Allee Willis’ Props O’ The Day – Bye Bye, Jerrie Thill…

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I just got the news that Jerrie Thill, the 91-year-old female drummer on an oxygen tank who I did my song and video, “Hey Jerrie”, with in 2009, passed away last night. She was a killer drummer and an astounding spirit, albeit a slightly deflated one over this past year since she broke her hip and was no longer able to play. We became great friends after I met her in 2008 during one of her regular Sunday gigs at El Cid.

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Jerrie was the hardest working woman in show business, smacking the drums since being discovered in the midwest by one of the Capone boys during Prohibition.

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Eventually Jerrie moved to Hollywood in 1945 to be the bandleader at The Flamingo, a drag club on Sunset owned by Myron Cohen.

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She gigged constantly ever since, doing all kinds of dates including appearances on shows like The Golden Girls with her then band, The Dixie Belles, until her hip injury which happened just a few months after “Hey Jerrie” came out. The video caught on fire on YouTube and at one point was even the 12th most viewed video in the world. With no promotion it’s gotten almost a quarter of  a million views, a source of great happiness to Jerrie and mandatory viewing for anyone who walked into her house or hospital room. If you haven’t seen it please watch it now as a way of paying tribute to this fine, ever-foxy lady who smacked the skins like no other.

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I’m happy to say that Jerrie was sharp all the way to the end. She loved to gossip and talk about music which we did frequently.

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She did one final performance at El Cid after her hip broke.

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I was set on re-cutting my song “Neutron Dance” with her, the jungle drumming on that being something that Jerrie could do in style, and getting The Pointer Sisters to sing backup on the record. I reassured her that in this day and age we could cut one drum at a time but I think she couldn’t deal with the fact that she had slowed down at all so it sadly never happened.

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I’ll miss Jerrie a lot but am heartened by the fact that she knew it was her time to go and that she can make a lot more ruckus up there, free from injury and age. I’m assuming she’s playing her signature song, “When You’re Smiling”, right now.

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For more essential Jerrie hit these links:

http://www.alleewillis.com/woa/jerriethill/index.html

http://www.alleewillis.com/music/jerrie-thill/index.html


Categories: Hey Jerrie, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Music, People, Self expression, Songwriting

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8 Comments

  • Heidi Ehrenreich says:

    What a grand tribute to a grand woman by you, another special being. The video still touches many hearts and will live on and on. And I will listen every time it thunders to see if I can hear Jerri on percussion. Bless you both.

    xheidi

  • Allee says:

    Thank you, Heidi. Thunder indeed (and I know she’ll make a lot of noise!).

  • Deli says:

    Thank you for introducing me to the eternally delicious Jerrie through your loving, joy-filled tribute video. What an inspiration that video continues to be on every level… Both you and Jerrie really tap right into that key that all our souls sing in, and the rhythm that all our hearts beat in… Bon Voyage and many blessings dear Jerrie!!! P.S. Myron Cohen owned a drag club on Sunset?!!! I love it!!! I went to his funeral in NYC many years ago. Henny Youngman gave the eulogy…

  • Allee says:

    Thanks, Deli. Love when you said “…tap right into that key that all our souls sing in”. The line, “…in the key that our souls were singing” was in my song, September. I kept wanting to change it before the record came out because I was afraid it was a little corny. But seeing that phrase in your sentence makes me completely appreciate the line and I’m so happy I lost the fight to take it out. Indeed, jerrie’s soul sang LOUD. And, yeah,how about the drag clubs?!

  • Deli says:

    That’s absolutely why I wrote that… That is not only my favorite line in the song, it’s one of my all-time favorite lyrics – in one of my all-time favorite songs. PURE JOY! “Our hearts were ringing in the key that our souls were singing”. Are you kidding?!!! That’s Divine Perfection!!! And that people can dance to and sing those lyrics to a groovin’ disco beat – they could easily sing those same extraordinary words in a gospel tune… or a children’s song… or say them in a psalm in a mosque or church or shul or temple… or read them in a caption to a photo of Native American or African children singing and dancing with abandon… or appearing on a Keith Haring painting of ‘electric’ radiant joy-filled people… SOOOO AMAZING AND SURPRISING to read that you almost took those lyrics out!!!??? How ironic – you TRULY tap into that universal soul-key with your music, lyrics, videos, art and being… and the loving appreciation you have for everything from food to cats to other passionate creative people whose souls sing in that same key – like Jerrie. What a gift for Jerrie and everyone who continues to discover and enjoy her in your video on YouTube. Those Jerrie beats and ripples will go on and on… As for Myron and those drag clubs — Borscht Belts… Garter Belts… who knew?!!!

  • Allee says:

    Deli – THANK YOU. Reading that was really great.

    Heidi -I know you read this this morning. I’ve since added a link to the second photo from the bottom that plays a video of Jerrie singing the song she always closed her shows with, “When You’re Smiling”. Make sure and check that out.

  • Suze Lanier-Bramlett says:

    Allee,
    A couple of days ago, I was thinking maybe I’m getting a little long in the tooth to keep writing all this music that is my true life’s passion. Then I saw your video on Jerrie on my own drummer’s (Denise Fraser’s) site. It changed my life. Thank you for your beautiful, creative & inspirational spirit.
    My late husband, Delaney Bramlett, was writing music in his hospital bed only 2 days before he passed in 2008. I’d like to believe that he & Jerrie are doing some jammin’ together right now.
    Blessings to you & how you inspire!

    • Allee says:

      Thank you so much, Suze. Jerrie seemed like the kind of person who would live forever. She was so thrilled by the whole experience of making the video and I loved working with her.

      When I saw your last name I was going to ask if you were related to Delaney or Bonnie. When I got my first job in the music business in 1969 you were ultra cool if you were into into Delaney and Bonnie. I was also a Leon Russell freak. To even think of a talent such as Delaneyy Bramlett jamming with Jerrie works for me on every conceivable level!!

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