J. James Gerace, 82, performed country music, was GM grinder

July 18, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Few could pluck a guitar or banjo like John James Gerace. Few could make their instruments seem a part of themselves the way Jimmy Gerace did. Few could hold a note the way he did and really make country music swing.

Mr. Gerace, 82, who died Monday of a ruptured aneurysm at Franklin Square Hospital, liked to sing and play old-style country music -- not the new tunes from the new artists who seemed bent on playing country rock.

"That wasn't what he liked at all," said his wife, the former Glenna Keith, whom he married in 1992. "He didn't listen to the new stuff. But he made people happy with his music."

Under the name Jimmy West, the Dundalk resident played rhythm guitar with an accompanist known as Stoney on the steel guitar. Together, they performed in local clubs and bars for more than 20 years.

Before coming to Baltimore in the 1940s, Mr. Gerace played guitar and sang several times with Roy Rogers and Bill Haley at clubs in Manchester, N.H.

"He was exceedingly good at performing. Those who liked good country music heard him play and were fans," said Dennis Plack, a friend and fan who heard Mr. Gerace play many times at the old Greenhill Club on Erdman Avenue.

"He was very distinctive in his music. You could always tell his music when you heard it."

Dressed in a Western shirt and string tie, and with a laid-back personality, he had a smooth sound compared to that of singer Eddie Arnold. He knew most tunes that patrons wanted to hear, and if someone requested a song once, he never forgot that person's request.

"He was always a gracious person when he performed," said Sarah Cummings, a longtime fan. "He treated the people right, and they kept coming back to hear him."

Mr. Gerace played in clubs five nights a week for two decades -- each night until 1 a.m. He'd sleep a bit afterward and go to his day job, where he was due by 6 a.m.

"He just learned how to sleep fast," his wife said.

A native of Pottsville, Pa., Mr. Gerace served in the Marines during World War II. He lived briefly in Manchester, N.H., upon his discharge and moved to Dundalk in the late 1940s to become a grinder at the General Motors Corp. plant on Broening Highway. He retired in 1980.

But his passion was always in playing country music -- the old country music.

"He was one of those fun type of musicians who you could watch jTC play and just be amazed by his talent," said Glen Matthews, who heard him play countless times over the last two decades.

He stopped performing in 1993.

Services were held Thursday.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, James Gerace of Eureka, Calif., and Edward Gerace of Lutherville; a sister, Mamie Esposito of New Jersey; 13 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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