By Shelia G. Kidd
The Northwest Arkansas music scene is a bit dimmer this week as we say goodbye to a local star and friend, Jeff Carey. Jeff, also known as Mighty Jeff Carey, was just that-mighty! He was mighty in his singing, mighty in his music, mighty in his presence, mighty in his friendships and just a mighty good soul. His recognizable laugh and charisma garnered him many friends and a high respect among musicians. I had the privilege of being one of those friends and musicians.
I first met Jeff in 2001 at an Ozark Blues Society jam when the organization was very young. He was the guitarist for the house jam band. Just like OBS, I was also just starting to get involved in local music and wanted to meet and network with some of the local musicians. I had signed up to sing a couple of songs with the band and as I nervously stepped onto the stage, I remember telling Jeff I wanted to sing “Stormy Monday.” He looked at me with an expression that said, “Yeah, sure you are, little girl.” As he finished the opening lead and I began to sing, I noticed a smile spread across his face. That began an instant friendship.
Jeff not only participated as house guitarist with the OBS, he played with many local blues bands. My husband Richard and I fondly remember going to hear one of his bands, The Groove Kings, and listening to Jeff’s big, gritty, bellowing voice belting out blues standards and originals. He was an extraordinary singer and guitar man, but he was always ready to share the stage with other musicians and have them sit in with the band. He accompanied many local singers and shared his love and experiences with many young guitarists, influencing and encouraging them to hone their craft. And that encouragement went beyond the stage. It was not uncommon to see Jeff out enjoying and supporting local bands and musicians.
Jeff’s love for blues was obvious. Although he could play and sing in any genre, he always went back to the blues. “Shelia, I’m just an old blues man,” he once told me. Indeed he was. Blues was the essence of his being. If you ever attended one of his acoustic gigs and closed your eyes, you would think you were hearing an old, black bluesman, spilling his heart and soul. Jeff truly felt the songs he was singing and had the gift of sharing that feeling with his audience and whoever worked with him.
He took his music seriously, but still had fun. While many admired Jeff, he had his own heroes. Once when I told him I did not like the Allman Brothers song “Sweet Melissa,” he said, “Has that Texas sun fried your pretty little brain?”
He also had some not-so-favorite songs. Someone once hollered at a gig, “Play Freebird!” Sick of the song, Jeff responded with a Reggae version in a Bob Dylan voice.
The last year Richard and I lived in Fayetteville, Jeff and I formed an acoustic duo called Shelia and Mighty Jeff, playing several venues in the area. I soon learned every gig with Jeff was a unique event. One particular memory was our gig at Dadoo’s Pizza. The special that night was sangria. During the evening, Jeff and I started shouting, “Sangria” between songs, eventually Jeff’s wife, Debbie, and Richard, and a few others joined with us.
Several months ago Debbie sent me a message that she and Jeff had shared some sangria that night and thought of us.
As with many of the local musicians, Jeff was a huge encouragement to me. He took the time to learn and help me record some of my original songs. Even after Richard and I moved to Texas, he was still a major source of encouragement. I knew I could always get sound musical advice from Jeff. I am heartbroken that I will never again in this life have the chance to sing with him or ask his advice, but I am so thankful that I had the chance to know him — as I am sure are all those whose lives he touched.
Many of us spend our lives just muddling along, but Jeff spent his life doing what he loved best-playing music, and he loved sharing that gift with others. It is this love that made his life so very rich and fulfilled.
And it was his sharing that gift of music with all of us that has made our lives even richer. Thank you, Mighty Jeff Carey, for being a part of our lives.
Jeff passed away after a long battle with cancer.