“I Think You Know My Wife”

God, I am getting tired of writing about death. I mean can we give it a break for just a little while? Please?

Linda and I did not welcome 2015. We kicked 2014 in the ass on its way out the door. In some ways it was a good year. We have finally gotten at least our heads and shoulders out of the deep financial and professional hole dug for us in 2011. We still have that hole to fill back in but at least we are out far enough to see something other than the sides of the pit.

But there was an awful lot of loss in the 18 months or so preceding this new year. Linda lost both of her parents in the span of just 10 months and we lost some very close friends that I have already written about in this space. As 2015 got started, we were hoping for a bit of a break. But that was not to be.

Fittingly (as will become clear), I was standing onstage doing a sound check when I got the news. My band, Rev. It Up! has been doing a bunch of gigs out at the Casablanca Resort and Casino in Mesquite, NV. Wednesday through Sunday. Five sets a night covering six hours total. It’s Band Boot Camp. Hard work, but we come back a better band than we were when we left town every time we play that run. 

It was a rough run going in. Brand new drummer, brand new trumpet player, brand new sax player and a sub bass player for the first two nights of the run. And our singer had just started a new day gig and was having to drive back and forth between Las Vegas and Mesquite. That is a 70 mile drive once you get out of town and she was at the far side of town so add an additional 15 miles (in peak traffic time aka “Rush Hour”) added on. I was a little freaked out.

Sound check was running later than I would have liked. Plus, when we play out there, we get rooms as part of the deal but the rooms are not at the same resort. The same company owns another property up the road a few miles called the Virgin River and we stay there. So it was about an hour before hit time, we were still checking levels and we were short a singer (who was still on the road) and at least one horn player. Plus, most of us were in street clothes and no one had checked in to the hotel yet. 

I reached into my pocket for my phone to check the time. (I will probably start wearing a watch again when the Apple Watch comes out, but for now I use my phone.) And on the screen was more than the time. There was a PM from Cheryl Evans. “He has taken a turn for the worse and does not have a lot of time.”

Shit…

“He” was Cheryl’s husband, Jerry Cobb. I knew he was sick. Fucking cancer. But was under the impression that he was doing well. I was wrong.

I have known Cheryl for a very very long time. We want to Jr. High and High School together and since we share the same common last name (but are not related), we are standing next to each other in many a class photo from the mid and late ‘70s. But by the mid ‘90s, I had not seen or heard anything about her since we both graduated in ’78.

It was ‘97, I was the editor of Gig Magazine and we had a regular feature called the Gig Nightmare. (Yes, I took the idea with me along with a few other things when I went to FOH in 2002…). This band from Orange County called Up All Nite submitted a story for the Nightmare. I honestly can’t even remember what the story was. I think it was something about a military gig inside the Arctic Circle and a drunken drummer urinating on a large memorial anchor. It was a good story. We used it. The band included a nicely produced tri-fold brochure about the band. (“Tri-fold” and “brochure”… Two terms that only those of us of a “certain age” will even be able to identify…) I was looking for successful cover bands to feature in Gig. So I passed the brochure on to writer Kenny Kerner (who is also gone now…) and he wrote a feature.

A few months later, I was in need of someone to write reviews of keyboards. As in synths. I think we had just signed Alesis as an advertiser and I needed someone who was qualified to use some of their stuff live and write about it. I had plenty of guitar players and bass players and drummers and singers to review gear but at that time, only straight piano players (as in serious jazz players like Bill Cunliffe) to write about keyboards. I needed a synth guy.

Well, Up All Nite had a synth guy. And they did a side gig called ‘80s Flashback which was a very early version of what came to be known as “tribute bands” that played New Wave hits from the decade prior to the one we were in. So I dug that brochure out of the mess on my desk and called them. Talked to the keyboard player and asked if he might be interested in writing reviews. He said he would and I told him that I had a synth sitting at my house waiting for someone to gig with it. He offered to come pick it up.

