By Darryl Rhoades, contributor
I remember having a late night meal with singer-songwriter Steve Goodman when we both happened to be in Austin, September 1977. The radio was playing in the background and the news came on, announcing the death of the actor Zero Mostel. An amazing look was on Steve’s face as he blurted out “somebody just took a lot of air out of the world.” I understood exactly what he meant and I understood the sentiment yet again 38 years later when I learned of the passing of my unlikely friend, Jack Tarver, Jr. When he died, as with Mostel and others, “somebody took a lot of air out of the world”.
I first met Jack around 1976 when my band, The Hahavishnu Orchestra, made the leap from performing at the Bistro to making the Great Southeast Music Hall our “home club”. Jack was a co-owner of the Music Hall, but his day job was practicing law at one of Atlanta’s silk-stocking law firms.
I was in communication more with the club’s manager, Glen Allison, than Tarver. Jack was a different personality than I was used to dealing with. My impression was that he loved to drink and talk loudly.
He was a character and I didn’t really understand the depth of his character for years to come.
In the mid -70s, my band performed at a club in Fort Myers, Florida. Our reputation had preceded us, prompting the local vice squad to make an appearance. So we changed the lyrics to a few songs and proceeded to perform for the week. On the Saturday night I went into the office to get paid after the gig. I was accompanied by Jimmy Royals who was still wearing his stage makeup of being in drag. The guys who owned the club decided they weren’t going to pay us what we agreed upon. My response to them was well on its way to becoming physical, never mind the pistol lying on the desk. I left their office with Jimmy in tow to the police station. To this day I can’t imagine what they thought when a guy dressed in drag along with a guy who looked like he killed Sharon Tate was standing there explaining how they’d been ripped off. They suggested that I contact a lawyer and I did. Jack Tarver got a 2 a.m. call from an overly pissed and hyper bandleader. Eventually he calmed me down and explained that the cops were likely friends with those guys — and that I was probably wasting my time. I knew he was right even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. So Jimmy and I drove back to the club only to find out that one of the club owners pulled out a shotgun and threatened the guitarist, Marvin Jackson, because he felt the band wasn’t packing fast enough. That was the week from hell. The local vice squad. Small crowds that didn’t understand our act. And oh yes, the club owners that ripped us off without hesitation.
But we got out of there and made our way back to Atlanta. That each of us made it back in one piece was no doubt due to the quiet but firm counseling of Jack Tarver, Jr.
I had a few personality clashes with Jack over the years that culminated in my suggesting that he attempt to perform an entirely impossible sex act with himself but we managed to stay in touch. When I started performing stand-up he hired me a couple of times to work various clubs or functions and I found him turning into a gentle soul. I even attended one of his weddings.
In 2008 I put together a Kickstarter program to finance my CD, Darryl Rhoades Presents Songs for Teenagers in Heat. Donations were slowly coming in until I got a call out of the blue from Jack. I’ll always remember his words “Darryl, you have 5000 Facebook friends and less than a hundred and fifty people donating for your project. What’s up with that? “.
It was hard for him to fathom why people weren’t stepping up. He then suggested that if I wanted to post on Facebook that an “angel” offered to match any donations that he would back it. I then asked him why he was doing this. He responded by telling me that I never knew how many times the Music Hall was on the verge of going under when they would ask us to play. He knew we would sell tickets and make them money even if I thought we shouldn’t be playing there so often. To be honest, I don’t remember that at all and I have a pretty sharp memory but he was insistent. Because of Jack and the others, I more than hit my goal and was able to finish my project.
I had many occasions to meet Jack for lunch and hear tons of stories. I always wondered how much I missed by not getting to know him better all those years ago. Jack was funny, passionate and wise. He was a real character, like one you see in a Samuel Fuller film. The most accurate description I have for Jack is that he was the type of character that gives the world color.
I made a greater effort to see Jack as he became ill. He gave me a special shirt he had made for friends and family. It was basically a shirt stating that if you thought this illness was taking him down then “you don’t know Jack.”
I am performing at the Music Hall celebration at Smith’s Old Bar on Aug. 4 with some very special friends. I’ve written an instrumental for that night that I dedicate to Jack Tarver titled “You Don’t Know Jack”.
I miss his laugh, corny jokes, political incorrectness but most of all, I miss his friendship.