Jimmy Rupert was a big fish in a small pond. So small, in fact, that I’m sure few if any Bluegrass Today readers have heard of him before now.
But I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it, if not for him. Because of him, I took my first tentative steps into the world of bluegrass 40 years ago. Others nudged me, even pushed me, along the way, but Jimmy Rupert got me started and he never even knew it.
And now, he never will. Rupert, 74, died Sunday in Orangeville, PA, of complications following a fall nearly 10 years ago. His death occurred 40 years to the day after I met him, when his group, The Last Chance Band, played at our wedding reception in Bloomsburg, PA. It was the only bluegrass band I knew at the time. They got the job because two music lovers wanted the furthest thing from a disco DJ that we could find. And so Jodie and I became perhaps the only couple to celebrate nuptials to Rocky Top as our first dance and – not sure what anyone was thinking with this choice – Fox on the Run for the hat dance.
So began my relationship with bluegrass, which was off and on over the next three decades, but always present.
I tried to thank Jimmy more than a decade ago, when my songwriting career was still in its infancy. By then, Jimmy had graduated to front man for a rock and roll cover band, still in northeastern Pennsylvania, where he was a high school teacher. At the break between sets, he was surrounded by eager fans, and I thought I’d just catch him next time.
But I lived four hours away, had a job that took me around the world, and I never saw him again.
The Last Chance Band played the carnival circuit and occasional weddings, but never, as far as I know, went farther. They were all local guys, they all had jobs, and they played music largely for the sheer joy of it, not for money.
Bluegrass is filled with bands like this, and with guys like Jimmy Rupert. If you’re lucky enough to know them, let them know the joy they bring you. Let them know they make a difference. If they have recordings, buy them. If they have a tip jar, use it.
Don’t wait, like I did. You might not get another chance. Say it while they can hear it.
RIP, Jimmy Rupert. Thanks for lighting that bluegrass fire all those years ago.