There’s a good chance most people heard Gerry McGee playing guitar on albums, songs and soundtracks, but few knew his name.
As of Oct. 12, the only way to hear the sought-after musician will be on recordings as the Eunice native of international acclaim died of an apparent heart attack while on tour in Japan.
McGee, 81, was in Tokyo doing solo shows on the Gerry McGee 2019 Japan Tour, when he reportedly collapsed on stage Oct. 8.
Services are pending.
McGee was the son of the late Cajun fiddler, Dennis McGee. He moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and became a sought-out session musician.
He was the guitarist behind a couple of Monkees’ albums. He worked and/or toured with Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Delaney and Bonnie, Eric Clapton, Kris Kristofferson and many, many others.
“There’s no way you could’ve grown up in America, no way, and listened to rock 'n' roll and not heard Gerry play,” said filmmaker Pat Mire, also of Eunice. “It’s not just the Monkees on down. It’s everybody.”
In 1968, Gerry McGee joined the Ventures, an instrumental rock band known, among other songs, for the theme song, “You Can Count on Me,” of the TV show “Hawaii 5-0.” Other hits include “Ame No Midosuji,” “Kyoto No Koi,” and “Kyoto Bojo.”
He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Ventures in 2008. McGee also took up acting and appeared in TV's “L.A. Law,” the miniseries “North and South” and the big screen’s “Heaven's Gate” and “A Star Is Born” (1976).
And, closer to home, he was in Mire’s film, “Dirty Rice,” where he played a banker. He also scored the film after returning to Eunice in the mid-1990s.
“He really killed it, man. He was pretty solid,” Mire said of McGee’s acting chops. But, again, it was his guitar skills, highlighted in Mire’s full-length documentary “Sushi & Sauce Piquante: The Life & Music of Gerry McGee,” where he made his name.
“But his playing, man,” said Mire. “His guitar playing.”
In June, "Sushi & Sauce Piquante" won Best Documentary Feature at the 18th annual Ozark Foothills Film Fest. In the film, Kristofferson, Dr. John, Edward James Olmos and others sing McGee’s praise.
“I just wanted to tell his story, his body of work,” said Mire. “He’s influenced so many people. He was one of the best guitar players, ever, but so unknown here.”
Slide guitarist Sonny Landreth saw McGee recently at the Lafayette Regional Airport as both were leaving gigs; McGee was bound for Japan.
“We had a nice little chat at the airport and kind of caught up,” said Landreth. “He said he was on his way to Japan to play some shows.
“I told him, ‘Yeah, man, they worship you over there,’ ” he said. “ ‘Every time I go over there, they always ask about you. It’s pretty cool.’ ”
McGee, who took over on guitar for Nokie Edwards, the Ventures founding member, when he left the group. The Ventures toured Japan frequently and had a huge following.
“The Ventures were gods over there,” said Landreth. “So they would tour every summer. They’ve been doing it forever.”
Landreth and McGee played together only briefly “and that’s one huge regret,” Landreth said. “I kept saying we got to get together sometime; everybody’s busy doing their own thing and don’t get in the same orbit.”
When the two did get together, it was documented in Pat Mire’s “Forever My Love: Music from the Bayou.”
In the 2002 film, Mire and McGee drive around and hang out with other musicians, such as Michael Doucet, Zachary Richard, Steve Riley, D.L. Menard and Landreth.
“He got us together at Michael Doucet’s house, and we’re just sitting on the porch playing,” said Landreth. “I think that’s the only time we sat down and played together.”
Landreth first heard McGee’s guitar in the mid- to late 1970s while playing a solo gig at Red Dog Saloon on what was known as The Strip in Lafayette.
“They’re blasting music out on speakers in between sets, and I heard this guitar,” Landreth recalled. “I knew it was Kris Kristofferson, but I hadn’t heard this particular track.
“That’s when I first heard Gerry. I heard the guitar and it caught my ear,” he said. “I said, ‘Man, that’s one soulful cat,’ and I had to find out who that was.”
McGee’s sessions, gigs and collaborations are legendary.
“If you did into his body of work, it’s mind-boggling — for good reason,” said Landreth. “He had a really, really special touch; a really soulful cat. Great tone and phrasing and feel.
“It was just in his DNA,” he said.
One of McGee’s last local gigs was September 2018 as part of South Louisiana Guitar Greats performance at Vermilionville.
“I only got to know him briefly at the guitar concert Steve Riley produced for us,” said Roddie Romero, who moves effortlessly from accordion to guitar. “What a sweet gentleman and, of course, an amazing, fantastic guitarist.”
In the Guitar Greats show, McGee and Romero were joined by Freddie Pate, Michael Juan Nunez and Lane Mack.
“A legend and so many titles, I’m sure,” Romero said. “Hearing him play that night, it was something that was so natural for him. Everything that he put out through those strings was amazing. I’m so sorry to hear of his passing.”