There was a knock on the door the next night and I answered it and craned my neck upwards trying to find a face. Jerry was either 6’4” or 6’5”. And he had an ‘80s haircut that stuck up another couple of inches. But he had a smile that made his size not intimidating in the least. We clicked right away. And within the 1/2 hour that he was at the house, it was like we had known each other for years. 

What I did not know is that Jerry’s wife — the singer in the band — had said to him that she had gone to school with a guy named Bill Evans but it couldn’t possibly be the same guy. So as we stood in the tiny entryway of our little house in Altadena, CA, Jerry asked out of nowhere, “What high school did you go to?” Chatsworth, I told him. He gave me a grin and said, “Your reunion committee is looking for you.”

I looked at him with a mix of shock and terror. I knew my 20th high school reunion was coming up and had been studiously making sure not to reply to anything they sent. I had no intention of going. Jerry just looked at me and said, “I think you know my wife.”

And so began a nearly two-decade long friendship. We all worked together. Cheryl and Jerry both wrote for Gig and Singer&Musician and L2P. When I was at FOH, I got Jerry the gig editing video for the Parnelli Awards. All of the videos celebrating the lifetime winners from about 2008 or so forward were Jerry’s work.

We played together. I still have pics somewhere of a gig we did for a Gig Magazine party in Nashville with me and Jerry and Dave Beyer and Debra Davis and Cheryl and Albert Margolis. In about 2007, I became the guitar player of last resort for ‘80s Flashback which kept a gig longer than any cover band I know. One weekend a month for freaking 10 years at an infamous hangout in Pismo Beach, CA called Harry’s. I was totally the wrong guy for the gig. But if they could not get anyone else, I got the call.

We didn’t raise our kids together. Like Linda and I, Jerry and Cheryl had one child. A daughter named Ashlyn. But she and Erin are separated by 10 years. In our house she was known as the Redheaded Demon Child. Truth is she was so much like our daughter, Erin, that is was a little scary. I used to tell Jerry just how screwed he was gonna be as she got a little older. He laughed. But a couple of years ago when she turned 13, Jerry called me and just said, “You were right. I am so screwed.”

The relationship with his kid is where the “real” Jerry Cobb came out. This was a guy intent on being free. He never had a straight day gig that I knew about. He freelanced as a graphics guy and photographer and later as a video editor. And he was damn good. He never wanted to own a house because it would tie him down. They never even had a dog because Jerry wanted to be able to pick up and go away for a weekend on a whim and a dog was too high-mantainence for that. But when it came to the ultimate responsibility — a child — he was the Dad of the Year. Cheryl was an E.R. nurse and later moved into hospital administration and was gone a lot. Jerry was — like I was when Erin was little — the primary parent because we both worked from home and could take on that role.

Jerry stopped playing music. (I just found out that the last time I played with them at Harry’s was the last gig for that band until a last minute pickup gig about 6 months before he passed…) He did not stop because he was sick. Well, actually he kind of did. He quit because he was sick of the way bands had become a series of subs and mercenaries and that he could not get a single group of people who would do every gig and do it well. With Up All Nite and a couple of bands that preceded it, Jerry and Cheryl played all over the world. Lots of military base tours plus plenty of runs in places like Laughlin and Reno. But when the traveling gigs dried up, keeping the same people around became all but impossible (A fact of life for us band leaders and one that I hate as well.) He finally just decided to pack it in. Which sucked.

After getting the news onstage in Mesquite, I called to talk to Cheryl and tell her that I would come out to see  them in Cali the following weekend. At that point, Jerry did not know that I knew. He did not know that anyone knew besides his wife and doctor. Cheryl put him on the phone which was, I guess, her way of telling him that she was telling a few people what was up. 

