I’ve read that everyone knows everyone by 6 degrees of seperation or less. In fact, my friend, Lindsey and I used to play this game all the time when we would be bored at work. We’d give two name of people, and see if we could connect them. It was a fun game that passed the time on a slow day at the Opry.
One rainy night in January 2011, I was working down at the Opry shop downtown, Opry Originals. It was rare for me to be working there on the night of a show, but Wanda Jackson was coming down to the shop after her Opry performance to do a record signing, so they had me there instead of the Ryman Auditorium. I was so excited to get to see her, after all she was an Oklahoma girl too. She was known in the 50’s as the “Queen of Rockabilly” and man could she rock. She had a southern western style mixed in with a rock n’ roll sound.
As I said it was kind of a dreary night, and unfortunately not as many people showed up to the signing as there usually would have been. There were many, but not just overhwhelmingly so. When Wanda came in a young man, in his late 20’s walked in with her. He stood over with her while she signed, then as the crowd started to thin he started walking around the shop, shopping. He picked up a few things and headed up to the counter. There’s no way to really describe what he looked like. The best way I can is by saying he was like a 1970’s Dwight Yokum, without the hat. Not to mention his subtle afro hairstyle. He reverberated “cool.” In fact my first thought was, “oh man, this guy thinks he’s too cool for school,” but that thought quickly evaporated when he started speaking to me. He was very kind, and introduced himself as Jon. He asked questions about his items he wanted to purchase, he asked if I liked working there at the Opry, just making small talk. Then he asked, “Do you like Wanda Jackson?” I replied, “Well of course!” And he asked if I’d like to meet her, and I replied, a little shocked, “Of course I would!”
Technically we weren’t “aloud” as Opry employees to act like fans. Our music-guy was nice enough to at least get an autograph for me on one of her single vinyls, but I wasn’t aloud to get it myself, and I certainly wasn’t aloud to take any pictures! But the crowd was gone, it was just us workers (3 of us) and Jon and Wanda. So Jon led me over to introduce me to Wanda and asked if I wanted a picture, I thought what the heck! I’m gonna do it! And so as you can see I got the picture above and got to chit-chat with Wanda Jackson for about 10 minutes. I was floating on cloud 9!! I later got in trouble by my manager, but it was worth it. I found out Jon was actually Wanda’s manager, so I figured no harm, no foul. Wanda didn’t seem to mind.
Before Jon left he asked if I’d want one of her vinyls when her new album came out, I said of course I would and he got my email and that was that. I figured he was probably just trying to do some good promoting before her record release and I’d probably never get that vinyl, but that was okay, it was nice of him letting me meet her. I was already ecstatic about the night I’d had!
Several weeks passed by and I get this email from a Jon asking for my address. I quickly remember where I knew the name and shot him an email back. About a week later I received The Party Ain’t Over on vinyl. I couldn’t believe this guy that I randomly met was nice enough to do this! He kept his word and continued to do so. He was an incredibly sincere person and I came to realize that very quickly.
We became friends on Facebook and one night he messaged me asking if I’d be interested in coming to one of Wanda’s shows downtown at Robert’s. Robert’s was by far my favorite bar on Broadway, so I decided to go. Jon met me outside the door and I could see they’d already started “one in, one out” so I cringed at thinking about standing out there most the night. Jon greeted me and asked me to follow him, he started taking me around to the alley, I was a bit nervous I’ll admit, after all I didn’t really know this guy and I was following him to an alleyway, but then we went through the back door of Robert’s, up a flight of stairs, and there we were, in Robert’s VIP balcony. It was the perfect place to get to see Wanda’s performance!
There were a handful of other nights like that one. He was always so gracious with his knowledge of different music venues and shows and what was happening where, and always a gentleman. He knew so many different people, famous people, but you’d never know it. He was never boisterous about it, when he very easily could have been. He was kind, and genuine to everyone he had contact with. When I try to find the words to describe Jon, I never fully know what to say; he was seriously one of the coolest, most original, sincere people I’ve ever met.
The last time I saw Jon he’d invited me out to a Dwight Yokum tribute (funny coincidence) in East Nashville. It was a fun night, with some good bands. Not long after that night, I moved back home and heard from Jon once or twice about coming to different shows.
In 2015 I heard Jon passed away. It saddened me to know such an interesting, talented, genuine soul was gone. His knowledge for music and the music industry was impeccable. I didn’t know Jon near as well as so many others, but for a short while I had a friendship with him. Even after I moved home I kept up with his Facebook and Instagram, all the crazy and exciting things he was up to. I started to notice more and more photos of he and Shooter Jennings together. I remember thinking, “Man, that guy knows everyone!” Never imagining where that would lead me…
Stick around for Part 2 of 6 Degrees of Seperation, I plan on posting Thursday, 17th. Hope you tune in!