Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Death of Gabriel Sprague

Dear friends,

My grandson and formerband member, Gabriel Sprague, died at the age of 24 years old of a heroin overdose on Friday March 30th, 2018. Although his death was over two weeks ago,it has been difficult for me to come to terms with sharing this information with my friends and particularly the people that had come to know Gabe from our performance as a duo, and as fellow members in The Spragues Band.          
My relationship with Gabe, however difficult at times, was one of the most substantial experiences of my life. We performed hundreds of gigs together, spent a lot of driving time before and after shows, and in the catharsis of describing our lives, beliefs, hopes and dreams to one another,  we became more than grandfather and grandson.

 Gabe and I were peers. We worked hard at our craft. I relied heavily on him, his talent, and innate abilities. He was extremely capable. He could master any situation, but had problems keeping a job. He suffered from anxiety and depression, the last of which I have struggled with my entire life. I sometimes felt that I understood him more than most people could because we were kindred spirits and we had come to know each other so well.
Since his early teens, he would travel with me to Port Clinton, Ohio, every year to work on our 31’ sailboat to make her ready for spring launch. And it seemed that we were charmed nearly every year because the weather on launch date was superb, and we would sail to Put-In-Bay to have lunch, visit friends, and explore the island. He was an excellent helmsman, and could point a boat by wheel or tiller,  straight as an arrow. We often took the boat to Put-In-Bay, to perform at The Roundhouse or Mojito Bay, living an adventurous life of sailors and troubadours.
Teaching Gabe to drive was no easy task. I first taught him how to drive my stick shift Toyota pick-up, always reminding him to set the brake when he parked, which he did, and ultimately drove it this way until the clutch blew out. I also had him practice parallel parking with my Honda Civic in my driveway until the transmission was destroyed. He was not the only grandchild that incurred damages to my vehicles while learning to drive.

We fought (a lot). Mostly because of his unpredictable reliability of showing up on time or showing up at all. He eventually came to realize that he struggled from excess drinking, and went so far as to say that he needed help in controlling it or eradicating it from his life. But as time wore on, the effect of addiction spread into every facet of his life. Every relationship he as in struggled because as he drank, his mood would eventually tip from having a good time, to anger and aggression towards the people around him. It consequently caused him to be homeless some of the time. He would move from place to place carrying all of his belongings in two plastic grocery bags. Even though our relationship was often contentious, he never failed to tell me or anyone that he was close to that he loved them, and none failed to reciprocate the truth of our deep love of him.
He eventually tired of me and of the band. We stopped performing together in October of 2016, after three solid years of performing with me and two of his brothers. We performed regularly at The Roundhouse at Put-In-Bay, Ohio, and all over the state of Michigan including Mackinac Island, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Grand Rapids, Metro Detroit. There’s a redundancy that goes along with performing as much as we did. You play the same songs every night, go through the same routine at every venue, and the glitter and glamour wears away as the road, the audiences, and the repertoire fades into a job. Despite all of this, The Spragues Band, was the best band I had ever been in. I would get chills performing with these three very talented young men that were my descendants. The sound we created was unlike any I had known. I’d often see people in the audiences just staring and taking in the entire experience of watching us and hearing us perform so well. I was privileged to have been in this band, and I wish it had never ended.
After the band, Gabe created a period of stability for himself, and rose from barista to general manager of Bigby’s at the MSU union building. As I said, he was very capable, and I had come to believe that maybe he had found his niche in life, and secretly hoped that he and I would also  become musical comrades again one day, but eventually he  became restless, and moved on from job to job, place to place.
I discovered that he was using heroin in October of 2017. He messaged me because he wanted to do laundry at my house. That was when I was told that he was using and I didn’t hesitate to tell Gabe that I didn’t want him in my house. I told him that I had known five heroin addicts in my life. Two died, one disappeared, and two are still alive and well today. The two that  lived were band mates I’d had arrested  many years ago for pawning all of my gear. They were forced to make restitution, submit to drug tests, and be on probation for a year. As soon as their probation ended they slipped back into using until they decided to flee to another city hundreds of miles away, so as to be disassociated with anyone that used or sold heroin. I believe that decision saved their lives.
I told Gabe that I loved him and that he could always talk to me, but if I were to give him food, money, a place to stay, I would be enabling him. It was entirely on him to quit using and no one else could help him. This was really tough love, but he later thanked me for it when he’d gone through a period of being clean.
We were fortunate that he was incredibly candid about his impairment. I sent him this message over Face book: “Something you need to keep in mind with all this. It's not the months, weeks, days, hours or minutes. The strength of resistance lies in the moment. And every moment you win, the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years build up. Stop and listen to yourself breathe. If you're listening to yourself breathe, your living in the moment. Don't give any moment up to temptation. Win the moment, always. Please get better.
About 8 weeks ago, it appeared that he had finally turned for the best. He worked for his uncle for about a week and then worked with his dad (my son Josh)  for several weeks .He was always showing up on time, and it was clear that he wasn’t using. I was so encouraged I asked Josh to have him call me. I had hoped to talk him into playing a few shows with me.
After working in Traverse City for two weeks, he returned on Good Friday to Lansing. His dad paid him, a fellow worker gave him a ride to the bank. At some point that evening he scored. He had been staying with his lifelong friend and his family. A place he would often go to, to start over. They always took him in. He talked about how great things were and how he was going to move to Traverse City, for the summer to work with his dad. His friend discovered him deceased later that night
The next day, Joshua called me as I was driving down Milnes Road, a back road to Hillsdale, MI. I was on my way to work on a house I rent out there. I said, “Hello son,”and he said, “Gabe’s dead.” I became completely suspended. If I was breathing, or if my heart was beating, if my truck was still moving, I was unaware. He had to tell me a couple more times before I finally got it. When I finally found my voice, the first thing I said was, “There is nothing that any of us could have done better.” I truly believed this at the time. However, later I find that I have my own personal doubts. I guess that’s inevitable..

