By Eddy Quinn
The boys had secured a place to rehearse at a friend’s place at Reads Corner. The three musicians I was playing with in the Urban Outlaws were living in the Summerside area. I drew the short straw, and had to travel up from Cardigan to practice. I think I had briefly met Jeff Huestis, who owned the big house on the corner, at a gig of ours. We likely met at The Purple Parrot which was a popular club back then. The word was that Jeff was a pretty good drummer, and he used to play in some pretty hot bands. He was right into the live music scene in the Second City, and apparently he would let some of the local bands jam at his place for a small fee.
The boys were already set up and jamming when I arrived. They stopped for a minute when I walked in. A friendly looking guy rose from his chair and stepped into the middle of the room. He stretched his arms outwards with his palms facing up. He inflated his belly with pride and smiled widely.
“Welcome to Jeff’s House of the Stars,” he said with a chuckle.
The musicians, along with a couple of local boys who were hanging out, let out a loud laugh too. There were no stars to be found in the house that night, or any other night that I know of. There were, however, usually some pretty talented working musicians. They all needed a space to hone their chops, and tighten new material for their bar bands. Jeff’s House of the Stars fit the bill.
A cloud of smoke hung in the room, and a familiar skunky odour was about.
“Stars eh?” I challenged my host.
“What are you smoking?” I quipped.
“Nothing. Jeff doesn’t smoke weed,” one of the musicians spoke up to defend their host.
“He is more of a pill man,” he said, deflating his own argument.
Jeff just let out another chuckle and went about setting up a microphone for me.
That was Jeff. Laid back and as good natured as they come. He always reminded me of The Dude from that movie The Big Lebowski. He had longish curly hair, and was often looking a little dishevelled. If you were to walk into a bar and scan the crowd, you would automatically assume Jeff was one of the band guys. He just had that look.
“The Dude abides,” he would often joke.
Jeff had a decent sound system, and we ended up hiring him to do our live sound at bar gigs for a time. I observed over time that he had more than just the rock and roll look, he also had a bit of a rock and roll lifestyle. He had a great ear for doing sound, and I always thought he got a great live mix for the band. I also thought he was a great ambassador for the band. He would often be the first guy to our venues, and he always established friendships with the staff and management of the bars where we played. He had a likable quality about him that I always admired, and having him around was very good for morale.
I would see Jeff out on the town, from time to time, in the years after that band broke up. I was happy to hear he went back to school and eventually scored a good job with the Coast Guard. He was at a gig of mine at The Wing in Summerside earlier this summer as a matter of fact, and we had a nice chat. We probably had a few laughs about the Jeff’s House of The Stars days. In hindsight, I can say he didn’t look so good that night. But I just figured I caught him at the end of a long week.
Since deciding I had to write about Jeff this week, I struggled with how the story would end. The fact is my story ends prematurely, as did Jeff’s life last week. I received a message from a mutual friend who is teaching English in Korea. It’s funny he heard the news before me, but that’s the social media age for you I guess. He told me Jeff had passed from organ failure of some sort. He was only 55. The guy I considered The Dude of the second city is gone, and I can’t abide. But I like to imagine a House of the Stars out in the great beyond. It’s a place where all the music icons, who were taken too soon, go to jam. Perhaps now, there is a smiling man standing in the centre of the room to welcome them. I like to think old habits are a thing left behind in the earthly realm, and all that remains is good music and fellowship. That is Jeff’s Eternal House of the Stars. What a jam that would be.
The Egg Farmers of Prince Edward Island Close To The Ground concert series continues Thursday, September 19, at 8 pm at Kaylee Hall in Pooles Corner. This week, hosts Fiddlers’ Sons welcome special guests Gary Evans and Rachel Beck. Gary and Rachel teamed up to present Tellers and Tunes at Kings Playhouse this past summer, and they will share songs and stories from the popular show at Kaylee Hall.
Gary Evans is originally from Morell and works as a lawyer for the federal Department of Justice in Charlottetown. Gary has been telling stories around PEI for more than 20 years and got his start impersonating local politicians at community fundraising dinners. Four years ago he was one of the founding members of The Four Tellers story telling group and since that time he, along with David Weale, Alan Buchanan and Dennis King have performed their summer and Christmas story telling shows to thousands of Islanders and visitors alike. Gary loves to tell a good story but really loves it when he gets to impersonate a PEI politician while doing so.
Prince Edward Island singer songwriter Rachel Beck is already making her mark on the national scene with a hit debut release. Beck’s self-titled, multi award-winning album came out on March 2, 2018. On March 8, its first single, Reckless Heart, hit #1 on the CBC Music Top 20 after having the most online votes for six weeks straight.
Rachel Beck began her musical career as one half of The Beck Sisters (with her sister Amy Beck). CBC Searchlight success in 2013 sparked a four-year long recording and touring journey, which led the award-nominated folk duo to stages such as the Stan Rogers Folk Festival (2015), performing for Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall’s Royal Visit to Canada (2014), singing with Serena Ryder (2013), and opening for Tom Cochrane (2015). Now embarking on a solo venture, Beck stands poised, ready to deliver.
In addition to garnering a SOCAN #1 Award and two 2019 Music PEI Awards (Pop Recording of the Year and New Artist of the Year), Beck’s latest record picked up two nominations for the 2019 East Coast Music Awards (Pop Recording of the Year and Rising Star Recording of the Year). She brings a sincerity, a rawness, and a sonic freedom to her new songs and her new sound.
The Kaylee Hall is located at the intersection of Routes 3 and 4 at Pooles Corner. There will be a canteen service, 50/50 draw and books and CDs will be available for sale from the performers. Admission is at the door.