Jack Rose was a hell of a man.
He lived like the musicians he loved. Temperamentally itinerant and racking up thousands of miles crisscrossing the country and the oceans beyond it too, he ate meat for his board, slept on the floor, he drank his whiskey and he loved the Lord (Chesterfield). He played the damned blues man.
Jack Rose was the kind of guy I suppose you might meet a small handful of in your life if you’re lucky: we met after a performance of his in Atlanta, and I mentioned that we had a mutual friend in David Shuford. Those two words, the name of a friend, was like some ancient shibboleth that opened a multiple-hour, psychic-manic outpouring of frenetic conversation, covering all of our most heartfelt and deepest obsessional fixations, from Tony Joe White to James Booker, from Skip James to Professor Longhair. Jack Rose didn’t know me from Adam a few hours before, yet by the time he had walked off at the end of the night to that dispensable and miniscule automobile, with those two ubiquitous guitar cases under both arms, like some bear in an Hungarian gypsy circus preparing to mount the tiny bicycle, I felt like I had known him my whole life. After the outpouring of so many similar tales of acquaintance since his death, I know many others felt the same.
He was out there on the neo-“chitlin’ circuit” sweatin’ it out night after night, and it was beginning to pay off too. I remember his excitement when he told me that he had been approached by, and had signed to, Thrilljockey Records. In his typical and wise fashion, he had told me to “keep it under my hat”, but that I could tell the “family”. That’s how he viewed his countless friends, as his family. He treated me like a brother, taking me out on the road with him and supporting and promoting my various musical projects, inviting me into his home to play music with him and to listen to his favorite records, preparing food for me and his lovely wife Laurie, and most luckily of all, honoring me by allowing me to perform and share the stage with him, and to have multiple opportunities to cut records with him. He was on top of the world the last time I spoke to him a few days before his death.
He was irascible, hilarious, loving; he could argue with your girlfriend all night long and fry pierogies for you both the next morning, telling you about the local Polish meat-shop he was so proud to have discovered. He was a foodie. He loved to share. He wanted you to taste good things. He wanted you to know what he knew. He made me feel like a real musician. He believed in me and let me know it. Jack was a giant and I was thrilled to know him. It seemed too good to be true. It was good and it was true, it was just, like life itself, too short to savor for very long. Jack was the blues. I felt him. I feel his music now. I loved him. I will miss him.
Jack Rose lived like the bluesmen he loved, and died young like so many of them. He was a real force and a real friend.
He will be remembered.