JERRY MERRITT (By Tony Wilkinson)
Born Jerry Lee Merritt, 25 December 1933, Arkansas
Died 4 May 2001, probably Dayton, Washington
Known notably for his association with Gene Vincent, Jerry Merritt along with his band The Crowns was one of the top draw attractions in the Pacific, Northwest area of the United States between 1957 and 1968. The Crowns were a fairly stable outfit and comprised either Jim Bennett or Steve Catt on bass, Jack Bergland or Al McLahlin on piano and Dan Blair or Don Cappa on drums. Merritt was the guitarist and vocalist.
Born in Arkansas, he relocated to the Northwest region of the USA and entered into show business in 1956. He was also with a band by the name of The Pacers. When Merritt and his group played with both Carl Perkins and Sonny Burgess at the Armory, Yakima, Washington there was confusion with two bands both bearing the name of The Pacers. Still must have been a heck of a night.
Jerry has recorded for a whole bunch of labels such as Capitol (backing Gene Vincent), Lavender, Tell International, Smart, American, Scorpia and Furey. Whilst he was capable of playing six musical instruments, he was primarily a guitarist as well as being a capable singer. Indeed it is in this role in 1993 that he played dates in England, South Wales, France, Germany and Holland.
Amongst his compositions were 'She She Little Sheila', 'Hurtin' For You Baby' and 'Born To Be A Rollin' Stone', all of which were recorded by Gene Vincent. Furthermore Jerry was the guitarist on Gene's 'Crazy Times' sessions. It would be fair to say that after Cliff Gallup and Johnny Meeks, he was the third main guitar behind Vincent.
There are differing versions of how Merritt and Vincent linked up. One story has it that he was backing Bobby Darin at the Division Street Coral in Portland Oregon when Vincent walked in. Another is that he was playing with Clayton Watson and The Silhouettes and was at a rehearsal hall in Centralia, Washington State when he met Gene. Whatever, he did link up with Gene and stayed with him for around two and half years between 1958 and 1960.
In 1959, managers Whitey Pullen and Pat Mason booked Vincent and Merritt onto a tour of Japan. When they arrived in Japan, stories have it that there were 10,000 people waiting at the airport to greet them. Vincent had at least two big hits in Japan, one of which was 'Blue Jean Bop'. There was also a Senator and his wife on the aeroplane but nobody could get off at first due to the crowds. The pair was playing to sell out crowds when Gene became homesick and was pining for his wife Darlene. One morning, and without telling anybody seemingly, he caught a flight back to the USA leaving Merritt to finish off the show dates. Amazingly, nobody in the audiences apparently knew the difference. Seems hard to believe but seemingly this is what happened. When Jerry got back home, he rejoined Vincent for the recording of his last Capitol album.
After Merritt and Vincent went their separate ways, they still remained friends and in contact. For example, in 1970, Jerry was working on the soundtrack for the Bigfoot movie along with Roger Peterson and met up with Gene. The pair visited the Los Angeles marina and inspected Vincent's boat. Merrit last spoke with Gene in August 1971 and talked about fishing. A few weeks later, Gene was dead.
In his later years Jerry had heart problems and was receiving treatment. He resided in Dayton, Washington State and died on 4th May 2001.
CD: Rockhouse MIDCD 9215 'After Crazy Times' (1993). This contains ten tracks recorded between 1958 and 1967. It includes Jerry's versions of the aforementioned tracks that Gene Vincent recorded.
EP: (French) Lautrey GV 1289 'Jerry Merritt and The Crowns (1989). This contains the tracks 'Tulsa/L.A./The Kansas City Twist/Walkin', all of which are also included on the aforementioned CD.
RABHAF page: http://www.rockabillyhall.com/JerryMerritt.html
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