Jerome Teasley, drummer for Motown, R&B legends, dies in Phoenix at 67
By the time he moved to Phoenix in the ’80s, Jerome Teasley had played drums for such iconic figures in the history of soul and R&B as Wilson Pickett, Al Green, Ike and Tina Turner and Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, appearing on three Walker albums and Green’s first album, “Back Up Train.” He also played with bebop legend Sonny Stitt.
Bob Corritore recruited Teasley, who died Thursday, June 16, to drum for a group he and Janiva Magness had just formed, the Mojomatics, when the drummer left Detroit for Phoenix.
“He was just unbelievable,” Corritore says. “For the soul show drumming, fantastic. There’s a whole bunch of videos on YouTube of him and Jr. Walker & the All-Stars. He was that guy that provided the perfect power that you always needed. Very powerful. I mean, it took me a little while to get used to his handshake because it was so strong, it would pretty much crush your hand.
“Jerome was very cool and always came to play, always had a fantastic, very positive, ready-to-go, ready-to-sweat animal instinct to his playing. It was always refreshing. You could always feed off of that.”
Teasley had Stage Four cancer in his lungs and liver. Diagnosed a year and a half ago, he was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix two days before his death. He was 67.
Teasley’s daughter, Charlie, says, “There were a lot of things that factored into my dad’s death. He got pneumonia and the bacterial virus on the pneumonia spread to the blood. The cancer that he had in his liver and his lungs spread, too. And then his kidney’s failed. He also wasn’t getting any oxygen to the brain and his lungs weren’t working.”
Still going out and playing
The last time Corritore saw Teasley, he had no idea he’d been ill.
“Apparently, Jerome didn’t want anybody to know about his illness,” Corritore says. “He was getting out and playing. And he was hanging out, too. The last time I saw him was a couple weeks ago at one of our gigs at the Rhythm Room. I didn’t realize he was dealing with all that stuff. It was just good old Jerome. He looked great. He looked very on. I didn’t realize at the time that he was just making sure that everybody felt real connected to him. But we had some good smiles together.”
Charlie says, “My dad was up walking around and playing the drums, living an independent life, three days before he was admitted to the hospital.”
Charlie says her father was “a very optimistic” man who loved eating at Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
“He always looked at the positive side of things,” the daughter he called Cha Cha says. “No matter how negative I was, he was always positive and uplifting. If you ever needed anything, he would help you any way he could. He just wanted everyone to be happy and everything to be OK. And he was really funny.”
Music was his world
“That’s all he wanted me to do in life was to be a musician,” Charlie says. “But unfortunately, I didn’t get that talent from him. I mean, I’m sure he thinks I do have talent but I just don’t try hard enough, but I never really got that talent.”
Teasley drummed for a number of legendary artists through the years, but he’s best remembered for his long association with the All-Starrs. Although he signed on after “Shotgun,” he appears on 1969’s “Home Cookin’” album, which included three Top 40 entries on the Billboard Hot 100: “Come See About Me,” “Hip City Pt. 2” and “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love).”
There are reviews online that mention Teasley playing drums for Walker gigs as recently as 1994, a year before the All-Star’s death. And he never stopped playing in Phoenix.
For the past five years or so, he’s been a regular at Chuck E. Baby’s Sunday Night Menagerie Jam, sitting in with the band at Prankster’s Too in Scottsdale.
“The guy’s groove was impeccable,” says A.D. Adams, who drums for Chuck E. Baby and tours with Louis Prima Jr. “His left hand and his timing on his backbeat, I think that’s what I felt the most when he played. There was such a sense of patience with him. He was such a wise, wise drummer. He wasn’t gonna out-flash you. He wasn’t gonna outrace you. This was no Keith Moon affair. He just kept that steady pocket. That backbeat was incessant. No matter if he was was syncopating the groove or not, you always felt the backbeat. That two and that four just clobbered you. And that’s what he would always say. He goes, ‘Nothing else matters. If that backbeat is there, that’s the ticket. He just had his way of signing things. You could be outside and hear the drums and go, ‘Oh, that’s Jerome Teasley.'”
As a fellow drummer, Adams says, “To me, every time Jerome walked on the stage, school was in session. The drummers knew school was in session. You could play everything he played. But he played it better. He played it like him.”
Teasley tried to teach the younger drummer a few of his signature moves, Adams says.
“And I would play it right,” Adams says. “Technically. But it never felt like him. There was something in his touch that was so clean and precise but effortless, that’s what drove me nuts about trying to emulate some of his chops. They were so effortless for him and I was trying so hard. And he’d laugh and go, ‘You’re trying too hard.'”
Adams also enjoyed the stories Teasley told about his storied past while partaking in his favorite drink — a double bourbon with a single ice cube.
“I guarantee,” Adams says. “There’s a double bourbon with one ice cube waiting at the Pearly Gates for that guy.”
Drum Talk TV posted video of Teasley playing drums at Pranksters Too in early April on its Facebook page Monday, and there was clearly still plenty of fire and force in his playing at that point.
“When I first met him, he had just come into town,” Corritore says. “And I had heard that he was a great drummer who used to play with Jr. Walker and the All-Stars. Janiva Magness and I were forming a band called the Mojomatics at that time I put him to work. I mean, the guy was unbelievable. He had a really pushy uptown shuffle so he could relate really well to the blues. But he could also, if we were doing a funky number or something that was an R&B groove, you weren’t gonna find anybody any better than that.”
Watching Teasley play was a special treat for Charlie.
“It was really magical and inspiring,” she says. “Whatever rough patch my dad came across in the music industry, whether he had jobs or he didn’t, he never gave up on his passion. And he always just made it happen.”
Her father was writing a book, Charlie says, “about what it was like to be the drummer, playing behind the stars like Junior Walker and Tina Turner because not many people hear the story of the people who played behind the stars.”
He didn’t come away from the experience a wealthy man. But Teasley didn’t seem to mind.
“He was dead broke,” Adams says. “And that always bothered me. Here’s this guy, he’s another one of those victims of showbiz. But his soul was so intact. Through all that, getting ripped off left and right, I never heard him badmouth anybody. He wasn’t bitter about it. If he was upset, he never said it. I don’t think he ever felt that he had ever been defeated. All he sensed was ‘I gotta play.’ He’d go to every jam in town just to play. And he wasn’t making a dime. But he just had to play. His DNA says ‘Play the drums.’ And he did it so effortlessly, that was the beauty of it – the simplicity of his strokes and the purity of the music. He left so much room for everybody else. I loved his playing but more than anything else, I truly, truly loved the man. Everywhere he went, he just endeared himself to everyone.”