I spent much of the following week making videos from past footage of the band or Gabe and I performing at Harper’s in East Lansing. It was comforting, as though he was right there with me. We played the videos at a small intimate memorial gathering. Josh gave a very eloquent speech expressing gratitude for support from so many people. There were a lot of tears. People that never knew Gabe were severely affected. Josh said he had never seen so many people automatically burst into tears when they heard the news. I envy them, because I still haven’t felt much. Maybe I’ll get there, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I’m mostly angry. I know this is normal.
My aunt is an addict. When she heard about Gabe, she called me and spoke to me in earnest about her constant struggle. She’s in her late 70’s now. She reminds me that Gabe died of a disease the way people die of cancer or heart disease. I know this is true. We have the Irish curse in our family, and it doesn’t only manifest in alcohol. Since Gabe’s death, it’s frightening how many stories people have told us about their friends or relatives that suffered the same demise.
One thing I learned long ago, is that every addict has what is known as a hidden promise. A promise that once they get control of their lives, it will be okay for them to now and then have that one drink, cigarette, or hit of cocaine or heroin. But it’s not true. It seduces them back into using again. Then the cycle continues. Gabe had only been using heroin for eight months.
For those of you that knew Gabe, and for anyone that has become affected by this news, we have all come to know how difficult it is to express remorse. Most people can't get beyond saying, "I have no words," or "I don't know what to say." And that's alright. We're right there with you. It's all very overwhelming and we just get stuck.
What’s important to know about Gabe’s story is that in his brief 24 years, he lived well. He was loved by many. He had a lot of great experiences and close ties to family and friends. He was immensely talented. He’ll live on in all of our hearts.

Gabe had a fondness for animals. If you desire to make a donation of some kind you're welcome to donate in Gabriel Sprague's name to any local Humane Society.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Man That Saved My Life

I've never heard of anyone that has attributed their continuation of life to their surgeon, but the man in this picture with me is my urologist, Mani Menon, at the Vattakuti Urology Insitute, at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. Because of him and his ultra skilled team I have a very good prognosis from prostate cancer.

One in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. My father had it and survived after treatment. My great grandfather died of it. It’s one of those genetic kind of diseases.When I think about these numbers, I can’t help but consider that if half of my Facebook friends equals approximately 1400 men, then about 100 guys that I know, or that I’m at least acquainted with, will have this disease.

For 8 years my PSA results have been rising significantly, and because of the velocity it was rising, my doctors have pushed for a biopsy every year. Because the numbers were within my age range, I put it off until this year when the results came back at 6.5. PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen. It’s a blood test, and the only way of detecting prostate cancer

I was scheduled for a prostate biopsy at University of Michigan, July 14th, but I cancelled it because I got an opportunity to sail in the Port Huron to Mackinac Island race.(I know that sounds crazy). The rescheduled biopsy was at University of Michigan on August 24th.It took two weeks to get the pathology report. I had a lot of problems with U of M, and if any institution attempts to give you this biopsy without pain management or placing you in twilight state, they are practicing medicine in the dark ages.

