By about 5:30 in the evening, the guest of honor at this fundraiser had let on that he wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t sure he could make it until the end of the night to perform his set. No one could blame him. A month ago, blues guitarist Rhett Tyler spent five days in the ICU suffering from complications related to Lyme disease. Although he was eventually released and sent home to recover, that recovery has been slow and several gigs had to be cancelled. And the lost income has only compounded the problem that paying his hospital bills presents.
The hospital bills were “astronomical,” according to his website manager, and like most musicians, Rhett doesn’t have insurance to cover all the expenses. There are some options for musicians to get insurance, but none of them could be classified as affordable. Like anyone else in a time of crisis, Rhett turned to his friends for help, including Roxy Perry. Roxy did what Roxy always does: she rose to the occasion and rallied the blues community around a cause.
Roxy enlisted the help of Brian Remaley, owner of Brian’s Backyard BBQ in Middletown, to host a fundraiser for Rhett. Brian has long been a friend to the blues community downstate, and his restaurant has been a favorite room for blues musicians since he opened last January. The circle of musicians that Rhett, Brian and Roxy count as friends is immense and made up of equal parts talent and love, enabling them to put together a line-up for the fundraiser that would rival many blues festivals. The roster of performers included Slam Allen, Bobby Kyle, Todd Wolfe, Michael Packer, Lex Grey & the Urban Pioneers, Angel Rissoff, Billy Foster, the Russ Gurney Band and Nick Bukuvalis, as well as dozens of others who showed up to jam and support the cause. Even Les Paul’s son Rusty and Popa Chubby were in attendance.
By 6pm, Roxy had changed the schedule up so that Rhett would have a chance to play before fatigue would get the better of him, and shortly she was fronting the band on vocals and harmonica, with Rhett on guitar. Rhett’s friendship with Roxy goes back to the ’70s, and their ease with each other showed on stage. Rhett no longer seemed tired. He smiled frequently and played as well as anyone else had that day.
By 6:30pm, Rhett had launched into his funk’n’ rock-soaked version of “Crossroads” with such intensity that no one could have guessed a month ago Rhett wasn’t sure how long he was going to live. Roxy and the house band had left the stage, leaving Rhett with his own rhythm section and a custom made double-neck Stratocaster. He played the funky riff on the 12 string neck, switching to the 6-string for the solos, singing and playing with the same power and intensity that has impressed audiences at clubs and blues festivals for years. The message was clear: this is not a man who’s going anywhere soon.
Rhett responded to the standing ovation by showing his friends and fans the same love in return, saying “It was your love and prayers that got me here today. Roxy’s the best, this place is the best, and I want you to know how much I love and appreciate you.” Rhett only played one more song before leaving the stage to another standing ovation, with Roxy stepping to the microphone to put into words the emotions of the entire room: “The vibe is here, the love is here, it’s like blues church.”
A lot of money was raised through the $15 cover charge and a donation jar, but Rhett still has a long way to go. Anyone who would like to make a contribution can send checks to: Rhett Tyler, 171 Oak Hill Road, Hudson, NY 12534.
Review and photograph by Eric Gleason