Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Fairport alumnus in trouble; time to rally round...

A life of great guitar: Jerry Donahue

The peerless Tony Kelsey messaged me the other day. Tony's been in more bands that you can shake a stick at in his forty or so years on stage. He messaged to tell me of a sweet local initiative to benefit fellow guitar player Jerry Donahue

You may know the story; you may not. The bad news came in 2016. Jerry suffered a catastrophic stroke. He will almost certainly never play again. Strokes can do that: bang! and there's a whole new and horrible raw deal.

Jerry is from the States, based on the West Coast. He worked over here with great distinction in the 80s and 90s. He hasn't had much of a UK profile for, ooh, maybe twenty years. So, unsurprisingly and sadly, his news didn't make too much of a ripple: I missed it last year. And I was thunder struck when Tony got in touch with the news. 

Jerry Donahue soundtracked my rock DJ days as a core member of Fairport Convention. He was exceptional. Here he is, toe to toe with Dave Swarbrick on the Old Grey Whistle Test.

Think about it: Jerry replaced Richard Thompson when Thompson left Fairport. He also played with huge distinction with Fotheringay, Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas's band, and was there when Sandy rejoined Fairport. Later, after heading back to the US, he emerged with a breathtakingly impressive band, The Hellecasters. He gigged all over; he was in huge demand for sessions; he sat in with an amazing list of great musos. Guitar manufacturers made signature guitars to his designs. He was that good. 

Jerry played precise, exciting and fabulous guitar. Over and above the huge pleasure I took from his work, he was unfailingly courteous, always good company, always good to talk to. I saw him play extraordinary stuff with Fairport. You know those gig nights when everything hits home? He gave us that. 

Time to say thanks

I don't think we appreciate those musicians who give us such pleasure down the years, anything like enough. And now that many of us Boomers are fraying round the edges, we're losing some of our best. Sadly, many great musos do their finest work after decades of sweat, road work and hassles. Their days in the limelight are long gone, but their playing still shines. Then the light goes out, and we barely notice. It's cruel; it's the way the world turns. 

But now, things are happening. It's more than a tip of the hat too, it's vital help. Dave Pegg and Fairport Convention colleagues are doing lavish and lovely things for their old bandmate. Firstly, there's a UK benefit gig at the Trades and Labour Club in Banbury on 13 December with the Dylan Project and Fotheringay. You can get tickets here, if you're very lucky - the gig is nearly sold out.

Then there's a guitar doing the rounds, collecting signatures. From people like, ooh, Steve Winwood, and Jeff Beck... people who know how fabulous Jerry's work was. 

Tony Kelsey's doing a fair bit of the legwork - that's him on Steve Winwood's left, with another equally brilliant local guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, Matt Worley, to the right. Matt sourced the guitar in question. Steve's clutching it to his chest like he doesn't want to let go. And it's going to collect a LOT of names - I'll update here when I get more details. And now, the Guitar In Question is sporting its own Facebook page

At some point, when there's no room left on the guitar for star names, it's going up for auction. All proceeds will go towards Jerry's care back home in the US, where treating a serious illness can cost you your house and more. When the auction goes live, I'll flag it up here.

In the grand scheme of things, given the bodyslam Jerry is dealing with, it's only a little thing. But it's a right thing. 

Check the Fairport Convention site for details.
Or see the Jerry Donahue Fundraiser guitar Facebook page for the latest.
And here's Jerry's Wikipedia page.


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1 comment:

Maz Mitrenko said...

I was playing one of those blues weekends at Butlins in Skegness - it had been a great show and there was a party atmosphere in the band room afterwards. I'd had a few beers the a guy came up to me and complimented me on my playing and the tone I'd got out of my quite unremarkable Mexican tele - being more than a little drunk, I muttered a few inanities along the lines of "well. the sound comes from your fingers really..." etc and he then wandered off. Shortly someone else walked up to me and said "Do you know who that was.......It was Jerry Donahue" AAAARRRGH! - I will be donating!