Remembering Terry Whitlock, Jamie Rounds
Depending on when you attended Penn State, you might remember two prominent players in the local music scene who, sadly, passed away in recent weeks.
Terry Whitlock, a mainstay of the band Tahoka Freeway in the 1980s, died Jan. 11 at his home in Twin Falls, Idaho. You can read his obituary in the Twin Falls newspaper here and read the comments—including reminiscences about Tahoka Freeway—in the funeral home’s online guestbook here.
Eleven days after Whitlock’s death, Jamie Rounds died in Nashville. Rounds also was prominent in State College in the 1980s, in such bands as Backseat Van Gogh and the Rounds Brothers, the latter with his brother, Jon ’87, ’94g. You can refresh your memory on Backseat Van Gogh by checking out their Facebook page, which has some photo albums that are fun to browse.
Jamie made a return appearance in State College last July, performing with Cartoon at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. The photo shown below (by Kelsey Brosnahan) was taken during that show in Schwab Auditorium; Jamie’s the guy in the middle on guitar.
Last night, Jon Rounds sent me an obit of his brother, a biographic sketch focusing on Jamie’s musical career, with a poignant personal note at the end. I’ll include the obit below in its entirety for those who may be interested; even if you don’t read the whole thing, you may want to read the last paragraph.
Tina Hay, editor
James Ralph (Jamie) Rounds
Oct. 16, 1951–Jan 22, 2013
Jamie was born in Tokyo, Japan, the third son of David and Elizabeth Rounds, while David was stationed there as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the Korean War. The family returned to the States after the war and lived on Army bases in California, Maryland, and New Jersey, until David retired from active duty in 1955, took a job as director of training at a Navy jet testing facility near Trenton, N.J., and settled across the river in Yardley, Pa.
Jamie’s formative years as a musician were spent in the house at 119 N. Main St. in Yardley, where his parents would live most of their lives. The three Rounds boys, David Jr., Jon, and Jamie, all grew up there and attended Pennsbury district schools from kindergarten through high school. All began playing guitar in the 1960s, a wildly eclectic era with influences as diverse as the British invasion bands, Bob Dylan, the folk movement, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Beach Boys. David Sr. was a Julliard-trained cellist who continued to play in string quartets, but his classical training did not prevent him from embracing the new wave of pop music, especially the Beatles, and the Rounds home became a haven for the boys’ musician friends.
By his early teens, it was clear Jamie had a rare talent for music. Most striking was his ear for complex chords and harmonies, such as those from artists like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. He also became skilled at electric guitar, learning leads by the likes of Eric Clapton and Steven Stills note-for-note. In junior high school, he began forming rock bands with classmates, and from that moment on, music would shape his life.
While at Pennsbury High he played with a number of bands that performed at school functions and social events. Among these were The Great Society, The Sonic Falcons, and The Blue Berets.
Jamie graduated from Pennsbury in June 1969 and enrolled at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., that fall. With classmates Dave Newell (lead vocal), Chris Knopf (guitar), Bob Willemin (bass), Al Hershner (drums), and Steve Kenety (keyboards), he formed the band Bradley, which became a fixture at the college and went on to play reunion concerts there for decades. They played a gumbo of contemporary rock, from the Allman Brothers and CSNY, to the Beatles and the Who. Willemin recalls: “We played electrically for money, mostly on the weekends, but acoustically for fun, practically every night, for anybody or for ourselves. Jamie was the motor and the indispensable member. It was great to be a part of it.” The Bradley members’ friendships endured as well. Jamie kept in close contact with each one of them all his life, trading thoughts and licks in an ongoing musical dialogue, in person, over the phone, or online.
After graduating Dickinson in 1973, Jamie moved to State College, Pa., where he’d been recruited by brother Jon to play bass in Jack Smith, a rock band that was earning a living playing clubs in town. Thus began Jamie’s decade-long career as a working musician in State College, where he remained until the mid-1980s, playing in a number of bands, including the Rounds Brothers and Backseat Van Gogh. It was with the Rounds Brothers that he began writing songs seriously, and this period also launched a lifelong relationship with Jon as a co-writer. Jamie wrote several songs on his own for Backseat Van Gogh, an edgy, New Wave-influenced band with David Fox on guitar, Ken Mathieu on bass, and Rocco Fortunato on drums. They played a repertoire of mostly original songs, including Jamie’s “Catch a New Wave,” which became a regional hit.
