Sometimes it takes a jolt of tragic news to knock you off-track to a spot where you can pause and appreciate that lost talent. An artist who consistently displays eminence, creativity, and skill can easily be taken for granted — especially one who avoids the spotlight.
Last week, I heard the bad news about Gerhardt "Jerry" Fuchs, one of the most accomplished and genuinely friendly drummers I'd ever known during my 15 years in the Athens, Ga., band scene. Based in Brooklyn, but back-and-forth travels between there and Athens, Fuchs most recently played drums with a number of acclaimed indie/experimental bands, including !!!, The Juan MacLean, The Turing Machine, and, most recently, Maserati. He was attending a benefit event in the Williamsburg neighborhood on Sun. Nov. 8 when he accidentally fell down an elevator shaft and died. He was 34.
Several memorial services took place in New York, Athens, and Fuchs' hometown of Marietta, Ga., this week to honor his memory. I wish I could have been there.
Thinking back to when I first encountered Fuchs re-inspires me today.
I remember hearing a lot of hoopla about Fuchs through bandmates and friends in '93. He had great chops and a really weird rock band called The Martians. As a drummer, I was eager to check it out myself.
Over the spring and summer of '93, Fuchs and his bandmates in The Martians — guitarist Hugh Connelly and bassist Keith Kortemeier — made their move from Atlanta to Athens. Jerry was a freshman at the University of Georgia at the time, and the only student in the band.
The early-'90s Athens band scene had plenty of jangly bands, plus a healthy group of songwriters and a burgeoning jam-band community. On the other side of things, an increasing number of groups delved into heavier, more aggressive styles of rock. It wasn't long before The Martians established themselves as one of the more creative, jagged, and shouty bands in that corner.
I worked with four friends on an co-op record label project called Self-Rising Records through most of the previous year. We released EPs for my old band, Roosevelt, as well as the rock trio Bliss. We had plans for a few other local bands in the works, but the biggest thing on our plate was a 19-song, all-Athens compilation album titled Fuel, which documented a good handful of the heaviest, guitar-driven underground rock bands at the time.
When Jerry and The Martians came to town, they hooked up with a lot of musicians through that Self-Rising team. When the label produced the follow-up compilation Refuel, The Martians contributed "Scooby Doo," "Tied in a Room," and "Buffalo Nickel."
It was almost shocking to hear Fuchs on those songs. He had great technique and a confident sense of dynamics. He drove the band with muscular single-stroke rolls, unusual kick-and-tom patterns, and explosive execution.
While recordings were strong, seeing Jerry on stage was even more fun. The first time I saw him was at a Martians gig at the long-gone Atomic Music Hall in the fall of '93. Fuchs managed a lot of sound out of a small kit, and the band's power-trio setting allowed him plenty of musical space.
I remember meeting and complimenting Fuchs after that Atomic show. For all the fire and bluster of his on-stage drummer persona, he was surprisingly friendly, earnest, and polite — especially compared to some of the groaning slackers on the scene at that time. He had genuine enthusiasm that never waned during his time in Athens and beyond.
This week, thinking of Fuchs, his accomplishments, and his positivity, I want to practice harder and look harder for the brighter side of things.