The Greatest Story Never Told. Part Tree and a Bit …
It may have been a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. Do the days of the week matter when the phone rings and a Canadian rock legend is waiting on the other end of the call? The bruises linger from the self – inflicted pinching that took place on my right arm as I took the receiver from my ex and spoke to April Wine’s drummer.
I arrived at Mr. Mercer’s home the following day. A greeting ensued at the front door of a beautiful house located a hop, skip and drum roll from the Cajun Blues restaurant. Jerry introduced me to his current wife and his son Shawn. His daughter (the server), was also hanging around and Yannique and I laughed quietly with the irony of the circumstances that joined us together in this ‘after hours’ club.
Once the formalities were completed and I was cultured to the fact that Yannique was studying piano and the younger Mercer was a drummer just like Dad – Jerry and I moved from the kitchen and carved a path to the den. As the scenario became a video in my mind, a picturesque view of the waterfront took center stage through the bay windows.
Joe Walsh – the former guitarist of the rock groups the James Gang and the Eagles,had a solo hit song entitled ‘ Life’s been good.’ The lyrics of his tune immediately came to the forefront of my memory as I acknowledged my surroundings.
“I have an office… Gold records on the wall … Just leave a message – maybe I’ll call …”
Whether or not Mr. Mercer has, “accountants pay for it all …” (more of the songs’ lyrics ), is something I do not know. It was of no interest to me and frankly – none of my business.What I do know – Mr. Mercer did call me back.
I stood there.
The hair on the back of my neck and on top of my head along with all the tiny ones that guarded my scrotum ,were standing on guard. Shivers traveled the length of my body. Overcome with nostalgia and the sheer magnitude of what lay before me, my knees developed a mind of their own and searched the floor.
Glints of sunlight recoiled off the yellow discs that adorned the walls. I was the victim. I lay dying on the desert floor in a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western as the golden vultures with the names ‘I like to Rock’, ‘Just between you and me’ and ‘Roller’ encircled me.
“If nervousness and anxiety were to be the ailments that killed me – a death on Jerry Mercer’s floor was not necessarily a bad thing ” I thought silently.
Jerry motioned towards the sofa and we sat.
The sixty – one year old could sense the three-year-old schoolchild that currently invaded his couch and he immediately put my senses at ease. He asked about my children . As any parent is aware – there is not a disaster in the world that the idea of offspring dancing through your mind, like angels on a cloud – cannot heal.
“So where do we start?” Jerry asked in a kind way once my tales of tots were completed.
“I thought you would know … “I responded with a nervous laugh. I was not convinced this was the proper time to inform Mercer that this was indeed – my inaugural biographical interview.
Where does one start? At his birth? In his parents’ bedroom …? Should we get them on the phone? Who knew?
“Why don’t we start with how you became a drummer?”The words escaped my mouth and the resonance eased my novice-batting stance. I was ready to step to the plate. The pine tar tossed aside.
The only interview I had done to this point was never published. I was not
overwhelmed during that one and the fact that the majority of my questions were about the Rolling Stones – had everything to do with it. Annie Liebowitz, the famed photographer, was in town with a collection of her photos. They (the photos), were on display at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts and my journalistic mentor was kind enough to donate his press pass. He was well aware of my obsession with the ‘World’s Greatest Rock n Roll Band’ and Ms. Leibowitz had been the band’s official photographer for their historic 1972 tour. It is one thing to know a great deal about a subject and a completely different one when you are learning as you go. Not only that – with all due respect to Ms. Leibowitz, she never ‘rocked my world’ with a ten minute drum solo’!
In the beginning …
Mercer began his tale as Yannique brought us refreshments. My borrowed tape recorder on full alert as the’ rocker’ informed me of his tribal beginnings in the art of percussion.
He started playing in a marching band when he was fourteen as an extracurricular activity. Once he completed school at Verdun high school, he commenced working at IBM and was set to indulge in a career with a growing company.Then, one afternoon, he heard something that altered his life and in the process – startled his parents.
“I was listening to AM radio. My hit parade was the hip radio show back then . All of a sudden the Ray Charles’ song ‘What’d I Say ‘came on. I had never heard anything like it. I thought to myself ‘that cat has swing!’ I knew right then and there – I wanted to become a drummer!”
Mercer informed his parents of his decision and promptly quit his job to pursue music. His dad told him that it was like ‘jumping off a diving board into an empty pool ‘.Yet, in Jerry’s words; they were very supportive. ”They were Christian and very religious people. I could never have asked for a more loving environment to grow up in.”
Jerry then began his pursuit of all things music. He began studying all of the great drummers; Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Max Roach.
He would sneak into the Maurice Richard arena and crawl up on the catwalk to get a bird’s eye view of his idols as they came to town. High above – he would watch with precision as Krupa introduced his talents to Montreal. Buddy Rich would arrive the following week and make everyone’s (including Mercer) jaw drop to the concrete floor. The rafters were also the place that Mercer witnessed an up and coming talent ply his trade as an opening act for the Isley Brothers. It was a young Jimi Hendrix with Mitch Mitchell banging away on drums. Mitchell fast became another hero to the young Mercer.
“Music was much easier to get into back then.” Mercer continues.” You had four choices – Jazz, Pop, Rock or Country. These days there are so many different genres with each one having a sub – genre. I do not envy kids today. Even with all the advancements and the ability to self- record, it is such a difficult environment. “He goes on to say with a laugh.” Even the drugs today make it much scarier than my day.”
Mercer bought a small kit for fifty dollars that consisted of a snare, a high hat, a bass drum and one tom. He would play along to the songs he heard on the radio and whichever records he managed to purchase or get his hands on. He never learned to read music. He learned to play with the feel of the song and this prepared him for his first gigs. He met up and played with Trevor Payne and the Triangle.