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Jerry Shea was born July 17, 1934 in Osawatomie, Miami, Kansas
to William Gerard Shea and Evelyn Maxine Carson Shea. He
came from a musically inclined family. His maternal Great-
Grandfather played the violin. Jerry's parents frequently
performed with the Kansas City Orchestra. His father was a
violinist and his mother was a cellist.
Jerry's parents divorced when he was very young. His father
enlisted in the Naval Reserves during World War II when Jerry
was age eight. Jerry never saw or heard from him again, even
after many years of searching.
During this time Jerry lived with his Grandmother Carson. She
had a beauty shop in her home, and was there for him after
school. At one time he went to live with an Aunt and Uncle who
had a son about his age. His Aunt and Uncle worked for the
Missouri Pacific Railroad, as did his Grandfather Shea, who was
Jerry wanted to earn money, and started by delivering
telegrams for the railroad office. He walked most of the time,
and rode a bicycle for the distant deliveries. Jerry had a
special uniform he wore proudly when he delivered the
When Jerry's mother remarried he went to live with them. She
had another son when Jerry was age ten. He left home when he
was sixteen. An Uncle, with the help of the Red Cross found him
in the military and brought him home.
Jerry was drawn to music and the steel guitar at an early age.
He started playing with different bands when he was very young.
In 1951, Jerry married at the age of seventeen. He and his wife
had two daughters, Lila and Virginia. He looked for work in
Missouri and Kansas, and at one time worked with some of the
musicians in the Benny Goodman Band when they were in that
area. He had a hard time finding work and then getting paid. A
few years later their marriage ended.
During the early part of 1954, in Ft. Smith, Jerry Shea as playing steel guitar
with Jerry "Bud" Summerlin and the Cookson Hills Cowboys, along with Norman
Whistler who played the fiddle. Jerry Summerlin was the guitarist and vocalist. Fred
Jones, who played upright bass, was invited to join the band.
The band worked out of Anderson, Missouri, taking their music to Arkansas, Missouri,
Oklahoma and Texas. This included morning radio shows in Neosho, Missouri and later
in Dumas, Texas. Sometime during this period, a lead guitarist, Kenneth Richardson,
performed with the band. Jerry Shea and Norman Whistler got a job at Reda Pump
Company, a factory in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In the fall of 1954, Jerry Shea left the
band and went to Houston, Texas.
Jerry arrived in Houston, Texas on a bus with his only
possession, a four neck Fender steel guitar. He went to work
for club owner, R.D. Hendon at 105 1/2 Main Street.
Jerry was always searching for new ideas and knowledge in
music. He took steel guitar lessons in the home of a man he
thought to be the finest steel player he had ever heard, Herb
Remington. The two men Jerry had the greatest admiration for
was Herb Remington and Harold Sharp. Many people thought
Jerry and Harold were brothers, as they were so much alike in
In 1955, R.D. received an invitation for the band to perform in
May at the Jimmy Rogers Memorial in Meridian, Mississippi,
along with many other bands. The band traveled in a station
wagon, pulling a trailer filled with band instruments and
equipment. R.D. went everywhere the band traveled and did
all the driving. He was very proud of the band and wanted
everyone to know the 'Western Jamboree Cowboys' was his
The band made several records, but was never given individual
credit on the label except as R.D. Hendon's 'Western Jamboree
One cold, rainy Saturday night, R.D. Hendon sent a taxi to the
homes of two young ladies that was not at the club due to the
bad weather. If they would come to the club, they would be his
guests, and have a safe trip home by taxi. He did request they
wear western clothes, as he wanted everyone to know he
had a 'Western Club'.
That night Jerry met both ladies and started dating one of
them, Mary Sue Jones from Lewisville, Lafayette, Arkansas, and
later married in 1955.
'Easy' Adams from San Antonio, Texas, owner of the 'Texas Top
Hands' Band had heard of Jerry, and made the trip to the club
to hear him play. 'Easy' was well known as a musician,
vocalist, and songwriter of 'The Bandera Waltz'.
'Easy' offered Jerry a place in the band that was sponsored by
Lone Star Brewery with a radio show. Jerry made the trip to
San Antonio, and was a guest in the Adams home. He sat in with
the band and was impressed with the members and style of
their music. Jerry and Mary Sue moved to San Antonio. Their
two children, Mary and Billy were born there.
The band members had a close relationship as musicians and as
friends. The 'Texas Top Hands' performed only in Texas. They
traveled in a large bus that was equipped for long trips.
Some of the band members moved on to other bands, and the
'Texas Top Hands' acquired new musicians who were an equal
asset to the band.
Jerry wanted to travel less and be home more. After a long,
hard decision, he left the 'Texas Top Hands' band. He had
opportunites to go to Nashville, but declined. He thought it
would be too demanding, and considered offers from local
Jerry wanted to improve his playing skills and knowledge of
music. He studied the styles and techniques of Joaquin Murphey
and jazz guitarist Django Rinehart, and applied them in his
Many Sunday afternoons there would be jam sessions in his
home, and other times held at places where food was served.
