Prior to his death in a car accident on June 19, James Garrett suffered from emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He also played harmonica in the blues Americana outfit Cadillac Flambe, which allowed him a respite from his illnesses.
"His doctor said it was a chance for him to open his lungs and not be breathing in cigarette smoke," says his bandmate Mike Payne. "But he was on kind of a downward spiral. God bless him, but he was physically in failing condition."
Still, it came as a shock when "Pappy," as Garrett was known by many in the local music community, was killed leaving a gig at Home Plate Grill and Sports Bar in Pleasant Hill, Missouri.
"We were driving down 435 North, trying to get to I-70, and right before 23rd Street, there was a big puddle in the middle of the highway," explains Kris Bruders, frontman of Cadillac Flambe. Bruders' wife, Havilah, was driving the minivan. Bruders was in the front passenger seat. Garrett was seated behind him. The car to their left hit the puddle and spun out of control, hitting their driver's side door, which in turn spun their car out of control. They were then struck by a semitrailer.
Medics arrived and extracted everyone from the vehicle, but the Bruders and Garrett were taken to separate hospitals. "About four and a half hours later, Havilah and I were released, and we rushed over to St. Luke's to see Jamie," Bruders says. "When we got there, a nurse pointed in the direction of where he was, and as I turned the corner, everybody started screaming. Jamie died right as I was walking in the door."
"We walked to where his family was coming out, and they were all teary-eyed and broken up," Payne says. It was Father's Day. (Garrett, 54, is survived by five children and five grandchildren.) "What do you say? I couldn't go in and see him."
Because of Garrett's medical problems, Cadillac Flambe had previously discussed the sad fact that he would soon no longer be a member of the band. "As morbid as it sounds, it was something we had to deal with, and he was OK with it," Payne says. "But as much as he'd talked about it, he was still so full of life. Like, why would we think that he would ever leave?"
On Friday night, 11 acts come together to pay tribute to Pappy at Davey's Uptown. Among them is Mark Smeltzer, of Rural Grit. "When I heard Pappy had been killed, I sang 'Little Black Train' to him and the rest of the universe," Smeltzer says. "It's a harmonica-filled blues song about a funeral train, and I'm going to do it again for the tribute show."
Cadillac Flambe will use the evening to release Eli's Porch, a six-song EP recorded with producer Chris Cosgrove. The band had been working on the project while Garrett was alive but completed it after his death. "Pappy was always a driving force in the studio," Cosgrove says. "Eli's Porch definitely reflects his Mississippi Delta influence. I hope people get to hear the record. The band is a hodgepodge of sounds, and Pappy really helped bring that out."
Funds from the show will go mostly to Garrett's family to cover unexpected debt and bills that have arisen from the accident. A portion will also go toward replacing the band's gear, much of which was destroyed in the accident. "The show is going to be kind of a turning point for us," Payne says. "We're kind of at a crossroads."
"Yeah, this is the turning point," Bruders says. "After this, we've got to sit down and really hash out what to do without Pappy."