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My Friend the Hurricane

I almost didn’t answer the last time JJ Maguire called me. I was at Planet Fitness and had just stepped onto the treadmill for my hour long walk. The phone rang as I was trying to turn on a podcast. I would have called him back. I always do. But I decided to answer it. I walked and talked for 27 minutes that day, just catching up on life. JJ told me who he had spoken to recently, how he was hoping to make new music with Hillbilly Jim and Jimmy Hart among others, and he asked me how my family was. I told him my daughter was playing ice hockey and my son Sam was in a band.

“How old is he now?”

“He’ll be thirteen in two weeks,” I said.

“That’s about the age I started.”

We talked about getting together to do a show at some point, hopefully one where we’d make more than we spent to get there, and we hung up.

JJ and I caught up like that every month or two. We had done so since before we ever sat down to write a book together. We traded texts and Facebook messages too, sometimes every week, depending on what was going on with us. Earlier this week I sent him a text asking if he might want to join me for a show in Ashland, Kentucky. He didn’t answer back, but I didn’t think anything of it. Sometimes it took him a while, but he’d always get back to me with a text of a call.

I was out with my son and my brother-in-law today when Jamie Hemmings messaged me her condolences. I asked her what for. That’s how I found out my friend JJ Maguire was gone.

Heart sick. Those were the first two words that came to mind because that’s how I felt in that moment. Soon those words were followed by others. Generous. Gentle. Kind. Three words that encapsulate who JJ Maguire was to me and to everyone who called him a friend.

Like many wrestling fans, I didn’t know who JJ Maguire was during the years he worked with the WWF, WCW, and Hulk Hogan. I sure knew his music, though, and not just the WWF themes. In the summer of 2004, Hulk Hogan and the Wrestling Boot Band became the soundtrack for me and my friends Randy and Jamie. We knew every word to “I Wanna Be a Hulkamaniac” and “Beach Patrol,” and we blasted those tunes loud and proud in Randy’s Pontiac Grand Am.

I first heard of “Hurricane” JJ Maguire from Kenny Casanova, when he reached out to let me know that JJ was looking to write a book. Some time later it was Robbyn Nelson of the Wrestle Pop Podcast who introduced us, giving me JJ’s phone number. Robbyn knew JJ and I would click, and he was right. I called him one Sunday, and we talked for an hour. JJ was friendly, engaging, and a great storyteller. He was also very excited to be working with my fellow wrestling journalist Jim Phillips on his autobiography.

JJ and I kept in touch, and we got together in person to work a comic con in Richmond, Kentucky. My son Sam, who was just starting to play piano, came along, and Robbyn Nelson joined us for the day as well. We didn’t sell much, but we had a great time hanging out and sharing stories.

JJ and I had a lot in common beyond music and wrestling. We shared a common obsession over James Bond and The Avengers – not the Marvel Avengers, mind you, but the British TV series from the 1960s. JJ grew up on the series, which we agreed was at its best when John Steed paired up with Mrs. Emma Peel. One of the many thrills JJ had in his life was working with Patrick Macnee while shooting the TV series Thunder in Paradise. We became friends before we ever became collaborators, and when the opportunity to work together came up, we were both excited.

JJ knew exactly what he wanted in a book. He wanted to share the story of how a talented musical prodigy from Kentucky lucked into a life story greater than he ever imagined. He talked with great pride about the music he made with the Gentrys, the work he did at Glen Glenn Studios in Hollywood, and the adventures he had in wrestling. He loved to share his tales with famous people like Gene Simmons, Henry Winkler, and a very young Prince, and he was particularly fond of sharing the story of how Farrah Fawcett kissed him.

But you know what? JJ took just as much pride in his days as an amateur magician and his experience as a teenager playing high school dances as he did Wrestlemania. JJ lived every moment to the fullest. He cherished his experience in every band, in every club, and at every gig.

If there’s one thing that made him prouder than his professional life, it was his family. JJ loved to tell the story of how his father saved Strangler Lewis’s life when he choked on gum headed to the ring one night in Lexington. He was proud of his father John, who played basketball for Adolph Rupp and appeared in a few Kentucky-filmed movies. He was proud of his brothers Walter and Philip, and he was very proud of his children.

Working together on the book brought us closer as friends. We talked on a regular basis after the book came out. I shared the latest projects keeping me busy. JJ shared the latest news on potential musical gigs. And we always enjoyed getting together in person. JJ invited me down to Somerset, Kentucky to sell books at a show where he was acting as master of ceremonies. I took JJ to Fort Wayne, Indiana for Heroes and Legends.

One of my favorite memories of JJ was that night before in the hotel, listening in as JJ spoke with his lifelong pal Jimmy Hart about the big event.

