It was always about the music with Jack.

The first time I ever heard from him, almost exactly 20 years ago, he sent me a note about "the spirit" he and Andy had tried to capture on the Scorchers' first EP.

I don't know how you summarize a spirit, but that is what Jack and Andy (because that's how I always think of them both) were — and are — all about.

I always think of Jack kind of figuratively — or maybe it was even literally sometimes — sitting at Andy's feet, with his great aureole of hair making this bold statement that his silence did nothing to dispel.

That was the thing about him then: he was very quiet — but he was a total contributor to the conversation, in his attentiveness, in the way that you knew he picked up on every single word that was spoken, in the way that you could be certain he would go out and take the subject under discussion — whatever that subject was — in new, thoroughly assimilated, and idiosyncratic directions of his own.

I don't think anyone present is ever going to forget the revolution that Praxis wrought. It was everything that corporate Nashville was not at the time, and undoubtedly still is not today. It was about truth and belief and following your instincts in the same way that Sam Phillips had taught both Andy and Jack by example. It wasn't about hits — though hits never hurt — it was always about seeking out that unplowed row.

The music that they helped give birth to is music that we all cherish — but the spirit that they contributed, the manner in which they were willing to risk everything for what they believed in is an example by which we might all try to live.

There were touchstones for me in any conversation with Jack and Andy. Sam Phillips. Jerry Lee Lewis. The truth of Billy Joe Shaver's songs. Whatever they were working on at present. The ghost-like, intangible, but always prevailing spirit of the music.

They took me by the hand, they took us all by the hand and led us past skepticism into a room that was populated by hope and belief. There wasn't much room for skepticism in their world — well, maybe a little. But there was NO room for cynicism.

That's what I'll always remember about Jack: the openness of his enthusiasms, the openness of his belief, the generosity of his appreciation not just for the present but for the past, and for his vision of the future, too. That's what I'll try to carry with me: that faith in the future. I know I won't do as good a job as Jack — I don't know many people who do. But it's an ideal to try to live up to.




From James Barber, written Saturday, Nov. 22:

Jack Emerson, one of my greatest friends and mentors, died this afternoon from a heart attack at home in Nashville.

I’m sending this to you because I don’t think enough people knew about Jack and how much he contributed to the Cause. Please send it to anyone you know who knew Jack or should have known him.

Jack was a friend, advisor and confidante to some of the greatest artists in the world: Jason & the Nashville Scorchers, the Georgia Satellites, Steve Earle, Steve Forbert, Billy Joe Shaver and Sonny Landreth are just the beginning of a very long list.

I first met Jack in 1981 when I was a college radio DJ and Jack was a Vanderbilt student with a tiny DIY label called Praxis Records. He put out a 7" by Our Favorite Band that managed to be anarchic, funny, scary and profound all at once. I wrote my first fan letter and he wrote back.

When he sent me an advance pressing of the first Jason & the Nashville Scorchers EP, it began a friendship that lasted more than 20 years.

The Scorchers were maybe the greatest live band I’ve ever seen, a band that managed to conjure the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and George Jones all at the same time. Jack and his partner, Andy McLenon, ran Praxis more as a School of Rock than a management company and I proudly count myself as one of their students.

It seems so hard to explain now, but underground rock in the 80s was a Cause and bands like the Scorchers, R.E.M., the Replacements, Husker Du and the Dream Syndicate paved the way for everything good that happened for us in the 90s.

I’ll also confess that I just flat didn’t understand Bob Dylan until I was almost 30. And it was Jack who kept leading me back to records that I insisted weren’t as good as the hype. Of course, I was profoundly and embarrassingly wrong but it was Jack’s persistence that made sure I was able to eventually fall in love with some of the most important music in my life.

When I decided to quit the music business in 1988, it was Jack who summoned me to Nashville and convinced me that the Cause needed me too much for me to give up. I took his advice and have thanked him a million times since.

Every day of my life I try to remember what an enormous privilege it’s been for me to make my living doing something that I love and try to witness to someone else about the True Faith.

