For the last nine weeks he's been hospitalized in the port city of Rijeka, Croatia recovering from brain surgery to remove a tumor that doctors say was benign. Friends are arranging a benefit for the 67-year-old bluesman, to be held at the Commodore Barry Club in Philadelphia on Sunday 2-9 PM.
Philadelphia Jerry Ricks in Rijeka-Croatia
LISTEN TO AUDIO
"James Alley Blues"
Courtesy of Philadelphia Inquirer
The bluesman picks a weathered Gibson, his voice as easy as sweet tea. "I seen better days, and baby I paid the rent."
Sweat glistens on his thick neck. In the background is a stack of beers - Ozujskos from Croatia. From the camera angle you can't tell how big his audience is, but it looks as if rapt young fans are sitting at his feet.
"Times ain't nothing like they used to be."
I've played the YouTube video maybe 20 times now, trying to glimpse what "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks' life was like in the Balkans this summer before his illness. For the last nine weeks he's been hospitalized in the port city of Rijeka, recovering from brain surgery to remove a tumor that doctors say was benign.
He and his longtime partner, Nancy Klein, had moved there this summer because the audiences were appreciative and the flats cheap. Now they're stranded. In the hospital almost no one speaks English. Ricks doesn't have medical insurance. Ask Klein who will pay for his surgeries and rehab, and she gives a weak laugh.
"I don't know," she says by phone from their apartment in Matulji, an hour's bus ride from the hospital. "It's very tough. He's isolated - on an island. Every e-mail and call from friends has been incredibly important."
Those friends are about to deliver big. They're arranging a benefit for the 67-year-old bluesman, to be held at the Commodore Barry Club in Philadelphia on Sunday October 28th 2007 between 2 and 9 PM.
"I'd been playing guitar for 15 years when I met Jerry" in 1967, Oates recalled last week. "He was head and shoulders above wherever I was. He was steeped in the American folk and blues tradition."
While sweeping the floor, washing dishes, and ultimately booking bluesmen at the old Second Fret in Center City, Ricks had learned to play from the greats - Josh White, Mississippi John Hurt, Brownie McGhee, the Rev. Gary Davis and Skip James.
"He'd traveled with a lot of those guys, and he'd really absorbed their music," Oates said.
In an 2000 interview with The Inquirer, Ricks said, "I never tried to walk in my mentors' footsteps. And nobody ever asked me to carry on their legacy after they were gone. I just had an honest relationship with these people and their music, and I followed my nose around." That sense took Ricks overseas for most of the '70s and '80s. He would return to the States, settling briefly in Brigantine or the Mississippi Delta, but the audiences were most appreciative in Europe.
Like a hellbound train
Ricks would reach for a glass and end up waving at the air. He'd see things on the wall - books, windows, pictures - that weren't really there. After a few days, when the aspirins and compresses weren't helping, he went to the hospital, where doctors gave him an MRI. That was Aug. 22. He hasn't been out since.
"He's getting stronger by the day," Klein says. "There were times when he was like a rubber band. He couldn't move anything."
He now speaks without slurring. His vision is good. It's too soon to know whether he's suffered permanent damage. Or whether he'll be able to play again.
Ricks was booked to play in Belgium, Holland and France this fall. "It's all canceled," Klein says. Mike Miller, who has been Ricks' friend since they played together at the old Guilded Cage club, has a theory why so many people are gathering for the benefit.
"There's a purity about what he does," says Miller, who will emcee Sunday's show. "Everyone he's ever worked with is fond of him. This is a tough town and a tough business. But there ain't nobody that doesn't like Jerry."
A Message from "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks
The Friends of "Philadelphia" Jerry Ricks Benefit Concert organizers are THRILLED to announce that Grammy Nominee and Handy Award winner, Shemekia Copeland and her Band will be performing at the benefit concert set for Sunday October 28th ; at the Commodore Barry Club in Philadelphia. Also performing will be Blues Guitarist and Ex Johnny Clyde Copeland side man, Bobby Kyle.
They will be joining a long list of Jerry Ricks friends and admirers, including David Bromberg, Steve Guyger & Richard Ray Farrell, Ari Eisenger, Saul Brody & Friends (w/Kenny Ulansey & Dennis Donnelly) The Dukes of Destiny, MoJo Stu, Rolly Brown, Mike Miller, Ted Estersohn .
There will also be numerous items for sale donated by Musicians from CD's to T-shirts and a 50/50 drawing. Anyone wishing to donate items please contact Ginny Buckley at
Seven weeks ago Jerry Ricks was diagnosed with a brain tumor while performing in Croatia this Summer; the tumor was successfully removed on September 6th th, in Croatia. Since the surgery, Jerry has gone through several setbacks, including intestinal surgery, and an abscess on the brain (which is being treated with heavy duty antibiotics)&While everyone is hopeful and optimistic for a full recovery, his lack of medical insurance, and inability to perform musically has left Jerry in a desperate financial situation in Europe.
If you are unable to attend and wish to contribute you may send donations (checks/money orders) made to:
Friends of Philadelphia Jerry Ricks
Volunteers are desperately needed to help run the day, Please contact Peg Waltner at (570)-646-7872 or cell at (267)- 251-5394: E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to the information from Vedran Joesph Nazor via Slavko Brkic, I was able to talk to a Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Daniel Rubin and consequently Doug Waltner who is organizing the concert to benefit Jerry Ricks. I am very glad that this information came to us, because I am sure that Croatians from and around Philadelphia will support this charity. If you have an item to donate for auction, bring it. I ask as well anybody in my hometown of Rijeka to help and assist Jerry in whichever capacity they can, to show our Croatian hospitality. All the contacts are available, so if you have any questions call, email Dough Waltner or/and email Daniel Rubin for suggestions. I thank http://www.philly.com for the permission to post this story. Quick suggestion is to look into Medicaid and Medicare as well. There must be some exchange program with Europe.