He said, “Hello” and I said… “You motherfucker… You can’t fucking do this!” And he laughed. He said that is just what he needed to hear. I planned to go out and see him on Jan 17. We finished our Mesquite run on the 11th and on the 13th, I got word that he had passed. I am not a person who cries. But I did every day for two weeks.

Cheryl put together two events. A traditional memorial for his family and her work friends and their daughter’s school friends but for those of us who shared the music experience, she put together a jam in a bar in Reseda, CA. It was the last stage that Jerry had played on. Linda and I went down and stayed with Cheryl the night before. (Which is why I was not around on Saturday at NAMM. Sue me.) On Sunday morning, I helped her load up the van. We loaded all of Jerry’s keyboards and the CDs that held the sequenced tracks that he had spent years and literally 1000s of hours creating. He was a master at creating sequences and tracks.

Cheryl had put together a bunch of pictures of Jerry including some really old ones from the “hippie days.” Unknown to all but just a few of us, Jerry was 10 years older than any of those who thought they were his peers. He was born in 1950 vs Cheryl and I in 1960 and most of his friends a few years after that. He was at Woodstock. He was at the Chicago riots in the late ‘60s. He missed being drafted to go to Vietnam by I think a single number. But almost no one knew.  On the way from her house to the bar, a box fell in the van and a couple of picture frames broke. Only the ones from the hippie days. Nothing else was damaged. Cheryl left them in the car and told me that she figured it was Jerry’s way of telling her that time was not what he wanted people to see or remember about him. 

Got to the bar and set everything up. I was not planning on playing anything except maybe a song that has been haunting me since Diane Gershuny (a mutual friend of us all) died at the end of 2013. So all I had was my Taylor acoustic. Cheryl had a totally beat up Ibanez that she used to pretend to play on a couple of numbers. It was missing a string and it was in terrible shape. Jamie Rio — who was also part of the old GIG team and the guy they called to play guitar with ‘ 80s Flashback before they called me — was there and happened to have a set of strings in his car. He strung up the guitar. I grabbed an amp that the club had backstage and an extra cable, tuned it up, made sure everything worked and left it onstage.

As it came close to the official time for the event, some folks showed up that Cheryl was not sure would be there. Tom, their drummer from the touring days who had not played with them in almost 20 years. (And, yes, the guy who peed on the anchor…) and Mike, a guitar player from the same era who had done literally hundreds of gigs with Jerry and Cheryl but had not seen either of them in years. There were a couple of the later "sub” guitar players there (me and Jamie…) the singer who subbed for Cheryl when she was very pregnant and Kevin Mitchell who produces the Parnellis and worked with Jerry a lot. Kevin is a really good keyboard player. Cheryl started getting commitments from all of us to play a song or two. 

But then, magic happened. The keyboards would not work. But the tracks would play. The tracks that Jerry slaved over for years. And Cheryl and Mike and Tom took the stage and tore through a set of ‘80s tunes and sounded like a band that had never stopped playing together. When Cheryl tried to get me up to play and I picked up that ratty old Ibanez that had worked 30 mins earlier… Nothing. If I wrenched the cable up in the output jack with enough force, I could get sound. But otherwise, nothing. So she and Tom and Mike took the stage again and played another set that, again, sounded like they had never stopped. Jerry’s tracks played but no one was able to get any sound at all out of his actual keyboards. 

I hope to head back from Vegas to Cali in the next few weeks to help Cheryl sort through music gear and get it sold or donated. And I will bet money that if I get down there and plug that ratty Ibanez in that it will play just fine.

Jerry, my brother, I don’t know what comes after this plane of existence. I think there is something but no idea what that means. But if you are out there, I think it all went down just like you would have wanted it to. I don’t usually believe stuff like this but I swear it was as if Jerry made it happen that way. The rest of us were subs. Too good of friends to be mercenaries but just subs. Tom and Mike and Cheryl and Jerry were a band. And missing that kind of cohesive thing was what made Jerry stop playing. And in death, Jerry really did get the band back together. It was just… right.