Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jerry McGill




In the mid‑seventies, when he was red‑hot, Waylon played Memphis, and his one‑time rhythm guitar player and road manager, Curtis Buck, a/k/a Jerry McGill, came to the show in drag. McGill, who had a Memphis rock and roll band in the fifties and recorded for Sun Records, was eluding prosecution for various federal crimes. He had developed a problem traveling with Waylon when they put the metal detectors in airports. But there had been times when McGill's guns—he normally carried three, counting the one in his girlfriend's purse—had come in handy, like the time the cop had McGill's boss under arrest at the Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard, and McGill talked him out of it. It's a scene we'll save for the film version.


by Stanley Booth, from Hands Up! Gadfly, November 1998.


and then there's the film version...





In one scene, the camera follows (Randall) Lyon into Jim Dickinson's backhouse studio, where assorted people are sitting around ... Some of the musicians are jamming - Dickinson is playing an electric guitar, (Jim) Lancaster, is at the piano. McGill, his gaunt and tapered face resembling a cobra's, takes hold of an acoustic guitar and performs a song. When he's done, Lyon starts spouting a soliloquy, holding a bottle of champagne in his hand. The camera surveys the room, but his words are clear. "This is a dis-ass-trous period in our time. We got to respond to what's going ahn or else we got to hang it up with kinder-goddamn-garten." Dickinson accompanies with apocalyptic feedback from his guitar, and it all becomes too claustrophobic for McGill. The camera whips around at the sound of gunfire - McGill has drawn and fired his pistol. He smashes the bottle with the barrel and then puts the gun against Lyon's head. The voices that squealed when the bullets caught them off guard have suddenly stilled. The guitar continues, a soundtrack like the Wild West saloon player who knows it's best to never stop. The camera remains focused on the gun, the gun always, because whoever may say whatever, the subject in that room is the gun.

"I'm gonna whip you with this gun barrel," says McGill, whose eyes shine like B.B.'s. "Be nice, be real nice." Lyon is doubled over at the waist, his head, his life, in McGill's hands. Then McGill, he is no longer McGill, he is Pancho Villa, he is Jesse James, he is completely and totally Lash LaRue - turns to the camera, sees that it's pointed right at him (he's still holding the gun), and he says, for the camera's benefit, "I don't care nothing about that." He'll do it for the world to see! In an instant, the pistol is waved, smashing the bottle in Randall's hand, and following the instant, smashing the light. The guitar feedback stops with the sudden darkness and the scene, take one, the only take, is over.


by Robert Gordon, from It Came From Memphis,1995.

The above is a description of Jerry McGill's scene in William Eggleston's video-verite Stranded In Canton shot in and around Memphis and New Orleans in 1974 with a Sony Porta-Pak that was rigged to shoot in low light situations. It's a remarkable foray into early video by a great photographer. For years, it sat in a vault at MIT, until Eggleston and Gordon edited the thirty hours of footage into a film in 2005. When I saw a screening of it at Lincoln Center a few years ago, I asked Robert who the guy playing guitar with Dickinson was. His response: "Jerry McGill - the original Rock and Roll outlaw." Below is McGill's entire recorded output - a lone single on Sun from 1959. Billy Lee Riley is on lead guitar. These days McGill's whereabouts are unknown. He is rumored to be serving time in Florida for murder.

* See comments below for updated information. [ed. July, 2009]


Download:



"Lovestruck" mp3
by Jerry McGill and The Topcoats, 1959.
out of print



"I Wanna Make Sweet Love" mp3
by Jerry McGill and The Topcoats, 1959.
out of print

William Eggleston is the subject of a major retrospective coming to the Whitney Museum in November.

Standed In Canton will be available as a Book/DVD by Twin Palms Publishers this Fall.

Top photo: by Randall Lyon from It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon.

31 comments:

Paul said...

Good Lord, man, you can't put this kind of insanity on the internet and expect to get away with it! What do you want to start, a revolution? People throwing their John Legend cds into the streets and demanding more, demanding the world, demanding blood? Stranded in Canton is to be recommended to those who like their music with extra chicken guts. Mmmm.

Anonymous said...

Wow - great stuff! Is that James Van Eaton on drums? Martin Willis or Ace Cannon on sax?

Bobby Sutliff

Ted Barron said...

Hi Bobby,

I'm not sure who the rest of the band is. The drummer is pretty swingin'. If anyone out there knows, feel free to shed some light on this.

Ted

Anonymous said...

According to Escott & Hawkins' Sun Records Discography the line up is McGill:vcl, Billy Riley: gtr,Brad Suggs (who recorded Don't Shoot Me Baby for Meteor): bs, JM Van Eaton:dms, Charlie Rich: pno and Martin Willis: sax. Recording date was 1-21-59 and it was done @ 706 Union, probably one of the last sessions there before they moved into the 2nd studio. I remember their being some funny stories about him in the liner notes to the "Into the 60's" Sun Box that Charley put out in the late 80's but I don't have a copy here.

