(Originally published in Music Monthly magazine, Feb 2005.)
2005 started off with some very sad news. Terry Gleason, a phenomenal blues/rock/fusion guitarist from Stevensville, MD passed away over the holidays. Terry was best known as John Lee Hooker's sideman but his resume also included work with Carlos Santana, Frank Marino, Gregg Allman, Eddie Money and many others.
Terry grew up in Greenbelt, MD where he was a staple of the burgeoning DC-area, 70's hard rock scene. Picking up guitar in his teens, he quickly became known as a hot commodity. Even at an early age, his playing exhibited that rare combination of taste, finesse and fire that allowed him to escalate into the upper echelons of the local rock royalty. Eventually, he relocated to the west coast and it wasn't long before people started to ask about the new guy from back east. John Lee Hooker heard him playing one night and immediately offered Terry a spot in his band. Terry's most memorable gig was a duo with Hooker in 1993 in front of 18,000 people at Neil Young's Bridge Benefit. Both MTV and VH1 ran coverage of the show.
From playing with so many guitar luminaries over the years, Terry had become the "guitar hero's hero". Many of his peers were also his fans. Steve Vai had taken an interest in Terry and the two stayed in contact for years. In 1994, Guitar World magazine profiled Terry and it seemed his star was on the rise. In the mid-90's, health issues forced Terry into semi-retirement and in 1998 he relocated from California back to Maryland to recuperate. In 2002, with his health on the mend he assembled a group of local players with the goal of recording and releasing a CD of his original compositions. Drummer John Davis was instrumental in helping Terry arrange and record his material and the two forged a relationship which resulted in the recording of some of Terry's most empassioned playing. Terry's plan was to utilize his industry contacts to help generate a ground swell so that he could take his new act on the road once his CD had been finished. Tragically, Terry passed before the CD had been completed. Talks are underway with Terry's family to oversee the completion of the record using some very special guest guitarists.
On a personal note, I'll never forget the first time I met Terry. It was also the first time I heard him play as well as the first time I played with him. For three sets, the guy just ripped my head open. We played a lot of Hendrix, Zeppelin and Cream, which was Terry's forte. I really felt like I was in the presence of someone who was channeling the music. It was as if he had a big satellite dish on his head and he was just pulling in 50 years worth of music from the way-out-osphere, running it through his SG and out through his amps. His playing was the kind that makes you dig deep to find places within your own playing you had yet to discover. After the gig, we all seemed impervious to the cold as we stood outside for 2 hours talking shop and laughing like we'd known each other for years. In the studio, Terry was immensely focused yet he gave me miles of freedom to create my parts. His in-depth knowledge of music theory allowed us to communicate without barriers which was a great benefit to the creative process.
The brilliance of Terry's playing was counterbalanced by his perfectionism. Eschewing countless opportunities to join working bands, he applied his fastidious nature to his craft, knowing that he'd return to playing live when his music was ready. He was a purist at heart and no amount of musical temptation could distract him from his goal. In recent years, Terry had amassed an army of guitar students and he viewed his role as a teacher to be both a priviledge and a responsibility. At his memorial service, several students spoke about the impact Terry had made on their lives, both musically and personally. These same students then performed pieces they had learned with Terry. The legacy Terry so deeply longed for, has been right in front of him all this time. Through his students as well as from John Davis' tireless efforts, the world has not heard the last from Terry Gleason.
- Dave DeMarco
January 25, 2005