Remembering Kevin Junior

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by Jason Willis

Sad Bastard’s Kevin Junior Tribute
Sunday, Feb. 14 at Annabell’s
To celebrate the life and prolific career of Akron born-and-raised musician Kevin Junior, a collective of “sad bastards,” a.k.a. local musicians, will perform a special anti-Valentine’s tribute dedicated to their friend. All money raised at Annabell’s that evening will be paid directly to Kevin’s family. Anyone interested in performing a cover one of Kevin’s many inspiring songs can contact Jeff “Jck” Klemm via Facebook at facebook.com/thisisJCK

kevin junior standingIf you’ve frequented Annabell’s Bar and Lounge in the past few years, chances are you came across a fellow barfly and undoubtedly noticed him. A tall, pale figure with long, spiky razor cut hair, dressed in his signature uniform of tie, vest, black velvet jacket, pointy boots and tight dark jeans. In a bar full of punk rockers, young traveler kids and the PB&J-drinking regulars, Kevin Junior easily stood out.

When I first started getting to know Kevin, there was a certain mysterious air about him, but what was most striking was how profoundly polite he was and how much he was genuinely interested in whatever you talked to him about. We first hit it off during a conversation about music, as musicians typically do, and he invited me to a solo set later that month in Annabell’s small upstairs bar. Seeing him perform for the first time revealed some of the enigma that was Kevin — a fantastic and unique voice, beautifully crafted songs and a commanding stage presence.

Ruins_frontAt times, hints of Kevin’s past would slowly come out in passing conversations about different musicians he had run with in New York and Chicago or tours he had done overseas. When he invited a friend and me to come see his band, the Chamber Strings, open up for Paul Weller of The Jam at the House of Blues in Cleveland, it started to dawn on me, “Wow, this guy is kind of a big deal.”

Kevin was modest though, so these trinkets of information didn’t come out randomly or in a bragging manner. They only came out slowly when related to something we were already talking about, and though it seemed so natural to him, it would be mind blowing to me. One example of these particular moments was when I was wearing a GG Allin button and he told me, “GG would have loved that.” I only knew GG Allin as the king of the most vile form of punk rock and disgrace, and I could only speak to how his art and his lifestyle had become one. GG fell into the character he created and lived out the role. Kevin told me he didn’t see his friend like that; he saw him as the person he had gone to the movies with, talked about music with and the tragedy that became GG’s life.

The way Kevin felt about GG was the way I, and many others around town, felt about Kevin. I didn’t know him as a rock star, or any sort of public figure honestly. I just knew him as a friend I could count on seeing at the bar. In a similar sense, I didn’t understand the complexity of what brought Kevin to that point in his life.

During this time, I was aware of the Chamber Strings. What I was not aware of was the fact that this was the Chamber Strings reincarnated in Cleveland only recently, the first formation of the band established by Kevin in Chicago in 1997. The band had flown under the radar in terms of the mainstream but had great success as far as the indie world is concerned. The acclaim of the group’s second album, “Month of Sundays,” and stints of rigorous touring landed them on stage with such acts as Wilco, The White Stripes and the Brian Jonestown Massacre — just a small list of bands and musicians Kevin was affiliated with throughout his career.

After his band’s demise, Kevin fought similar battles as so many musicians, including depression, drug addiction and its subsequent related health problems. Kevin landed on his feet, however, and spent time in Europe writing and playing solo until he found his way back to Chicago, where the original Chamber Strings reunited in 2007 for their first show in five years.

Kevin returned to his hometown, Akron, and continued to play solo and eventually reimagined the Chamber Strings as a Cleveland act. As intrigued as I was by Kevin, I never thought to question him on his origins; his persona and history in music overcame me. It wasn’t until his death on Saturday, Jan. 16 that I learned his full name: Kevin Bain Gerber, born Dec. 26, 1969. He was an extremely sweet, gentle and caring person, as many more who knew him better than I can tell you. I can say that it makes my heart swell with joy that I had the chance to know him at all. His legacy will easily live strong, because his music is timeless, and so rooted in human nature, that it speaks to us all.

 

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