Fort Worth native Joe Gracey was known to many as just 'Gracey.' Somehow this always seemed to me to sum him up. Having lost his voice to oral cancer back in 1977, there was something about him that I can only describe as a quiet grace. He made you feel good just by smiling at you.
Since first meeting Gracey when he was playing in his wife, Kimmie Rhodes' band, I have come to learn a lot about the hidden talents of this man; a man who never once appeared boastful about his achievements.
Gracey was, and indeed still is, considered a legend in the Austin Music Scene; he was first heard as a disk jockey on Austin Radio in the 1970s, where he was noted for his mixing of country music with rock. Following this, he worked on other radio, including Koke FM. In fact, I have been told, his radio catch phrase was "Another day in paradise." That, to many, is how he seemed to view life.
His time as a rock critic for the Austin American-Statesman during the early days of the 'Outlaws,' gave him the opportunity to draw attention to such talents as Willie Nelson, to whom Gracey has been known to refer as the Bob Dylan of country music. Perhaps it is no coincidence, then that he and his wife have become good friends with Nelson over the years, and Gracey has recorded several of his albums, including a duets CD with Rhodes.
He started a music recording studio, Electric Graceyland, which hosted some big names, including Stevie Ray Vaughan; this was just the beginning of his involvement in music recording. He played a significant role in the creation of Austin City Limits, which in turn played a significant role in making Austin "the live music capitol of the world." Gracey was the original talent coordinator for the series, a role which allowed him to introduce the world to such greats as Townes van Zandt and Asleep at the Wheel.Longtime friend Dan O'Shea said."All of the gifts that he brought and shared to Austin to make Austin what it is are things that I and others and our broader community will carry with us for the rest of our lives,"
He met Kimmie Rhodes when she was recording at the studio and they married in 1979. The couple have one daughter, Jole Morgan Goodnight Gracey and Gracey has two stepsons, Gabriel (Gabe) and Jeremie Rhodes.
Gracey continued to play bass in Kimmie's band and to record. One of his last projects is the Ray Price/Willie Nelson CD Run That By Me One More Time. He continued to write - one of my unequivocal favourites is Contrabandistas, which not only shows his songwriting capability, but also his sense of fun.
He had a blog on which he write about life, music, food, often very candidly, always with his unique sense of humour. Indeed, when his new diagnosis came through in January, he simply stated "But as I have said before, you do what you must do to survive." It can be found at http://graceyland.blogspot.com/ He was also a frequent contributor to Saveur magazine.
In recent years the couple had been doing the renovations on a stable in the South of France. For both Kimmie and Gracey, it became their pride and joy. I recall skyping with Kimmie one night as she showed me around the house via webcam, and as she told me about each nook and cranny, I could see Gracey beaming with pride in the background as I told them how beautiful I thought it looked. It really does. In late September, the pair took a break from his chemotherapy and radiation treatments to spend time at this house, visiting with family and friends and watching the fall wine harvest. Tests showed his cancer had reduced. .In an email, Kimmie told us "He drove again for the first time in a year," "He bought a grill and made fajitas for friends who came to visit from Spain. He had a good time. He won."
Then he fell ill again and the couple flew back to Houston and the hospital where Gracey passed away, aged 61. Despite this, I feel that Gracey would want us to share his view that he won - he got to go back to the house he loved and be happy, one last time.
There has been a large memorial service in a theatre in Austin and I'm sure all of us who knew him have taken time to remember him in some way.
So much could be said about Gracey but one thing is for sure; he will be missed for a long time to come. When Kimmie next plays here I know I'll be looking at the space on the stage that will always be his, confident that he is smiling that smile as we sing along to Contrabandistas. As Kimmie sings in one of her songs, Heaven feels the touch of each and every one of us...
Several years ago, Kimmie recorded a song called Rich from the Journey. As soon as I heard that Gracey had passed, that song came into my head. Why? I am certain that he left this world richer from his journey and all of us lucky enough to have met him are richer for that experience.
Godspeed, Joe Gracey.