Benefit concert to sing praises, lend helping hand to soulful Jr. Cline

June 22, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,SUN COLUMNIST

first thing to know about Daryl Jr. Cline is he has a heart as big as his native West Virginia, and is always the first guy to lend a hand to anyone who needs it.

So here's hoping his legions of fans return the favor and pack the State Theater in Falls Church, Va., on July 20, when a benefit concert and silent auction will be held for the whiskey-voiced leader of the popular area bar band, Jr. Cline & the Recliners.

See, Daryl Jr. Cline and his family could sure use a hand right now.

The CliffNotes version of the story goes like this: Jr. Cline's had a run of bad luck and health problems you wouldn't believe.

Three weeks ago, he fell 30 feet out of a tree, crushed most of his internal organs, ruptured his spleen and ended up in Shock Trauma for six days.

At the time, he was still dealing with the after-effects of a tumor discovered 18 months earlier on his thyroid gland, which was treated with chemotherapy and hormone tablets, then radiation.

The treatment caused his hair to fall out and left him exhausted and unable to sing, which cost him a lot of gigs and income.

He'd also had ongoing bulging disc problems with his back; the pain was alleviated only by epidural needles the size of kabob skewers.

Add to all this the fact he's without medical insurance and you see why so many of his old friends - many of them former Recliners and musicians from other area bands - are doing this benefit at the State Theater.

"I never thought I'd be in this position," Jr. Cline said the other day, recovering at his home in a leafy neighborhood in Silver Spring. "... [But] things can change in a heartbeat."

Until the thyroid condition was diagnosed, Jr. Cline, now 54, was happily strapping on his Fender Telecaster and belting out his marvelous brand of "blue-eyed soul" and rhythm and blues up and down the Eastern Seaboard. (Full disclosure: He even let a certain newspaper columnist with a bad voice sing a few Van Morrison covers with the band on occasion.)

A true heavyweight in the business, Jr. Cline has opened for Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Muddy Waters, Archie Bell and Steppenwolf. With the Recliners, he's recorded five CDs and played at the White House for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And whenever someone needed help, whenever a benefit concert was planned to help someone out of a jam, Jr. Cline was the first guy to volunteer his band.

I'd known about his big heart for years, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks really showed what Jr. Cline was made of.

For 10 years, the Recliners played a New Year's Eve gig at the Marriott Marquis in New York's Times Square. Shaken badly by the attacks on the Twin Towers, Jr. gathered 30 area musicians and recorded a single called "Give Them Wings," with the proceeds benefiting the families of 9/11 victims.

But all this was before the thyroid problem - and then the terrifying fall from the tree.

Having worked for a landscaping firm as a young man, he knew what he was doing that May day when he climbed the big oak in his backyard to prune a dead branch 30 feet up.

He was standing on the branch, sawing near the joint, when a gust of wind hit.

"It was like I was slung out of a slingshot," he said.

He landed with a thud on his back. His son Hank, 15, helped him into the house. He remembers Lynn, his wife of 18 years, seeing him and "freaking out."

By now Jr. had gone into shock and was hemorrhaging badly, his insides bruised and swollen. An ambulance screamed into the driveway. The decision was made to airlift him to Shock Trauma.

There aren't a lot of laughs in this story, but one moment from the helicopter ride still makes him smile.

He was strapped onto a stretcher, freezing and naked, the chopper whirring through the skies, when one of the paramedics leaned down and said: "Are you Jr. Cline? My husband and I love you!"

"Uh, could I have a blanket?" he replied, his embarrassment cutting through the pain and morphine haze.

At the hospital, the doctors asked Jr. Cline and Lynn to make a quick decision. Either the damaged spleen could be removed - which was risky, as the spleen produces needed antibodies - or a series of coils could be inserted to stop the bleeding.

The singer and his wife chose to have the coils surgically implanted, also not without risk, as the coils can be jarred loose by strenuous activity.

So now Jr. Cline, weak and tired much of the time, with his insides still roiling, recovers at home and wonders how he's going to pay his rising medical bills.

Unlike a lot of musicians, Jr. Cline said he always had medical insurance. But it was terminated some four months after the thyroid condition was discovered, the insurance company claiming it was a "pre-existing condition." And Lynn's insurance also ended when she was laid-off from her job as an accountant.

To make ends meet, Jr. sold 28 pieces of his guitar collection, which, he said, "is fine, it's just wood."

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