Monday, May 25, 2009

Jupiter Ray

I had an appearance in a dream last night of an old drumming friend of mine, Orville Strickland, known amongst his friends in Houston music circles as "Jupiter Ray". My good friend and longtime bandmate El Bar used to always greet Orville as Jupiter Ray, BABY! From the late 60's until his untimely death, Orville was known among my friends as Jupiter Ray, Baby.

Jupiter Ray was never in the armed forces but on Memorial Day, that's who I seemed to be thinking about. I pulled a copy of some recordings I had of Jupiter Ray playing with one of my old bands, Dick Cheese and The Crackers, which was active in Houston from 1989 to 1997. Every now and then Jupiter Ray would sit in on that gig, and he was always welcome to do so, and occasionally when his busy union musician schedule would permit, he would sub for me in that band or several others. I have a video now on dvd of Jupiter Ray sitting in with The Crackers at a fundraiser we played for a friend of mine named Norma who was running for judge in Houston back in the early 90's, playing the excellent song "Baby please don't go".

It's been over 13 years since brain cancer took Jupiter, but I still remember him as if it were yesterday. His drumming was off the charts, and usually he'd play what you wouldn't expect a drummer to play in a given song. But after watching him play some unique beat or riff to a song, even well-known songs with well-established rhythms, you would realize just how hip what he was playing was.

I had just married when Orville came out of remission the final time. He had been fighting brain cancer for several years, beating it against all odds. And then it came back. Through it all, he was upbeat as a person could be under those circumstances, in fact, I always thought it quite heroic that he could be so manly about the whole thing.

Back then, all of our friends gathered regularly at the home of El Bar, a well known Houston musician who went under the a/k/a of Dick Cheese in that band. Being single, El Bar had a full band rehearsal setup in his dining room, complete with amps and drums and a small PA. Many impromptu jams occurred during normal visits at ole' El Bar's house.

In any event, I'm rambling, but I wanted to take a few moments and remember my good friend Orville. When I can find a picture of that rascal I'll post it here, or better yet, when I figure out how to post a video I'll post that dvd I've got of Orville sitting in with us, which brings me to the point: I think the fundraiser was on a Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend, which is why I'm thinking about Orville.

Although there were times he was certainly not feeling well, and a lesser man would've given up, Jupiter Ray didn't. And really, seeing him performing when he was undergoing all this stuff, was so damn inspiring, hearwarming and indeed, bring a tear to the eye heroic, because when I heard him play, he was spot on. Absolutely in the pocket and on time and in line.

Of course, that was not true about Jupiter losing his touch. I had some traveling to do that year and when that ass fired Jupiter, I ended up paying Jupiter out of my own pocket to sub in The Crackers for a few gigs for me. Cracker gigs normally netted about $30 or $40 bucks a member back then, so I would throw another $50 in so Jupiter could keep his bills and rent paid.

I remember Jupiter telling me on his deathbed that his dying wish was that this bandleader be banned from his funeral, and the offending bandleader was banned, amidst much verbal commenting from said bandleader when he wasn't allowed to attend the funeral.

Here's a short obit that the Houston Press ran at the time of his passing:

"Bang the drum slowly... Veteran drummer Orville Strickland, an influential and highly regarded member of the Houston rock scene for many years, passed away February 1. He was 44 years old. Among the many bands that featured Strickland on the kit were the Cold Cuts, Dr. Rockitt, the Blasting Caps, Ezra Charles and the Works, Theresa James and the Cheaters, the Hightailers, Ronnie Hall and the Green Onions and Jerry Lightfoot and the Essentials. He was a member of Musician's Local 65 for more than a quarter of a century. "Orville was playing with Big Sweet at Love Street in 1967, before he graduated from Westbury High School," says Tommy Dar Dar of the Sheetrockers. "I think playing drums was the only job he ever had."
A memorial jam was held February 8 for Strickland at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar. He's survived by his parents, Tom and Doris Null of Oklahoma City, his sister Pamela Null of Boulder, and his longtime friend Deliah Stafford of Houston."

So anyway, this Memorial Day, in addition to remembering all of the brave and valient soldiers who have defended this great nation, I remember Jupiter Ray, because he was always a good friend to me.

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