Remembering Earl “J.T.” Gray

Musicians, employees (past and present), friends, and fans gathered Sunday afternoon at the World Famous Station Inn to pay homage to its longtime owner, musician, and friend to all, Earl “J.T.” Gray. At age 75, the beloved proprietor passed away on March 19 following a brief illness.

In an interview in July 2019, J.T. shared how he became involved with the iconic club located in the Gulch area of downtown Nashville, TN.

“The stage was always open to anyone who wanted to play, and we still do! When the Station Inn opened, there were a couple of other bluegrass clubs, but they didn’t offer a place for local musicians to jam and play. A place was needed where all the bluegrass players could go.”

And came they did, and still do. Sunday’s gathering was a who’s who of bluegrass A-listers who wanted to pay their last respects to Gray.

The afternoon consisted of a mixture of video clips, speeches, and performances that reflected on the impact of this man and his quaint club.

As it kicked off, all were welcomed. “On behalf of the Station Inn Family, and the Gray family, we want to thank you all for coming in person and listening on-line. It is very appropriate that the event falls on a Sunday since we are about to return to Sunday night jams. It is a big part of the fabric of bluegrass music.”

Many bands got their start in those Station Inn jams including the Borrowed Mules, the first band to perform at the celebration of life gathering. They began with Footprints In The Snow, one that Gray often sang with the band.

J.T. himself spoke and sang via video clips. “In 1981, I was playing bass with Jimmy Martin on the road. I bought it [Station Inn], and got my own house band. For about a year, we would switch around with different local bands.”

Then in 1982, famed booking agent, Lance Leroy, approached Gray.

“I never had a major touring band [play the venue]. Lance said the Cardinals are coming through town. Let’s see how it goes. We tried it on a Thursday night and Nashville responded well. We had a real good crowd.”

Gray began booking professional bands, and the rest is history.

Following the multi-media presentation, resident Station Inn bassist, Mike Bub, shared, “We decided to let everybody tell their story about J.T. and we let J.T. tell his story of the Station Inn.”

The next group to take the stage was the New Monday band with Larry Cordle, Val Storey, and Carl Jackson.

Storey thanked Gray, “He gave me a chance to be here in Nashville and sing every Monday night. He was a blessing to me.”

Cord readily agreed. “J.T. was my friend. I’ve felt for the last 30 plus years like this was our club. J.T. would want this to go on. We will see J.T. again. I know he was ready to see the Lord because he told me so.”

Jackson added, “We loved J.T. and how supportive he was of bluegrass music.”

The trio (with the event’s unofficial emcee, Mike Bub, on bass) performed a couple of Gospel tunes, Far Side Banks of Jordan and Cord/Ronnie Bowman’s Gone On Before.

Station Inn employee, Jill Crabtree, reflected, “He was a man of few words. You would come here and find an immediate home. It is in the end of an era. J.T. would duck out on break and someone would say, ‘Where’s J.T.?’ So that is the way J.T. left us when we were on a break without a proper goodbye.”

Jeff Burke, a Station Inn bartender, added, “You can’t separate J.T. and the Station Inn, like you can’t separate Mother Teresa and orphaned children. Bluegrass musicians are like orphans and he gave us a place.”

A band comprised of Station Inn employees, including Brandon Bostic (who was previously involved in a serious automobile accident) performed during the afternoon celebration. 

Dierks Bentley spoke briefly of how he found a home at the Station Inn when he was in college. In his words of affection, he admitted that he used to “mow the grass when there was grass so I guess that makes me an employee.”

Bluegrass couples thanked J.T. Ned Luberecki and Kelley Jones met and married at the Station Inn. Ben Surratt and Missy Raines also shared their affection.

Missy stated, “He was a great human being. He touched our lives in an enormous way.”

Hubby, Ben, added, “Thanks for giving us a home.”

“It is a community. It is missing an integral part. J.T. was the glue,” said David Grier. “It is the Carnegie Hall of the South.”

Brandon Godman interjected, “There are two things you don’t forget as a musician, you always remember playing the Grand Ole Opry and the Station Inn.”

Paul Schiminger, retiring IBMA Executive Director, reflected on the impact of J.T. Gray… “He moved mountains.”

You can watch the full three hour and fifteen minute presentation below.

When in Nashville, please continue to support the Station Inn. Earl “J.T.” Gray worked hard to build a haven for bluegrass music and we, as the bluegrass community, need to help preserve his legacy. You can also support them – and hear all the great music presented there – by subscribing to Station Inn TV, where both new and archived shows can be viewed on your Internet-enabled television or device.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.