Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Outlaw Jerry McGill

In the mid‑seventies, when he was red‑hot, Waylon played Memphis, and his one‑time rhythm guitar player and road manager, Curtis Buck, a/k/a Jerry McGill, came to the show in drag. McGill, who had a Memphis rock and roll band in the fifties and recorded for Sun Records, was eluding prosecution for various federal crimes. He had developed a problem traveling with Waylon when they put the metal detectors in airports. But there had been times when McGill's guns—he normally carried three, counting the one in his girlfriend's purse—had come in handy, like the time the cop had McGill's boss under arrest at the Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard, and McGill talked him out of it. It's a scene we'll save for the film version.

- Stanley Booth,
from Hands Up!
Gadfly, November 1998.

and then there's the film version...

In one scene, the camera follows (Randall) Lyon into Jim Dickinson's backhouse studio, where assorted people are sitting around ... Some of the musicians are jamming - Dickinson is playing an electric guitar, (Jim) Lancaster, is at the piano. McGill, his gaunt and tapered face resembling a cobra's, takes hold of an acoustic guitar and performs a song. When he's done, Lyon starts spouting a soliloquy, holding a bottle of champagne in his hand. The camera surveys the room, but his words are clear. "This is a dis-ass-trous period in our time. We got to respond to what's going ahn or else we got to hang it up with kinder-goddamn-garten." Dickinson accompanies with apocalyptic feedback from his guitar, and it all becomes too claustrophobic for McGill. The camera whips around at the sound of gunfire - McGill has drawn and fired his pistol. He smashes the bottle with the barrel and then puts the gun against Lyon's head. The voices that squealed when the bullets caught them off guard have suddenly stilled. The guitar continues, a soundtrack like the Wild West saloon player who knows it's best to never stop. The camera remains focused on the gun, the gun always, because whoever may say whatever, the subject in that room is the gun.

"I'm gonna whip you with this gun barrel," says McGill, whose eyes shine like B.B.'s. "Be nice, be real nice." Lyon is doubled over at the waist, his head, his life, in McGill's hands. Then McGill, he is no longer McGill, he is Pancho Villa, he is Jesse James, he is completely and totally Lash LaRue - turns to the camera, sees that it's pointed right at him (he's still holding the gun), and he says, for the camera's benefit, "I don't care nothing about that." He'll do it for the world to see! In an instant, the pistol is waved, smashing the bottle in Randall's hand, and following the instant, smashing the light. The guitar feedback stops with the sudden darkness and the scene, take one, the only take, is over.

-Robert Gordon
from It Came From Memphis,1995.

The above is a description of Jerry McGill's scene in William Eggleston's video-verite Stranded In Canton shot in and around Memphis and New Orleans in 1974 with a Sony Porta-Pak that was rigged to shoot in low light situations. It's a remarkable foray into early video by a great photographer. For years, it sat in a vault at MIT, until Eggleston and Gordon edited the thirty hours of footage into a film in 2005. When I saw a screening of it at Lincoln Center a few years ago, I asked Robert who the guy playing guitar with Dickinson was. His response, "Jerry McGill - the original Rock and Roll outlaw." Below is McGill's entire recorded output - a lone single on Sun from 1959. Billy Lee Riley is on lead guitar. These days McGill's whereabouts are unknown. He is rumored to be serving time in Florida for murder.

Lovestruck" mp3
by Jerry McGill and The Topcoats, 1959.
out of print

"I Wanna Make Sweet Love" mp3
by Jerry McGill and The Topcoats, 1959.
out of print

William Eggleston is the subject of a major retrospective coming to the Whitney Museum in November.

Standed In Canton will be available as a Book/DVD by Twin Palms Publishers this Fall.

Top photo: by Randall Lyon from It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner