Wednesday, April 07, 2004

My father, Jamie Irby, shot himself on Thursday, March 27, 1997. He died two days later. To this day, we have no idea why he did it. For some time afterwards, we searched desperately for some kind of rationalization. We wanted there to be some concrete reason, some one thing we could point to and blame. But it just wasn’t there.

The night he did it, he had just gotten home from the hospital (where he had been treated for pneumonia). He was living with my grandmother at the time, and she said he was nervous and on edge that evening. He kept pacing around and couldn’t keep still. He finally got up and said he was going to bed, and she reminded him to take his medicine. He replied, “I’m sick and tired of all these pills. I’m just sick and tired, period.” He then went into my grandmother’s bedroom, took the revolver off of her dresser, took it out onto the back porch, and blew his brains out.

And why? Who the fuck knows? All I can do is guess, but I don’t think it was any one thing that drove him to it. I think he was tired and hurting and full of despair, and he couldn’t bear the thought of waking up one more time. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.

I’m not recounting this little grief-fest for shock value, or to give you some kind of insight into my dark and wondrous soul. Seriously, I went through therapy and wrote like hell to exorcise these demons and, while it still makes me unbearably sad at times, it no longer haunts me like it did.

I’m bringing up this sordid chapter only to put what follows into context.

My dad was a musician… an immensely talented guitar player and a pretty good songwriter. He was good friends with Chet Atkins, and knocked around some with a lot of Nashville legends. In fact, his address book read like a regular Who’s Who from Hee Haw. But despite all his efforts, Dad never made it big.

Back in 1990 or so, he ran into Martha Carson, a retired gospel singer who had been quite popular in her day. And Dad decided that he was going to be the one to engineer her comeback. Undeterred by the fact that she was approximately 165 years old, or that years of chain smoking had given her a voice like Lucille Ball with a tracheotomy, Dad was convinced that the world would eagerly embrace the “First Lady of Gospel Music.”

To his credit, Dad did manage to book some gigs for her, although most of them were in venues like the New Boston Opry in New Boston, Texas (population 5,057… SAAALUTE!). In fact, Dad masterminded Martha Carson Appreciation Day, where all two members of Martha’s fan club showed up to present her with a plaque.

At the height of Martha’s comeback, Dad actually realized one of his lifelong dreams by playing guitar on stage at the Grand Ol’ Opry. But soon after that, he and Martha had some kind of falling out. He would never say what exactly happened, but I always had the feeling that Martha had ditched him for another manager. He was bitter, but refused to say anything bad about her. (Well, he did get drunk one night and refer to her as a “fucking bitch,” but he wouldn’t elucidate.)

When he died, Martha called us and offered to sing a song at his funeral. We told her we weren’t interested.

Again, I’m only bringing all this shit up to put the following into context.

In 1998, SISTER SUNSHINE: The Martha Carson Story was published. I stumbled across this little tidbit recently by accident, when my friend Silver sent me a link to this page to annoy me. Why? Because he’s an evil, puppy-shredding bastard. But I digress…

Anyway, once I learned of the biography, I became overwhelmed with morbid curiosity. I just had to find out if she had mentioned Dad, and perhaps gone into detail about why they had gone their separate ways.

I ordered the book from (where it’s ranked #2,132,644, which means Martha Carson probably didn’t even buy a copy). When it arrived, I waded through 360+ pages of treacle looking for Dad’s name. I finally found it on page 363, in a chapter entitled “Family and Friends.”

There were two other men, besides Scotty Turner, who took an interest in Martha Carson, performer, during the ‘90s. The first, a Texan, was named Jamey [sic] Irby, who worked for the company that had made Chet Atkin’s guitars. He had met Martha during a visit to Nashville and was determined to become her manager and promoter.

"He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He kept calling me long distance and even sent roses. I did a benefit at Bell Cove (a club) in Hendersonville, and he came in. He was a smart, young man, who had arranged some bookings for me.

"Then he got cancer of the prostate, which turned to bone marrow cancer. That boy really loved his mother, who had to nurse his father during a fatal illness. Well, he developed pneumonia, but was determined not to be an invalid on his mother, so he shot himself!"

So that’s it. Dad’s death, recounted as a sordid detail in the obscure biography of an ancient gospel singer. It’s like the punchline to a sick, fucking joke, delivered bluntly and enhanced melodramatically so it’ll play better in the sticks. Just a minor footnote in Martha Carson’s tale of tragedy and triumph.

And they couldn’t even bother to get his fucking name right.