One of the bands Jerry performed with was Charlie Harris and
the 'Silver Kings'. Charlie was a vocalist and guitarist that
had played in many well known bands.
Jerry was in a backup band for musicians appearing at the
Municipal Auditorium without a band. The M.C. for the show
when Elvis Presley appeared was Charlie Walker, know disc
jockey, musician and recording artist of 'Pick Me Up On Your
After the show, Elvis invited Jerry to his dressing room. He
complemented Jerry on his style of playing, and hoped he
would be in the band if he ever appeared there again. Jerry
commented that Elvis was very much the entertainer on
stage, and off stage he was a very easy down to Earth person
to talk with, and very courteous and polite to everyone.
In the mornings, Jerry attended St. Mary's University and
studied music. During the afternoons he taught guitar and
steel guitar at Caldwell Music Company. In the Evenings,
before going to work at night, he taught music in the studio in
his home. He always encouraged his students to also write
music, and taught those that were interested.
Jackie King, a teenage, left hand guitar player also taught
some of his students in 'Jerry's Guitar Studio'. Jackie went on to
become a well known professional guitarist.
Jerry wanted an upgraded guitar. He ordered a custom made
steel guitar from Wright Custom Guitar Company in California.
He sent in his own designs, a double neck with five pedals and
how he wanted it modified. The guitar arrived by bus, and he
was even more impressed with the workmanship than he
expected. It was made from white birdseye Maple, hand rubbed
to a finish. On the front his name was added, and there was a
built in cigarette lighter and ashtray. He kept his picks and
steel bar in the ashtray.
Jerry practiced on the guitar for hours over a period of
several days before he would play it in public. Later on he
added another pedal.
Many times Jerry was contacted when bands came to town
without a steel player. He was always happy to help out. On
one special occasion, he was contacted to perform with Hank
Thompson and band along with Roger Miller. The place was
packed, and people just stood around the bandstand watching
and listening. Jerry really enjoyed working with such
In 1963, Jerry's Great-Grandfather's violin was handed down to
him in very good shape. Jerry wanted to learn to play the
violin, and in his spare time he would practice on it, which he
Jerry worked many times with Leon Payne, a guitarist, vocalist
and song writer. The most popular song was, 'I Love You
Because'. Due to Leon not being able to see, Jerry would
sometimes take him to where they were appearing, and someone
else would take him home. Jerry was on a demo record with
Leon. On one side was 'Reflex Reaction', an instrumental.
They were the only two musicians who would agree to take
music to the burn ward in the Brooke Army Medical Center at
Fort Sam Houston. On each occasion they had to wear masks.
With Leon on guitar and Jerry using a lap steel guitar, they
would spend the afternoon going through the ward so every
patient could listen to the music and songs. Jerry remarked
how heart breaking it was to see people in such helpless and
life threating conditions. He felt it was very rewarding to
him to be able to do this for them.
Jerry worked at the N.C.O. Club at Lackland for two different
bands. Sargent Billy Deaton was there on certain nights, and
Jerry played the steel guitar in his band. He was glad he had
the opportunity to work with him. Jerry thought him to be a
very good natured person, easy to work for and with abilities
to go places. Billy was a disc jockey, song writer, recording
artist, talent agent, and Faron Young's manager for many
Jerry enjoyed having the privilege of working with Slim
Roberts and his band, 'Men of the West'. Slim Roberts was a
well know vocalist and recording artist of 'Touch My Hand',
which was on the jukeboxes throughout the Southwest.
Jerry's health began to give him some problems and was under
a doctor's care. In 1964, he moved his family back to Houston,
Texas to be near Mary Sue's parents and relatives.
For a while Jerry worked at Automatic Power. He was
sometimes sent offshore by helicopter to troubleshoot a
problem. He submitted ideas to the company, for which he was
Jerry's hands had begun to give him problems, and he became
more selective in where he performed. He enjoyed playing
dinner music for large country clubs, and private parties.
Jerry performed with Duane Dutoit and 'The Surfriders', at
large hotel clubs, Hawaiian louas, dinner clubs and private
During this time Jerry worked with other bands on special
occassions. He was also on another record. He played the steel
guitar on Link Davis' album, 'Cajun Crawdaddy'.
In 1971, Jerry and Mary Sue ended their marriage. He later
moved to Lubbock, Texas and was employed by Texas
Instruments. He was the youth counselor at the church he
attended, and gave speaking engagements quite often. Jerry's
health had become worse, and on August 26, 1974 he had a severe
heart attack resulting in his death.
The things that had belonged to Jerry was lost or destroyed
by the waters of hurricane Alicia in 1983. All of Jerry's
children would like to hear from anyone who would care to
share information about their father. They would welcome
anyone's help in locating copies of the records mentioned, and
copies of any pictures.
They can be contacted at:
Updated May 20, 2008
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