He was the lead singer for the Greenbriar Boys, the first nationally significant band to come out of the Northeast. As such, he was a pioneer and a leader for us in the bluegrass generation behind him. I watched him perform at Gerde’s Folk City many times, played his records on my college radio program, and enjoyed his heartfelt singing, his deft guitar playing, and his gentle humor.
It seemed he dropped mostly out of circulation for quite a while. Last time I saw him was in 1992 when the Greenbriars did a short reunion tour. Just a few months ago I heard he was the guest of honor for a special night at New York’s bluegrass hangout, the Parkside Lounge. It was the first I’d heard of his doings for quite a while. I’m sorry to say I never knew him well. But I have quite a few friends who knew him well, and I grieve for them especially with the news that John took his own life.
Times like these are an aching part of the human condition. At least we have ways of addressing the hurt we feel. I received the following from one of the people who runs a discussion list for us of the old New York bluegrass and oldtime scene:
Date: Wednesday, 20 July 2005
From: Kate and Lou Giampetruzzi
I wrote this after learning the news, while waiting for the bus home.
FOR JOHN, FOR US
Our hearts tremble
To realize that our love
was not made clear enough,
was not strong enough,
was not enough to keep you with us
We are as frightened as we will ever be
And too sad to contemplate our memories
To know that the last time was the last time
All we can do is try to live life
With more kindness
With more music and more sharing
Though the angel band claims you now, You remain ours, forever.
Also, on the Discussion List, my friend Marc Horowitz shared:
On Sunday, July 17th, I played banjo with John Herald for the last time at a gig in Westfield MA. We did, I thought, a good show; two sets, and the audience seemed to really enjoy it. A fellow in the front row shouted out a request for “Aligator Man” and even though we had no fiddler, John sang it. He gave every indication that he was enjoying himself; we had some laughs and we talked about our next gig, in August. There was no sign that I could see that he was in deep enough despair to take his own life the very next day.
He was one of my early heroes, a flashy flat-picker with a wicked tenor voice and great sense of humor. I played maybe a half-dozen gigs with him in the past couple of years and it was nice to work with him at last, having missed out on replacing Bob Yellin in The Greenbriar Boys back in the late 60’s by THIS much. He was an original, a great entertainer and a folk artist in the truest sense of the term.
Roll on, John, and make your time…