This one REALLY hurts.
I found out that one of my best friends from high school passed away this week. He wasn’t just a best friend – he was also the person with whom I played my very first “professional” gig 36 years ago.
Stacey Waterous and I became friends when we were in high school jazz band together. He played lead tenor sax and I played lead trombone. Although I was the epitome of a “band geek”, I started to hang out with Stacey, who brought me into the fold with some of the “cooler” musicians who had their own bands, like Jonathan Sanborn. This was the beginning of when I started to consider the idea of becoming a professional musician, and my friendship with Stacey helped to lay that foundation.
The following year, Stacey and I formed a band with our friends Sean Tarleton (our bassist, who was in our high school for his senior year), Ray Kim (keyboards), George Matthews (drums) and Eric Kirk (percussion). Our big event was the high school talent show in February 1985. We knew the other bands would be playing rock and heavy metal, but we were playing jazz fusion (Spyro Gyra and Weather Report). I had turned Stacey on to the music of Stanley Turrentine, and “Blue Hour” was one of his classic albums. We made our name “Black Hour” (a name my dad hated because of the racial implications), as we thought it sounded “goth” enough that we’d surprise the audience with incredibly different music…..and it worked. With Jonathan Sanborn sitting in on percussion, we played Spyro Gyra’s “Carnaval” and Weather Report’s classic tune “Birdland”. Stacey and I played lead instruments, and we nailed our solos. I still remember every moment of that performance, as it was the first time I played in a band in front of my peers.
The next month, we played our first professional “paid gig” (chicken wings and soda!) at Levon Helm’s restaurant in Saugerties, right outside of Woodstock. My mom drove me to the gig, and I remember how cool it felt to be on the stage for the very first time, playing to a very receptive and supportive audience. Here we were, these teenage kids playing music, not knowing that we’d be doing this for years to come.
Stacey had a shitty 1975(?) Dodge Duster….shitty is too kind a word for this car – it was baby blue, seriously rusted, and none of the dashboard lights worked. I’ll be damned if we didn’t love riding around in that car. We nicknamed it “The Loadster”, because we used to load our gear into the trunk, and also because that car was truly a load of crap! I have a lot of fond memories of listening to a lot of great music while riding around in that car!
The following year, both Stacey and I started playing electric bass, and we formed a new band called Palladium. We again played the high school talent show with a different lineup of musicians: Jeremy Baum (keyboards – he’s a brilliant jazz organist up in New York), Eric Kelsey (guitar), Eric Kirk on drums, and Stacey and I switched off on playing bass and lead horns. We opened with David Sanborn’s tune “Butterfat”….I remember being so excited/nervous before the curtain opened that both my hands were shaking while holding my bass. Stacey came out and once he played the intro, we were locked in. I switched to lead horn on the next tune, and we closed with a Jimmy Smith tune with Stacey playing tenor sax. I vividly remember Eric Kelsey’s rhythm guitar playing, as it was incredibly smooth…a month later, we performed at the Woodstock Homemade Jam concert (my brother Lee filled in for Jeremy that day), and we played right before legendary jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette and his group. I remember looking off to the side of the stage and seeing Jack bobbing his head along as we were playing Butterfat….that was AWESOME!
I didn’t see Stacey much after high school…I bumped into him a few times with Jonathan in NYC, and a time or two when I was back in Woodstock. The last time I saw him was right before Christmas a few years ago. I knew he was still playing sax, and all was well. I reconnected with him on social media, and was delighted to hear that he and Sean had played some gigs together.
I found out about his passing yesterday afternoon, and it stopped me in my tracks. I was on my way to meet someone about some upcoming musical opportunities, and I asked if we could reschedule. I started thinking about how much it would have meant to me to see him again…..he had a laugh like no other. There was always talk of us all getting back together to play some of our old tunes, and now that won’t come to fruition. I drove back home last night while listening to Butterfat over and over.
Rest In Peace, Stacey William Waterous….you’re already so incredibly missed, and for you, the band will play on.
Love you, brother. ❤️😞🎶🎷🎸