Ted Barron said...

thanks, anon.

Anonymous said...

Yes - thanks! Van Eaton was a great drummer. So the line up here is sort of a version of The Little Green Men, Billy Riley's backup band. BTW - Riley played as a session man on several Beach Boys tracks.1

Bobby

Ted Barron said...

"Riley played as a session man on several Beach Boys tracks"

That would be a good post.

Which songs?

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the Billy Lee Riley discography with session work as well. all caveats apply.

http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/billyleeriley.htm

Anonymous said...

Riley's playing harmonica on Help Me Rhonda, I know that part, most of his la session work came as a harp player (he even did an LP of Beatles hits arranged for harmonica).-- Hound

Anonymous said...

I understand its all about the music but as someone who knew and loved Jerry long before any of this happened--I'm more interested in Jerry then in who's backing him up 50 years ago...I searched Florida Prison Records ,he doesn't show up in any of them...This is not the first time I've tried to find him and I'm not the only friend thats looking for him..If anyone has any information about him or if he should see this --
My name is Joyce,my e-mail is Bluej43@aol.com.

Anonymous said...

I've known Jerry for years. My mother went to high school with Jerry. I'm pretty sure he's not in a Florida prison.

justpeachy6219 said...

This is Jerry McGill & rumors of my death are not true & I am not in a Florida prison. I am Still writing songs & playing & I Have a new song.

Thank-you very much & have a blessed day!

Anonymous said...

He's still rambling but now I know he's alive and well..Thanks
Joyce-The Bluej

Ted Barron said...

Jerry,

Glad you are out there, alive and well, and I'm glad you found this. Thank you Joyce also. These comments have been sitting un-moderated, and I wasn't aware you had written.

All the best to you,

Ted

Anonymous said...

Jerry,

Glad to hear you're still out there. I ask GK about you every time I see him.

Brandon

Anonymous said...

Thank You for writing this--its how I "found" Jerry..Jerry read the note I left here,tried the Bluj address but I had given up hope,quit checking..Eventually he saw comment I left about his Record on YouTube,put it all together and sent me a message...Thank you for giving me the chance to hear him sing and listen to him play again.Voice is rougher,sounds more like the Blues--I like it a lot..
Joyce

Anonymous said...

This is Jerry McGill I now live in Alabama and just finished recording an album at Phillips Recording Service, in Memphis with the North Mississippi All Stars.What a band, we never rehearsed and we got the songs perfect on the first cut. Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings and the Allman Brothers band thought me that the first cut is ALWAYS the best one. Thank you for remembering me and my music. JERRY

Ted Barron said...

Thanks Jerry, Can't wait to hear it.

Anonymous said...

New Cd is coming out in September on Playground Records ...What I've heard so far I really like --hope you do too.---
.This is for all you Backup Fans --Travis Wammack---Jim Dickinson-Luther and Cody Dickinson--Sid Selvidge--Lee Baker -Ry Cooder--Jimmy Crosthwait--Leesa--Jim and Jill Lancaster --Waylon Jennings ..If I left someone out ,I'm sorry ..Lot of Memphis Musicians heard about the session,dropped by to listen and ended up playing along..Think it was a good day for everyone there -they had fun,shared a lot of memories and made some great Memphis music ..Robert Gordon and Paul Duane filmed session for their Jerry documentary,coming out same time as the CD...
A small sample of what's to come--

w.reverbnation.com/artist/song_details/3790606?play_now=true
Joyce
Ps--Thanks Ted ,wouldn't have found him without your Blog !

Anonymous said...

my name is jerry lowell mcgill i am searching for my father who went to tech high school in memphis tenn married wanda gay jernigan i am his son am very ill in nursing home in florida please anyone reading this,have jerry loyed mcgill aka curtis buck contact me at area code 727-733-4189 Edinborough Nursing Home .My Father has not heard from me for 20 years.please anyone that can contact him forward this message,A.S.A.P.Thank-You ,God Bless

Ronnie Rich said...

On July 17, 2008 on Boogie Woogie Flu you asked Bobby Sutliff about Jerry McGill and The Topcoats. Specifically, you were wondering who the drummer was.

I was the actual drummer on this Jerry McGill Sun Record session. J M Van Eaton was a great Sun session man but he didn't play on McGill's record. Thanks for your kind remarks about my drumming by the way. I was only 17 years old at the time and going to East High School.

I played drums for quite awhile with Eddie Cash and The Madcaps, Jerry McGill and The Topcoats, and a few other Memphis groups plus my Sun sessions. I played with Jerry McGill (the only name I knew him by) when he was starting out and until The Topcoats finally disbanded. Honestly, I don't remember why we disbanded but I went away to Georgia Tech for college and that's all I can remember. Jerry was a really great guy and very friendly to me. The girls were all over him whenever he played live. He had a musical soul and was destined to do well.