Jack was the person who first and best taught me how to do that.

He always cautioned me not to get sucked in by what we called the Hustle. Whenever I felt like it was going to get me, I could call him and we’d talk about Lefty Frizzell or Wire or Gram Parsons or the Rolling Stones and I’d invariably find my center and live to fight another day.

We often talked about the famous bootleg of a studio argument between Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee Lewis where Sam tries to convince Jerry Lee that he’s not going to hell for playing rock music. Like Mr. Sam, Jack believed that rock and roll had the power to save souls.

In a more perfect world, Jack would have been the head of a major record company. He was one of the greatest music men I’ve ever known and it’s the faith he always had in the power of music that has inspired me for my entire career.

I know he affected dozens if not hundreds of lives the way he affected mine.

Lots of us grew up in provincial towns where music was the lifeline that let us know that there must be a better life somewhere else. Jack understood this and knew that it was our sacred charge to keep making music that might change lives.

I will miss him every day.
Poems read by Jack's sisters, Emily and Amy:  

If I should ever leave you
  whom I love
To go along the Silent Way,
  grieve not,
Nor speak of me with tears,
  but laugh and talk
Of me as if I were
  beside you there.
(I’d come – I’ come,
  could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief
  be barriers?)
And when you hear a song
  or see a bird
I loved, please do not let
  the thought of me
Be sad…For I am
  loving you just as
I always have…
  You were so good to me!
There are so many things
  I wanted still
to do - so many things
   to say to you…
Remember that I
  did not fear…It was
Just leaving you
  that was hard to face…
We cannot see Beyond…
  But this I know:
I loved you so---‘twas heaven
Here with you!

—"To Those I Love", by Isla Paschal Richardson

give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone,
I am with you still, in each new dawn.

— Native American Prayer

Just as the soft rains fill the streams,
pour into the rivers and join together in the oceans,
So may the power of every moment of your goodness
Flow forth to awaken and heal all beings,
Those here now, those gone before, those yet to come.

By the power of every moment of your goodness
May your heart’s wishes be soon fulfilled
As completely shining as the bright full moon,
As magically as by a wish-fulfilling gem.

By the power of every moment of your goodness
May all the dangers be averted and all the disease be gone.
May no obstacle come across your way.
May you enjoy fulfillment and long life.

— Prayer For Healing


For all in whose heart dwells respect,
Who follow the wisdom and compassion, of the Way.
May your life prosper in the four blessings
Of old age, beauty, happiness and strength

—Traditional Buddhist blessing and healing chant


And if I go, while you’re still here…

Know that I still live on, vibrating to a different measure behind the thin veil you cannot see through.

You will not see me, so you must have faith.

I wait the time when we can soar together again, both aware of each other.

Until then, live your life to the fullest. And when you need me, just whisper my name on your heart…I will be there.


Jack Emerson


You can love and appreciate people during their lifetimes, but when they die -- particularly when they die unexpectedly -- the role that they played in your life and that of everyone around you becomes painfully clear. As does the depth of the loss. That's what I felt recently when I learned that Jack Emerson, a passionate music fan and independent label head, died of a heart attack at the far-to-young age of forty-three. A friend of his sent around an email about Jack that explained, "I'm sending this to you because I don't think enough people knew about Jack and how much he contributed to the Cause." He's right, and that's why I'm writing this.

I first met Jack about twenty years ago when he and his dear friend Andy McLenon were running a small label in Nashville called, hilariously, Praxis International. Praxis was about as international as hand-stamped packages to music writers in England could make it. But soon its impact would be felt on both sides of the Atlantic. Jack and Andy had just put out the first releases by Jason and the Scorchers, a band that combined raw rock & roll energy with the depth and conviction of classic country music. In other words, Jack, Andy and the Scorchers were helping to create and define what would eventually become know as alternative country. They've never gotten sufficient credit for that, but it's true nonetheless.

