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Thursday, March 25, 2010 09:50 am

Goodbye to Jerry

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Jerome “Jerry” W. Turley
Last Thursday a dear friend and fellow musician passed away. The loss is nearly incomprehensible, completely shocking and devastating. As easy as it is to say people die every day, and they do, when a death occurs that is so tragic and so personal, the feelings of grief come over and over in pounding waves of sadness.

Jerome “Jerry” W. Turley was 52 years old and known around central Illinois as a tenacious, energetic soul who loved to play music, joked a lot and worked hard at whatever he did. As a farm boy in rural Dawson, Jerry grew up developing a love for the land and taking family pride in small farm life. Early on he discovered a passion for music, a devotion that continued throughout his life and took precedent over his farming opportunity, yet he always worked on the farm whenever necessary to help out during busy times.

When I met Jerry he was an accomplished bass player at age 18 playing a 1965 sunburst Fender Jazz bass with some big amp plugged into a huge Carvin folded horn cabinet. In a twist of farmer-musician philosophy, Jerry would at times plop the Carvin cabinet in the back of his truck in the winter to add some weight for traction on icy roads. That to me is the Jerry I always knew, combining rural wits with being a working musician. The last gig we played together when I opened for Ragged Jack at Broadway Nites, players in my group were commenting on how Jerry worked his guitar stand into the side of his amp rig in a very efficient way. Farmer mentality was what I saw.

During the period around 1977 or so when I first met Jerry, the band I was in, Zeus, needed a place to practice. Jerry offered his family rental house in rural Dawson where he lived, and there among other friends we hung out and partied while living and breathing music, music, music. Speaking with friends at the wake last night, those days have become something of legend in our minds. A time where we all formed life habits and opinions and developed keen friendships and forged career paths, whether we knew it or not, those days were precious. Of course in our minds, somehow, someday we would become the heroes of song we listened to over and over and emulated with no embarrassment. It never quite happened, but that never diminished or tarnished the dream.

Some of us stayed in music, others drifted into whatever way of making a living that worked, but everyone still remembers those days at Turley’s. Now we remember them without Jerry. That is hard.

Jerry and I remained friends from that time on. Not as closely as he was with some, but always able to immediately feel like no time had passed even as years fell between our meetings. During the ensuing years he never gave up music but pursued it as a continuing passion, whether as a bassist/vocalist in various bands or on the PA/lighting equipment side of the business. As I passed through the long line at the visitation last night and talked with various folks, time and time again I heard the same thing in a different way.

Caring, eloquent, heartfelt, spontaneous eulogies poured from mourners feeling the pain of losing a good friend and constant partner in music and life. A poignant and revealing response came from Jerry’s mother, who sat shaking hands and speaking to the hundreds who passed by his open casket to pay respects. She didn’t know or remember me, but said, “Oh, you’re one of the band people. So many bands. His music…yes.” And that’s how Jerry can be remembered to all of us “band people,” whether touched by his music and personality through direct musician interplay or by his beautiful notes that reached out into the audience: His music…yes.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com
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