“Now, Maguire, you have to dress up for this thing.”

“I know, Jimmy.”

“You gotta look nice. Now what are you wearing?”

“I have my blue coat, and my shades, and my hat.”

Yep. Like an old married couple. Or a long-term tag team.

If JJ had one wish, it was to receive some acknowledgement from the WWE for the work he and Jimmy did creating the soundtrack for a generation of wrestlers. He told me on more than one occasion he would have loved to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. I certainly feel he and Jimmy (and yes, Jim Johnston too) deserve that nod. After all, what would our memories of pro wrestling from that era be without the iconic songs like “Sexy Boy” and “Cool Cocky Bad?”

JJ and I always hoped we’d get back out on the road post-pandemic. He wanted to get something together with some of the boys like Jimmy, Koko B. Ware, Hillbilly Jim, and The Honky Tonk Man to play some music. I just wanted to be there the next time he and Jimmy got together in person to watch them interact. In fact I was hoping to get that chance this spring.

JJ has had some health issues in recent years, but as far as I knew he was doing well. Jim Phillips just talked to him last week, and Jim tells me Jimmy Hart did as well. Word I am hearing from his family was that he went peacefully in his sleep. I know JJ was a man of faith and I take comfort in that, but it’s so sudden. Even after writing all this, I am still in shock.

I’m gonna miss my friend. I’m going to miss the texts and the catch up calls. I’m going to miss there dreaming we did, talking about future projects we both had on our minds. I’m gonna think about him every time I hear “Sexy Boy” and “Demolition” and “Super Fly” and “Cool Cocky Bad” and yes, even “Beach Patrol.” I’m gonna remember how very aware he was of the blessings he had been given, and I’m going to take time to be thankful for my own blessings.

Thank you, JJ, for the music and the inspiration, but most of all, for your friendship.

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How to Become a Legend

ASW is running a show tonight in Madison, WV. It’s a star-studded event featuring the Rock N Roll Express and “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart.

Hart is a legend by anyone’s definition. He’s one of the greatest managers of all time and a Hall of Famer. That makes what he did the other day so remarkable.

Jimmy Hart called promoter Gary Damron a few days before the show and asked what time he needed to be there – to help set up the ring! “Not that we are gonna allow that to happen,” said Damron on his Facebook page, “but just to show what a true heart for the business he has and also to say if he feels he can help setup a ring than anyone should!”

Legends lead by example. Legends never forget where they came from. Legends are never too big to help set up the ring.

Whatever your passion or pursuit in life, take a lesson from a legend. Be humble, remember your roots, and never be too “important” to help set up the ring.

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New Hope for Louisville Gardens?

1101130843There’s a lot of buzz about the Louisville Gardens and a “hidden treasure” I discovered when working on Bluegrass Brawlers.

The treasure is a Kilgen pipe organ installed just above the stage area inside the Gardens. The pipe organ is also a one man band, with percussion and brass instruments incorporated into its workings. It’s a priceless treasure that, until recently, was in danger of being lost forever due to neglect of the building.

This week, both the Courier-Journal and WFPL radio ran stories about the building, the organ, and an effort to save them both. Click on the hyperlinks to read what they had to say.

Originally built as the Jefferson County Armory, the Louisville Gardens began hosting pro wrestling in 1913. Ed “Strangler” Lewis was one of the very first to main event inside the building. He was followed by a host of world champions and trail blazers including Charlie Cutler, Americus, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Wladek Zbyszko, Joe Stecher, Orville Brown, Bill Longson, Lou Thesz, Mildred Burke, Buddy Rogers, The Sheik, Fritz Von Erich, and Bobo Brazil.

During the Memphis years it was home to Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, Jimmy Hart, Jim Cornette, and the Fabulous Ones. Louisville Gardens also hosted many of the WWE’s biggest legends before they were stars, some with Memphis and others with OVW. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Undertaker, Kane, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, John Cena, Batista, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton all worked the Gardens on their way to the top.

Andre the Giant wrestled there. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan had his in-ring debut in the building. Bret Hart had his last successful WWF title defense before the Montreal Screwjob in the building. That same show was also Brian Pillman’s final PPV appearance before he passed away.

And yes, believe it or not, Andy Kaufman stepped into the Memphis ring inside Louisville Gardens.

Louisville Gardens is a beautiful building with an incredible history. The building and the organ are treasures that deserve to be preserved and enjoyed for years to come. Here’s hoping the Gardens has not seen the last wrestling match inside those hallowed halls.

Click here to view some photos of the organ on the Bluegrass Brawlers Facebook page. And please give the page a like while you are there!