By Jim Stanford on August 5, 2011
Jeff Newsom, the Teton Valley musician known for his harmonica playing, died Thursday after an 18-month battle with illness. He was 52 years old.
Newsom, who lived in Driggs, was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in February 2010. In April of that year, friends held a huge benefit for him at The Wildwood Room in Victor and celebrated the release of a CD of his music, called The Henhouse Tapes.
Newsom played blues for years with Bob Greenspan, as well as with Loose Ties, Derrik and the Dynamos, and U.S. Bluez. Earlier in his career, he blew the harp with Otis Rush and Gary B.B. Coleman. He often sat in with touring bands who passed through Jackson Hole, including Rick Danko, the late bassist for The Band.
Friend and fellow musician David Swift called him, “A brilliant mind, a monster wit, a true cat.”
In one of the remarkable stories from his life, Newsom was backstage at The Last Waltz, the star-studded farewell concert staged by The Band. His sister dated Garth Hudson, the keyboardist, and at 19 years old he drove Hudson to the gig in a Mercedes. If you listen closely to the album The Last Waltz, I’m told, you can hear Jeff yell, “Ophelia,” and Robbie Robertson replies, “You got it, kid.”
According to friends, Jeff passed on a clear night beneath a sky full of stars. His last choice of music was Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.”
An Indian-style memorial is under way at his sister Ginny’s house, where family and friends are keeping a fire going for four days. Well wishers are invited to drop by for a potluck.
(Photo of Jeff at his 50th birthday party, by Dan Campbell)