I consulted with four urologists and after a lot of foot stomping demands from a friend, I made an appointment with Dr. Mani Menon, of the Vattikuti Urology Institute, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit.
He is the person that pioneered the procedure of robotic, radical prostatectomy. Meeting with him and his team was a dramatically different experience than any that I've encountered with the medical community, which many of you know has been fairly extensive. It  was a two hour consultation. We met with all of his team. They explained the surgery procedure and how dramatically updated it has become over the years. No one performs these updates except for Menon and his team.
This procedure is nerve sparing and incontinence generally is gone within the first couple of months. I was fortunate that incontinence was not a problem. Probably because I did lots of Kegel exercises before the surgery. Most patients (90%) regain sexual function within a year. These numbers are for all patients and Menon feels that because I'm younger and fairly fit, that I should bounce back from the surgery well. I  worked out very hard (nearly every day) until the surgery. When you consistently break down muscle, your body is always in a state of healing.
Menon has performed over 2500 protastectomies. During surgery, after the prostate is removed, tissue sample from around the prostate is sent to pathology, and within ten minutes they report back to the OR if any more tissue needs to be removed. My cancer appears to have been contained in the prostate gland.
I am blessed, lucky, and very grateful that I have had this team of skilled individuals to take care of me. Meanwhile, I took real good care of myself so that I can get through this the best I can. Lots of workouts and long distance walks.

About a year previous to all of this I had planned an 18 day trip to the Virgin Islands. We had trip insurance and had planned to cancel the trip but were told by Menon and his team that we would still be able to go on the trip which was exactly two weeks after the surgery. The radical prostatectomy was performed on November 15.

I was discharged from the hospital the next day into an  apartment on the Henry Ford Hospital Campus, where Mara and I stayed for a week. My wife took very good care of me, and I believe is the only person in the world that would suggest that I looked kind of sexy in my urinary gear.

The 26 staples in my belly and the abdominal catheter were to be removed in one week but I was not healed enough so I was sent home the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We returned the following Monday to have the staples and catheter removed. The results of the follow up biopsy of lymph nodes harvested during surgery were negative. So with a very encouraging prognosis, we then checked into a hotel at Metro Airport, and flew to St. Croix the next morning. (I know that sounds crazy.)

Our friends there spoiled us with their very generous hospitality and they even set me up with a gig, and I played at BREW STX, that Thursday night. Two couples came to see me play at BREW STX because they or one of their friends saw it posted on Facebook.

Staying with our St. Croix friends was great and gave me some time to heal before we went on our bare boat cruise. Plus we got to know them all over again as a family. I had played at their wedding some years ago and it was the first time we got to spend time with their children. One night, their oldest daughter (5years old) asked me to sing and play, "American Pie," and she knew every word. The night I played on St Croix, they danced to, "Into The Mystic." These precious moments will forever be ingrained in my heart and mind

Then we flew to St. Thomas, took a ferry to Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and boarded a 35 foot sailing catamaran that I captained with my beautiful first mate for two weeks. (I know that sounds crazy.) Fortunately, I had just enough pain medicine to get  by the first 8 days and after that I managed to get by with Aleve and rum.

This guy has actually performed at The Pump House in East Lansing

Every bar in the BVI serves a drink called a Pain Killer, and they work.

2-4 oz. of Pusser's Rum
4 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. cream of coconut
1 oz. orange juice
Grated fresh nutmeg


Though I had been somewhat limited on what I could do on our vacation, it was a really amazing trip.

Here we are at Pussers, located at Sopers Hole, Tortola.

One last thing I would like to add to this story is this: I invite and encourage any person that is diagnosed with this disease to contact me if you need any information or if you just need someone to talk to.

Thank you, Dr. Menon!


Cheers! Happy 2017 Everyone!

Friday, November 4, 2016

An email I received. Subject line: Old Fan

November 4, 2016

I was very moved by the following email that I received this morning. This comes at a pretty difficult time for me and it really made my day, year, life.

Hey Jerry!

     With all the people you meet I would find it crazy if you remembered me and my friends, but I wanted to reach out to you. I went to MSU from 2006-2011, and was in East Lansing for the next few years. My friends and I went to Crunchys every now and then for a couple years but eventually heard you one Sunday night and LOVED your performance, probably around 2007 or 8. We started to go every Sunday night for about a year and we got to know you and your life about playing music with your kids. But we used to tell all of our friends about this amazing singer who would drive from Chicago and back to play at as many places as he could and that they needed to see him. We probably brought 20-30 people to Crunchys who would have never come out, just to hear you play and play Euchre with us over a couple beers. We did a lot of Tequila shots with you and would yell out at you on stage when you stood up to play at Harpers behind the bar. It’s one of the stories of college that I still tell my friends now about how great Michigan State is, and even though they don’t fully get it, I tell them anyways.

Anyways, a friend of mine here  this morning had a song stuck in her head and couldn’t figure out what it was, and when she sang it I immediately yelled “It’s Africa! Africa! By…… “ And I honestly had to think for a second about who the actual singer was because I associate it so much with you singing it and all of us stopping our Euchre game to sing along. I really cherish those memories. So tonight when I got back to look up your website and saw that you had to have surgery on your finger/hand, and wanted to send my well-wishes to you. I don’t know when you posted that, or if it’s been a long time or yesterday, but I wanted to say best of luck and I really really really hope that your recovery goes well. You’ve made a lot of people’s lives a lot better through not only your playing, but by how genuine of a person you are, and I really hope you can continue that for more people in the future. Even if it seems like it’s just for a couple hours, people remember when someone is a special talent and person, and you’re the only one I remember from all those years ago (apart from Star Farm, but that was at Rick’s and Dublin…which is a whole different animal, haha).

