Vancouver guitarist and singer Jerry Doucette died at age 70 on Monday.
The Juno-winning rocker behind the 1977 hit single Mama Let Him Play died surrounded by family after a battle with cancer, his son said.
Fellow Vancouver musician Dalannah Gail Bowen was one of Doucette’s live backup singers in the 1970s.
“I was a Doucette girl,” she told CBC News. “When Jerry put the guitar on, it was just magical — he took it to another level … He knew how to work a crowd.
“With Mama Let Him Play, he went national. It changed his life and his relationship with music.”
‘Such iconic songs — and a very nice guy’
The album featuring his Billboard Top-100 hit single earned platinum certification. People who know Doucette describe him as kind, captivating on stage, and doggedly persistent.
Longtime bandmate Mark Ibarra said the Doucette band’s original lineup was his main inspiration as a drummer. When Ibarra moved to Vancouver over two decades ago, his one hope was to play with the icon.
“As a kid, when I first started playing drums, I used to play along to Jerry’s albums,” Ibarra told CBC News. “One day Jerry called me and said, ‘OK, you’re coming with me’ … When Jerry called, I would always say yes.”
His son told CBC News his father’s music “will live on forever.”
“To see the joy that he brought to so many is something very special and something that I will always hold close,” Gerry Doucette, Jr. said in an interview Tuesday. “His music will live on forever, and hopefully he will inspire others to pick up the guitar and follow their dreams — that was a big one for him.”
Ibarra recalled one show at the Rock the Lake Festival in Kelowna in August 2016. Doucette told him he was feeling unwell before collapsing.
But it didn’t stop his performance.
“All of a sudden, he went down in the middle of our set,” Ibarra said. “They had called the paramedics over and had him on oxygen … But he went right back on stage and he just blew everyone away.
“He had people holding him up while he played his guitar, and he played ‘Mama’ like he never played it before. He just kicked it like he never did.”
He didn’t go to hospital until after his set; his health declined after that.
Mark Rankin, guitarist and co-founder of the Vancouver rhythm and blues band The Mojo Stars, recalled playing a New Westminster, B.C., charity show with Doucette in 2014 — an annual fundraiser for children with disabilities Doucette supported for years.
“A lot of folks, like myself, were influenced by him as songwriters,” Rankin told CBC News. “He was such a great guitar player, such a great singer, and such iconic songs — and a very nice guy.”
Two of Doucette’s own longtime bandmates — keyboardist Kenny Boychuck and bassist Trevor Newman — would later join Rankin’s band, and Ibarra would occasionally play with The Mojo Stars live.
“His songs were very much the soundtrack for a lot of people, especially of my generation,” Rankin said. “He’ll be very missed by an awful lot of people.”
‘It’s more than just Dad’
Doucette was born in Montreal in 1952. He joined his first band, The Reefers, at age 11 and would go on to play in Brutus, Seeds of Time, and The Rocket Norton Band.
It wasn’t until moving to B.C. in the 1970s his solo career took off, winning him a 1979 Juno Award.
“When he played his guitar and rocked out to countless venues with the Doucette Band, it was then that I realized, ‘Hey, it’s more than just Dad,'” his son said. “He means something to so many people out there.”
In February 2018, Doucette announced he was retiring from music for health reasons, and to spend more time with his spouse Maggie and 10 grandchildren.
“Keep listening to Canadian artists and keep supporting live music venues — they’re the lifeblood of our industry,” he wrote on Facebook. “Mama, let them play.”