J.T. Gray, who transformed the Station Inn into a must-make stop amid Nashville’s glitzier clubs, died over the weekend, the venue’s Facebook page announced Sunday. He was 75 years of age.
Gray, inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in September, was a vital offstage presence in both bluegrass and country, and his club, with few seats and a limited menu, was legendary.
An official cause of death has not been announced, though friends said J.T., whose given name was Earl, was dealing with flu-like symptoms.
The Station Inn, which he purchased in 1981, will be closed on Monday. But his family and Inn associates pledged to “keep the music going,” as J.T. would have wanted, with a celebration of life and a reopening at a later date.
J.T. had a great run over the years, and just completed a string of notable experiences. In addition to the Hall of Fame honors, J.T. was a presenter of the recent Grammy Award for country music album, taping his appearance at the club. Plus the Station Inn was featured in a Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit in January.
The Mississippi native didn’t start out on top, of course. He moved to Nashville in 1971 to play bluegrass with the Misty Mountain Boys, Vassar Clements, Tom T. Hall, the Sunny Mountain Boys, and others.
The first years of building the Station Inn were lean times. J.T. drove buses for various artists and pumped the money into his club.
Last year, when coronavirus shutdowns took big bites out of touring schedules and bank accounts, he stepped up by allowing the Station Inn to serve as a backdrop to virtual shows. It wasn’t the only time J.T. helped friends in need. Giving was just part of his makeup.
As I wrote when J.T. joined the Hall of Fame, “Soon, the tough days (of the shutdown) will be a memory and we’ll all be able to crowd around the tables, hear great banks, sip a cold beer or soda and fill up on the Station Inn’s pimento cheese and crackers or pizza.”
Those days will, indeed, be a memory at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later. But now they will be bittersweet because one of the best and brightest behind-the-scene stars, won’t be with us.
But there is some comfort in the timing of all those awards and accolades, which gave bluegrass and country stars and fans a chance to give J.T. roses while he lived. But, oh, what we wouldn’t give to have J.T. in the house for just one more night of music and laughter. Well, laughter anyway. J.T. was notorious for sneaking away before the music started.
Funeral arrangements and details of the memorial service will be announced by his family.
RIP, J.T. Gray. Thanks for letting us in the door to share your dream.