But I hope you’re doing great, and to let you know, all of us are too. The rest of my friends who were there at Crunchys are all very successful in various fields buying houses and starting families. I’m doing great too, I’m studying in California right now, but I’ll be back in MI a couple times a year and one of our goals with my friends is to have a reunion at Crunchys or wherever you are playing and have a beer/ tequila shot with you again.

Sorry if this was too long, I kind of got carried away, but again, I hope you are doing well and that the surgery goes/went great.

PS- forgive any typos, I wrote this in one go and don’t feel like going back through to correct them. I’m sure you’ll be ok with it, haha.

My response:

I've heard people say things like this to me but never have received such an eloquent description. I'm very moved by this letter and it comes as I'm experiencing one of the most difficult times in my life. 

Please let me know if you all have a reunion at Crunchy's. East Lansing is changing and live music is no longer viable. Rick's no longer has bands, Dublin has them occasionally but the students seem to prefer djs. It's a different time. 

After surgery, I may not return to Harper's because I'm not really drawing there or anywhere for that matter. There are still a few handfuls of people that come into Crunchy's but nothing like it was when you went to MSU.

I really love your story and I hope you don't mind if I post it as an abridged and  anonymous letter. I would not mention your name as I feel it would be inappropriate because of your position.

 Thanks for this. You really made my day, and thanks for living to keep all of us safe.


Here are few things you might enjoy. In the first video I'm performing with my grandsons and my son, (their father) Joshua. He joined us on stage to play conga. Three generations all at once. Josh and his brother were in a band with me in the late 80's early 90's. It's cool that it went full circle with his sons and I.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools Day

I don't know about other parts of the world, but here in the U.S. we celebrate April Fools Day on April 1st. On this day you are to tell lies or play tricks on any fool that will believe you. I got half way through this chat with my good friend and relative, Isaac Sprague, when I realized todays date.

How come you didn't go to Jeremy's for Easter?
You got any gigs this week?

Isaac James Sprague
I'll tell you later, right now I have something really important to tell you...

Jerry Sprague
have at it

Isaac James Sprague
I've given this a lot of thought, and a few things have happened lately that have provoked this specific train of thought...
Can we keep this between us?

Jerry Sprague
No fears I will die with many secrets.

Isaac James Sprague
I'm gay.

Isaac James Sprague
And not like a normal kind of gay...
I mean, I like wearing women's underwear and being called Isabella instead of Isaac.

Jerry Sprague
And you're certain that this is an exclusive direction for you? Or is this experimental?

Isaac James Sprague
Like I said I've given this a lot of thought.

Jerry Sprague
Are you alarmed by this? How are your emotions?

Isaac James Sprague
I'm not really sure if I'm supposed to be a man sometimes. I mean, my secret bf Louis Armando Lopez and I have thought about maybe going the whole nine yards and getting an operation.
I'm pretty good, really. But you're not going to be when I tell you this next bit of info...

Jerry Sprague
Should I share with you now that I use to be a woman. And I changed my sex exactly 40 years ago to this date?

Isaac James Sprague
I was doing pretty good.

Jerry Sprague
You really had me going there for about 5 minutes. Good thing I remembered the date.

Happy April Fools Day everyone,  from this fool to the rest of you.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Last night at Connor O'Neill's

This is my first blog ever. I decided to start blogging because things like the following story happen all the time. Most of the stories are funny, some are scary, now and then they may be tragic.

This one happened last night (2/7/13) in Ann Arbor.

Playing at Conor O'Neill's last night, this pretty, petite, dark haired girl (maybe 21) tried to grab my microphone while I was singing Bob Seger's, Night Moves. Had to stiff arm her and said, "Please don't do that." At the end of the song she stuck her face 10" in front of my face to try and sing into the mic. I stopped the song and said, "Please stop that you're spitting in my face." She went away and moments later I saw her complaining to Danny the bartender.

You could tell he didn't have time to talk to her so he made some comment and she went away from the conversation seemingly pleased. Then she left the bar entirely after flipping me off with both middle fingers and screaming, "YOU SUCK!"

Danny is like - off the boat Irish. He has a thick brogue, and appears shy at first until you get to know him. When I went on break I said, "Hey Danny, was that girl whining because I wouldn't let her sing in the microphone?" He replied, "Yeah, I said you were an asshole."