My friend Greg Simmons has passed away. He died on Wednesday, December 11 after a long battle with cancer. He was 44 years old.
You know that feeling of trying to describe something that is indescribable? Of trying to get across the nuance of a relationship that had to be experienced rather than told? That’s what my relationship with Greg was like. I can’t begin to describe it, which left me wondering if I should attempt a tribute at all. But yes, I should. I will try my best.
I met Greg soon after my band, Judah First, had recorded our first album titled “The Vision Road,” which means our relationship began around the year 2001-2002. I was told that a very good “sound guy” would be running sound for us at a church show we were performing in Kingsport, TN (thankfully, I have a video of that performance). It was the first show I ever worked with Greg, and immediately following the performance I told my friend and bandmate James Aaron that “I don’t want to play another show without that guy running our sound.” And for the most part, I never did. I offered Greg a position with the band, paying him a ridiculously small amount of money in return for him traveling the east coast with us and basically being our one-man production and sound crew. It was a decision I would never regret.
It took Greg about 2 weeks to really know the band’s preferences and to understand us. From setting up the stage to handling my guitars to preparing pre- and post-music, Greg made a JF show unforgettable. Even when we had a rough night playing our instruments, Greg made sure we both looked and sounded great.
One of my favorite things to do while on stage was turning to see Greg jam along with us; he loved the music and the band. There was nothing more motivating to me than thrashing through a JF tune while watching Greg sing along with James Aaron from behind the soundboard. But not only was Greg incredible at running sound, he was also the best cable maker in the business. I still own two sets of SMS Cables (his company name) and I have abused those things for over 15 years…and they still sound perfect (and are still perfectly labeled). I also own a very special four-input power supply that Greg custom made for me and my rig – it has taken a beating and has never stopped working (also labeled). Currently, my main Christmas tree lights are plugged into the custom SMS power source.
Greg even understood the special significance of what seemed like silly things. For example, part of a JF show involved me selecting a “Boa Girl” of the night. I would take my custom red and yellow (sometimes red and black) boas and during one song place them on the shoulders of a female fan. Greg would always drape the boas over my shoulder before the song began, and then he provided a custom “boa box” to make sure the boas were not damaged for the next show (on the rare occasions when the “Boa Girl” did not steal them!). And yes, the boa box was clearly and appropriately labeled: “Boas. Use Caution.” (James Aaron sent me this photo just after Greg passed. Amazingly, Greg had kept the “boa box” and never removed the label).
Greg was probably the most pessimistic person I ever met – but not really. He would intentionally come across extremely negative, but did so in a humorous way that would eventually reveal the method he would use to ultimately make things right. For example, I don’t think we ever walked into a venue for the first time without Greg saying, “well, this show is going to sound terrible.” But then, of course, we would all laugh and by showtime, Greg would have us sounding like an arena rock band. Greg loved to joke about how awful things would be, but I think he did that just to show everyone how great they really could be. Having said that, there is one thing I never heard Greg joke about in negative terms — his family and friends. He deeply loved and appreciated those to whom he was close.
Greg loved kids. He really loved them. During one performance in Maryville, TN we were opening for the rock band Disciple and after our set, Greg went outside to get some air and cool off. A young fan approached him to ask about the gear and Greg spent the next two hours talking with this kid about all kinds of things. He thought kids were so cool, and Greg had a kid’s heart. He loved cartoons and he loved enjoying the fun things in life. Speaking of kids…
One of the most touching moments in the band’s history happened at a venue called Cafe Express. Our drummer, Chris “the doctor” Rosenstone was unable to play the gig, but Greg was an amazing drummer and had learned all the parts to the songs. We asked Greg to fill in for the gig in Chris’ absence (something Greg did a few times) and it just so happened that this gig was scheduled on Halloween, Greg’s favorite holiday. To our surprise and delight, four young fans came to the show dressed up as each member of the band, and Greg had his very own impersonator. He loved it so much and talked about it so often. The young man looked just like Greg with the blonde hair and drumsticks. It was really a special moment.
Greg and I shared a deep love for Mel Brooks films and would text one another random quotes, usually from Young Frankenstein. Once just before I was about to preach, I received a text from Greg that simply said, “SEDAGIVE??!!!” I had to compose myself before walking to the pulpit.
Another classic “Greg story” was the time we were playing a gig in Bealeton, VA in a school auditorium. The entire band thought we were in Warrenton, VA. After the first song, James Aaron and I were both yelling at the top of our lungs to the young crowd, “How are you doing, Warrenton??!” After the next song, Greg casually and gently walks on stage, comes up to my mic, and holds a piece of paper in front of me that says, “you’re in Bealeton.” He silently walked back to the board without cracking a smile. He was the absolute best.
And then there was the time we got stuck in a literal blizzard in Tennessee. Greg and I checked the manual to the Chevy Blazer we were driving to inquire on the 4-wheel drive capabilities. At the same time, we both read a line in the manual that said, “This vehicle is equipped with 4-Wheel Drive Low. Never put the vehicle in 4-Wheel Drive Low.” We did not stop laughing for hours.
But I guess the thing about Greg that I will miss more than anything was just his presence. If Greg was there, I knew things would be ok. He understood how special those moments were, traveling from state to state in a 10-year-old “Vandura” with a trailer full of gear behind us. Gosh, I’m going to miss him.
There is, of course, so much more to say. One day I might write a book of our Judah First adventures. But for now, I give thanks to God for my friend Greg. There will never be another.
Below is a video that Greg recorded and edited to one of our songs called “Devil’s Dice.” He does a nice job capturing some of the fun of a Judah First performance and being on the road.