I was living in Atlanta at the time, and just starting out as a rock writer. The Scorchers were coming to town, and I got an assignment to profile them for Record, a now-defunct music monthly based in New York. That was a big deal for me. I met the band just before their soundcheck at 688, the New Wave and punk club that gave a Hotlanta home to progressive bands from nearby Athens, as well as from the rest of the U.S. (particularly the South) and England. And that's when I met Jack and Andy, too. The interview that day turned into a conversation that essentially never stopped.

Like the Scorchers, Jack and Andy were true believers, and they made you feel the fire that they felt. At the time so many great young bands were starting out that had roots in the South -- R.E.M., the Swimming Pool Q's, Pylon, the dB's the B-52's, the Georgia Satellites and, of course, the Scorchers among them. The inventiveness, smarts and sheer joy of the music made supporting those bands feel like a mission. The especially great thing about Jack and Andy, however, was their visceral sense of history. They loved the Clash, and they loved Johnny Cash. They loved the Ramones, and they loved Jerry Lee Lewis. They made no distinction between music that was happening right this minute, and music that had changed the world decades before. All it had to be was great.

Jack was the sort of person who elevated the music industry merely through his involvement in it. He and Andy went on to launch the Georgia Satellites, and worked with artists of the caliber of John Hiatt, Steve Forbert, Billy Joe Shaver and Sonny Landreth. After Praxis ended its fourteen-year run, Jack joined forces with Steve Earle to form the E-Squared label, which put out The Mountain, Earle's blistering collaboration with bluegrass wizard Del McCoury, along with albums by Cheri Knight and the V-Roys. Most recently Jack was running his own label, the aptly -- and now sadly -- named Jack of Hearts.

The simple fact is Jack was all about heart. If Jack was involved with a project, you knew it was going to be good. Not that every album or every artist he ever worked with was destined for the ages. But anything he touched was always substantive and real. Jack didn't have a cynical bone in his body.

And that's a big part of what his friend Jim Barber meant when he wrote about Jack's contribution to "the Cause." The cause was not just music, though music was essential to it. The cause was caring. Bothering to make whatever you were working on as good as you can make it. Bothering to let other people know when they did something good. If the term alternative means anything, Jack embodied it. His every action provided a vision of what might be possible, and gave testimony that the music business could be and should be dignified, honest and fun.

With the news of his death, the emails and phone calls started flying, and the theme in them was always the same. How Jack had encouraged someone. How he had inspired them. In recent years, he and I had spoken and seen each other less than we used to, but I kept up with him through mutual friends and, needless to say, the sheer quality of the music that he made possible. Even when we were not in touch, it always heartened me to know that he was out there doing what he loved and communicating that commitment to others. He was a living ideal, one of the good guys, and it will take the dedicated, ongoing efforts of all of his friends to fill the hole that he left behind, and to create the musical legacy that he deserves.

(November 26, 2003)

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking….

in Nashville, Tennessee
Promotional support provided WRLT- Lightning 100

STEVE EARLE (backed by the Scorchers)
BILLY JOE SHAVER (backed by the Scorchers)
Also shorter solo sets by Steve Forbert, Bill Lloyd & Jake Brennan!

Emcee: Rev. Keith Coes from Lightning 100

In an effort to help Jack Emerson’s family defray the medical costs that mounted over the months preceding his untimely passing, many of the artists he worked with over the course of his twenty years in the business have organized a concert at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville on Friday December 12.

Doors 7:00pm, Downbeat @ 8:30pm.

Advance tickets go on sale, Friday December 5 at or by calling 1-800-594-8499. Ticket price is $30 (see note below for making an additional donation beyond the ticket price).

There will also be a silent auction with some irresistible cd collections & box sets, XM Satellite radio system, guitar signed by Billy Joe Shaver and much more. All proceeds go to the family.

If you want to make a donation beyond the ticket price, additional donations will be accepted at the show or can be mailed to:

The Jack Emerson Memorial Fund
Kurt Vitolo c/o Gudvi, Sussman & Oppenheim
1222 16th Ave South, 3rd Floor
Nashville, TN 37212

Checks can be made payable to the “Jack Emerson Memorial Fund”