In the mid-’80s, Jamie moved back to the Philadelphia area to be closer to the parents. He lived in Bristol and played gigs in Bucks County and on the Jersey shore, many with Pennsbury friend Jody Giambelluca. He also continued to write, and formed his own music publishing company, Bristol Music. In 1986, he was featured on a pop/rock album by The Metropolitans, a group that included Bill Rippon and old family friend Bob Scammel.
In 1988, he moved to the Los Angeles area and began pitching compositions to the film market, with some success, and also playing at downtown clubs. It was during this period he wrote “A Little too Soon to Tell,” for the ’50s star Charlie Gracie who had made a comeback and was touring in Europe.
In 1994 he moved to Nashville, where he began establishing contacts in the country music market, pitching songs to publishers, and playing at clubs, including the famous writers’ venue, the Bluebird Cafe. He was paired for a time with Carter Wood, an up-and-coming country artist, and the duo drew interest from record labels.
Not long after this first stint in Nashville, Jamie moved back to the L.A. area, but by 2000 was back in Nashville, where he remained for the rest of his life. He lived in the heart of the studio district and developed relationships with hit-song writers including Walter Egan, George Teren, Jon Ims, and Tim Buppert. He formed the duo Honey Don’t with vocalist Nicole Gordon, jammed regularly with Nashville veterans, and became a regular at The Bluebird, where he organized frequent songwriter-in-the-round gigs. At one point he reconnected with Lee Olsen, founder of the State College-based bluegrass band Whetstone Run, who had moved to Nashville and become an executive with the Keith Case talent agency. Olsen had signed the gospel quartet, The Fairfield Four, and hired Jamie as road manager of the group during their national tour with John Fogerty.
During his time in Nashville, Jamie was constantly working on new tunes, recording home demos, and working on projects with other musicians. He worked a number of day jobs—as an insurance agent, a recruiter for a local college, a representative for ASCAP—but music remained his passion, and the day jobs were less careers than practical necessities.
In July 2012, Jamie sat in with Cartoon at its farewell concert at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. (Cartoon, of which Jon was a member, formed in 1980 in State College and had played reunion shows at the Festival each year since, but one of the members couldn’t make the final show, so Jamie offered to fill in.) Jamie practiced harmonies, bass, and guitar parts back home in Nashville in the weeks before the gig, and then rehearsed three days with the band in State College before the show at Schwab Auditorium. He also taught Bet Williams and Susie Kocher, guest artists from Bookends, the harmonies to one of his own tunes, “Down Down,” for that show. The evening was a rousing success and demonstrated to Jamie’s legion of fans in State College that he still had his chops.
Something else: Jamie had a unique ability to make any group better. He could hear harmony parts and distribute them to the right people. He could establish the rhythm and feel of a piece with his guitar or bass playing. As his lifelong friend, Rod Deck, puts it: “In all settings, whether with high school or college garage bands, a group of friends or relatives sitting around a living room with assorted guitars, or onstage at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Jamie would be the engine that drove the performance.” He infused any group and any session with energy and joy. He made the music come alive. He made everyone better.
He is survived by his brother, Jon Rounds and his wife, Louise Rounds, and their children, Jamie Jone-Rounds and Molly Rounds; and by grand-nephews, Felix and Arlo, sons of Jamie and McKenzie Jones-Rounds.
We are planning a service on Memorial Day in State College to celebrate Jamie’s life and his music. We will post details as we know them.
A personal note:
Jamie left an empty place in my heart that I do not know how to fill. I know others felt the same way about him, and with the support of his many friends and my family, I’m finding it a little easier each day to deal with his memory. As you all know, Jamie took his own life, and one of the most troubling and heartbreaking things about this act was that he gave not one of us—even those who were in close contact with him right up until the end—any hint it was coming. In retrospect, we can speculate about issues of his health and his situation that must have contributed to a depression and hopelessness that became overwhelming. And so this next is a very, very difficult thing for me to say publicly, but I feel it must be said in case anyone reading this ever has a notion to do what Jamie did: I cannot respect the decision he made to take his own life and I cannot participate in any gesture that validates or glorifies it. Help is out there in the world and you can ask for it. Love is out there in the world and you can ask for that too. If you don’t, you leave us helpless.
Portland, Ct., February 2013