Frankly, I can't recall the other musicians playing on Lovestruck and I wanna Make Sweet Love. My memory is vague but I think Charlie Rich played piano but I can't be sure. I remember giving Charlie a ride after a recording session to the Holiday Inn in Memphis one night and this might have been the one, but this was over 50 years ago. Charlie was not big yet but very talented.

Jerry McGill was very talented and was really great to his entire band. I think Jim King was his lead guitar player. Rock and Roll was really a great place to be during those years.

As a side note, I stopped by to see JM Van Eaton in Memphis a couple of years ago during a visit from California. He works out in Germantown and gave me some new drumsticks from his line of JMVanEaton drum products. What a great guy! He has a wonderful history with Sun and should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in my opinion. JM is the only session drummer that actually has his picture on the Sun Studios wall and it is certainly earned. Jimmy Lott was another Sun session drummer I knew. He also went to East High while I was a student there. We had a few "battle of the drums" on stage for the kids which was always fun. I think I won. And he thinks he won. The one that really won was the student...they had great fun.

I still have the original Love Struck 45rpm in my collection. It is one of my prized possessions. If Jerry sees this message, I wish him continued success with his new music coming out.

Ronnie Rich

William said...

Martin Willis played sax on "Lovestruck", 1959 with Jerry McGill at Sun.

Martin said...

Hello. Yes, I played sax on Jerry's Sun record amd I think JM VanEaton played drums. I will forward this to him for verification. I am the original sax player with Conway Twitty/Charlie Rich/Billy Riley and many others and I was nominated for the Hall of Fame.

Anonymous said...

This is Martin, the original sax player for Conway Twitty/Charlie Rich/Billy Riley, etc. and I played on Jerry's Sun recording. I was also the original sax player with the Bill Black Combo (Smokie, White Silver Sands,Josephine, etc.) JM VanEaton and I went to high school together and worked at Sun on many sessions.

Ronnie Rich said...

Ronnie Rich said...

I played drums on Jerry McGill's only Sun record - Lovestruck and the flip side, I Wanna Make Sweet Love. My Sun 45rpm collection has a signed copy from Jerry. See my comments above if you want to know all the facts about this recording. I'm 69 years old and can't remember the names of the other session guys but I know it's my drumming - not J M Van Eaton's as everyone seems to think. He's a great drummer but Jerry's only Sun record was my playing on a black pearl Premier drum set.

Ronnie Rich said...

Ronnie Rich said...
Here are the names of all the Topcoat musicians who played with Jerry McGill on all live performances around Memphis. You may remember some of them. The group was tight and put out an amazing sound for a garage type band in 1959.

Jim King was lead guitar and band manager, Ronnie Rich on drums, Frank Thomas on bass and keyboards, Bobby Scott rhythm guitar, Dwayne Fowler sax. I definitely remember Martin Willis, a Sun powerhouse, playing sax with me on the record. The backup singers on Lovestruck were Opal Green, Twila Taylor, Nanci Drake and Carolyn Maharrey. All of the girls were juniors at Treadwell. Jim King ran the band very well and kept us really booked. Some of the live appearances got "quite lively." including an occasional fight in the parking lot. There is a Commercial Appeal newspaper photo of the Topcoats playing at the National Guard Armory with Jerry standing on a round stage but I don't know how to get it posted. George Klein cooked up this huge "dance" at the Armory to promote a teenage dance club according to what I heard and Barney Sellers did the photography for the newspaper promotion. Unfortunately, the entire band never got in the photo since Jerry was the real focal point. By the way, the girls backing Jerry on Lovestruck are also on the Jerry Lee Lewis song "Let's Talk About It." Not sure what happened to all the Topcoats. Jim King is alive and well and living in Texas. No idea what happened to the others. If you are out there, let us know.

Ted Barron said...

Thanks Ronnie! I've forwarded this message to Jerry.

Tony Meyers said...

Jerry thanks for the eletric bass, I know you a few more hints to my identity. I am John David's brother, I am so glad to see you well. The last time met was 1981 in Nashville at the game room "Fanstasy World". You know Tony I helped you load the Tennessee Mule Kicker out of of the deep freeze. J.D. died in 1991 and he though alot of you I miss those crazy days.
Best Wishes in the Future,

Tony Meyers

Anonymous said...

More than twenty years later, I understand the origin of "Known Felons in Drag'

C.BUCK said...

Jerry McGill aka: Curtis Buck,
This is your son Cody Buck. I have been looking for you, Id really like to talk to you. If you get this message please call or if any friends or family see this message and knows my dad please give it to him. Please call me at 541-596-8541. Thanks so much for your time.

C.BUCK said...

My name is Cody Buck and I am looking for my dad Jerry McGill AKA: Curtis Buck. If anyone knows how I can locate him please contact me at 541-596-8541 asap!!! thank you for your time!