”Rest up easy, trouble no more.”
1961 – 2012
By Big Jon Short
I first met Jeff in 2005 in Clarksdale, MS the Friday night before the 2nd Annual JukeJoint Festival. It was my first time in Mississippi, I had been driving for about a day and a half and I was anxious to play so I convinced the folks at Delta Amusement Cafe to let me set up out back and play for tips and beer. Jimbo Mathus was playing on the main stage – not far away, and I had no PA, so the location might not have been the best idea, but it was a chance to play and I was excited. After a little while this guy came up to me to ask me about my resonator guitar, where I was from and how I got the gig. He told me a little about himself – that he played blues music, had played the King Biscuit festival and that he played on an old National Style O guitar. When he told me that his name was Jeff (my brother’s name) I felt like we were fast friends. He ended up getting his guitar out and we spent the rest of the night playing, taking turns singing and telling stories – though I’m sure it was mostly his stories. I remember him talking about playing slide and that “you’ve got to keep that dad-gum thing movin’ to make it sing”. We ran into each other a number of times throughout the weekend and before I hit the road on Sunday I made sure to find Jeff and get a picture with him because I was sure that he was going to be a friend for a long time.
Over the course of the next seven years we stayed in touch through occasional emails, a lot of phone tag with his funny, rambling voicemail messages that made me laugh so much I always listened twice, with him sure to say “sorry for the novel” at the end. When we caught each other’s time it always made for a better day, Jeff was a really good friend. I enjoyed the conversations with his great stories about different aspects of life – blues music, the club/festival circuit, relationships & family. I was always amazed at how many things Jeff knew a lot about and I always learned something when I got to spend time with him. There were times I felt like I was mining our conversations for turns of phrase for a song or for conventional wisdom from a man who I knew had really lived his life and knew how to make it through some of the rough patches and rough places that a performing musician finds himself.
I had a chance to meet up with him on the road to do some shows together in the Carolinas and he and Mary Anne put me up and fed me waffles and I had the chance have him stay with me a few times when he was on the road up North. A few years back I picked him up around midnight after a gig in NYC, brought him up to Worcester and we did some shows with the Ten Foot Polecats. We talked the whole drive and for a few hours more once we got to Worcester. I remember being dead tired, but still wanting to stay up to get the time with him, hear his stories, learn more about him and “take it all in”. Staying in touch with Jeff was great, but meeting up in Clarksdale was what I looked forward to the most. He was always an important part of my time there and even though our set times were usually opposite, we always were able to get together to catch up – usually Saturday night at Messenger’s to see Jimbo Mathus. For two years I got to share sets with Jeff playing on the Jukejoint Express – a train that runs from the Train Depot downtown to Hopson’s Commissary taking festival goers to and from different venue sights. I’ll always remember the relief I felt catching up with him there before the train left and and breaking down gear at the end of the night after a long day playing the festival.
One of the last times he was up North I remember that I was particularly burned out from a busy schedule. Getting time with Jeff got me to step back a moment and it opened my eyes a bit and I’m so glad that I was able to tell him that he inspired me – lit that fire to keep playing, keep that dad-gum thing movin’ to make it sing. Jeff Norwood was a dear friend to me and I loved him like a brother. I am forever grateful for the time I got to spend with him and for the wisdom, friendship and music that he shared.