Carmel Rocker Starts Initiative to Help Aspiring Musicians
Jon E. Gee admits there are times when he wonders how he arrived at this juncture in his life as a top-flight bass guitar player.
Gee, after all, grew up in the urban setting of Indianapolis. His parents were divorced, his wallet was empty and he was borderline scrawny when it came to seriously competing in high school sports at Broad Ripple High School.
This African-American teenager had a potential one way ticket for discovering trouble in the streets of Indianapolis in the 1960s.
“I am not supposed to be here,” said Gee from his Carmel office off North Meridian. “I was young, black and from the ghetto. That life is a downfall for a lot of kids. It can lead to gangs, drugs and violence. But here I am.”
And here’s where the youthful-looking Gee has been as a rock and roll bass guitar performer:
• He toured for three seasons with the legendary Ted Nugent.
• He has been the bass player for Hoosier icon John Mellencamp since 1999, touring Europe, Canada, Australia and throughout the United States.
• He has become friends with Neil Young, Willie Nelson and other Farm Aid performers.
• He has met former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
“Both of the presidents said my name,” said Gee, “though someone probably told them my name before I met them.”
Perhaps that stroke of modesty tells another side of the life that Gee and his wife, Sondra, now lead. They are pursuing projects that will assist musicians – young and old or as Gee says 8 to 58 – in fulfilling their journey in the music world.
“We want to help them no matter how old or young they are and no matter what type of music they wish to pursue,” said Gee. “It can be country, heavy metal, classical, rock or whatever. We want kids and adults to expand on their talents.”
Thus, the Gees have opened Jon E. Gee’s Music Room in Carmel. They also launched the Jon E. Gee Autumn Music Fest which was held in September to raise scholarships for students to participate in programs at the Music Room.
Autumn Music Fest is part of Jon E. Gee Enterprises’ fundraising campaign, “Music Without Barriers.” Aspiring musicians can learn many facets of the business, including performing techniques, creating a music video, writing songs and pursuing recording contracts at Jon E. Gee’s Music Room. Those interested in obtaining scholarships should call 317-581-1030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I like to tell people to go for it,” said Gee. “Give it everything that you have. The rewards are numerous.”
Gee admits that he did not receive support in his days when he banged on the drums and proclaimed that he was marching toward a career in rock and roll. Gee kept his ears tuned to the bass while performing as a drummer.
“A song would suck if the bass and drums were not right,” he assessed.
But Gee remembered the responses that he encountered.
“I was the kid that everyone laughed at when I was young,” he remembered. “They would call me Jonny Gee rock star. It was the ultimate putdown. No one believed in me. I had a counselor who told me that I would never be in a rock and roll band. She said everyone wants to be in a band.”
But just as his students have dreams today, Gee gushed with desire to be a topflight musician in his high school days. In spite of lacking financial resources, Gee focused on the prize, even the time he rode his bicycle to the State Fairgrounds to see Sly and the Family Stone perform. It was the first time he saw guitarist Larry Graham perform.
“I was all over him like a cheap suit,” Gee said.
Gee signed on with a band called Soul Relations in 1974. (“We did do one 45,” he said, laughing.)
Gee joined the Indianapolis band Roadmaster in 1983 and later played for the Larry Crane Band. Then came the calling to join the infamous Nugent.
“Ted is something else, and his audiences are electric,” said Gee. “Some of his fans can be a little over zealous.”
That enthusiasm peaked for Gee at a performance in Denver when he saw one fan carrying a crossbow and another one holding a gun. Obviously this was a different chapter in security in the US. “The atmosphere was over the top, even for one of Ted’s shows,” Gee recalled. “One guy crawled up on stage and put his arm around my legs. He wouldn’t let go. Ted turned to me and asked if I was okay.”
Following the Nugent tour of duty, Gee joined Mellencamp 14 years ago. His first appearance with the Seymour native was a television appearance on the David Letterman Show.
“That was fun,” he said. “We did a song that I didn’t know that well, but we made it.”
Gee is not resting on his accomplishments as he awaits future tours with Mellencamp. His school is keeping him busy. His “Gift of Music” programs are stirring his passion to assist others with their musical goals.
His game plan is similar to the one used by Jack Black in the movie, School of Rock.
“He told the kids and parents that anything is possible,” Gee said. “He showed them that kids have potential and that everyone has a chance to be successful in music. Kids need to expand their talents.”
Gee believes the need for his plan is especially great today since many schools have pared down their arts programs.
“It really bothers me when people say that these programs are not worth keeping,” Gee said. “Those people are bean counters. I don’t see the benefit to society when we get rid of music programs. In my opinion, you can take music to heaven. It is a reflection of our society.”
Gee plans to continue his march toward making music – whatever the brand – part of our culture.
10 Questions for guitarist Jon E. Gee
Let’s ask bass guitarist Jon E. Gee some questions about his rock and roll career.
What is your favorite John Mellencamp song?
“‘Crumblin’ Down.’ It is probably John’s heaviest song. I’m the metalhead of the band, and this song works for me.”
Can you tell us one inside story about Mellencamp?
“Most people are not aware of John’s sense of humor. He comes across as a hard guy, but he can be a practical joker with the best of them.”
When did you want to become a rock and roll performer?
“I was watching Beach Blanket Bingo, and James Brown came on to perform. I turned to my dad and said, ‘That’s what I want to be.’”
What are some of the dangers about being a small band on tour?
“We had promoters who stole all the money. The band would be packing up, and they took the money and left.”
Who have been some of the best bass players?
“The Ox, John Entwistle (of The Who), was a monster player. He ran the act. Paul Chambers made the bass player the lead instrument when he played with Miles Davis. He sat in the front of the band.”
How long do you plan on performing?
“When I see an old dude not digging it, then it is time for me to go, but there are people out there who are 90 years old still going.”