Peter, arm-in-arm with the family’s maid.
Behind him, on a 9-foot Brunswick regulation pool table, lie seven bamboo fly rods, an assortment of air horns, one birdhouse in the form of the Parthenon and two Halicrafter short wave radios. Behind the pool table stand 15 vintage guitars and six worn-out, antique tube amplifiers.
He says he’s tempted to call his 1960s split level, with its 1400 sq. ft. terraced deck, “a tumbled-down shack in BigFoot country,” but instead refers to it as his roost, his outpost and his thinking line of defense. He lives here on a densely wooded hill a half-mile from the James River with his wife who’s an accomplished pianist, his 11-year-old daughter who’s an aspiring writer, and his seven-year-old son, whom he tags a “yellow-haired monkey.”
All are unimpressed with his musical persona, one that plumbs the depths of American music and its attendant emotions.
.... he labels himself a relic from another era – a living fossil. “I see myself as a bluesman first. Second, I am a champion of heartfelt emotions. I like awkward displays of love. I am an encourager of dreams,” he says.
Gerloff picked up his first guitar at age 12, and promptly abandoned all other ambitions; music became his life.
His music became our life. I am honored to have know you Gary Gerloff
Happy Trails my brother.