By John Ellis
The late Gary Tucker was posthumously inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame on November 28. He was born in Alapaha in Berrien County on June 13, 1938 to Bethel and Alice Tucker. At 6 years old, his family moved to Thomaston, where he lived the rest of his life. He worked helping deliver milk on a Weiss Dairy Milk truck in the early hours of the morning before school by helping the driver to deliver milk and retrieve empty bottles.
His interest in music began at an early age. One day he borrowed a guitar and knocked on a neighbor’s door who he knew could help him learn how to play. She taught him a few chords and licks and got him started playing. Her kindness led him to continue his interest and he learned everything he could about playing music.
He saved his money and at the age of 11, he bought his first guitar, which was a Stella that cost $5. When he was 12, his Dad took him to Macon and bought him a nicer guitar, a Gibson ES175 that he owned and played for the rest of his life. His parents were very supportive and encouraged his music.
“Most of what I remember were the things that happened at the house when people showed up to jam, because we had a piano,” his sister Brenice said. “Daddy would take him to bars and juke joints and let him play when he was only 12 or 13. I do remember him and Joann singing together and they had notebooks they wrote songs in.
Gary’s sister, Joann, would sing with him and she started writing songs jus for their own enjoyment. Gary would compose the music to the songs she wrote. On occasion, he would write songs on his own. Saturday nights were always looked forward to by all the family and the Tucker household seemed to be the gathering place for friends and beginning musicians, as well as more accomplished musicians who Gary was learning from. Their house, possibly, was the only one on the block that had a piano. A blind by the name of Buddy Owens, a local accomplished guitarist, was a great asset in helping Gary learn about music.
When Gary was around 15 years old, he was introduced to a few local bands and taught a great deal more about the music he loved. During high school, he worked part time in a local meat and produce market and later on in the mill. He continued pursuing his love of music and landed a spot playing guitar with The Harmony Boys Gospel Quartet on the local radio station and in churches. He also played with Herman Powell and The Melody Ramblers on WBAF radio in Barnesville.
Gary served his country in the U. S. Army, joining in August 1957 for a three-year stint as a Morse code operator during the Korean conflict. Before joining the Army, Gary met and married his first wife, Sandra Gray. Gary and Sandra married in October 1957 and had two sons, Benny and Bobby. After his time in the military, he worked as a vending salesman. In 1982 he opened and operated Tucker Foods for 18 years. That didn’t leave much time for his music, and he only played around the house during the 60s and 70s. Gary would play along with television shows such as The Ernest Tubb Show, Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton, The Grand Ole Opry, and anything else that was playing at that time.
After the death of Sandra in 1994, Gary and his sons decided to open a music store in Thomaston because they all loved playing music, and also because there had not been a music store in the area for years. Gary saw a need for local musicians to have a nearby place to shop for musical merchandise and accessories. It was something he had wanted to do for years. He absolutely loved anything and everything musical – especially guitars. The Music Man not only was a source of business, but was also a place for Gary’s friends to gather each Thursday and Saturday morning for ‘pickin’ and grinnin’’ sessions.
In June of 2000, Gary married Lynn McRae. She and Gary became members of Pritchett Memorial Baptist Church, where he played as guitarist for their music services. Gary served as a deacon for the church for many years. Also during this time, he was invited to play in one of the house bands at the Hollonville Opry House. He took the offer and enjoyed more than 15 years playing with the Kirkland and Friends band. Gay and Lynn have been a part of the management team for Hollonville Opry House for the past 13 years. During the 15 years there, he played with many other bands and filled in when needed. He would always play at a drop of a hat. He truly loved playing and working at the Opry House and all the friends he made there. Everyone he met was a friend. Gary also played at The Music Barn in Williamson with Kirkland and Friends and, on occasion, filled in with other bands. The band also played at Buckner’s Music Hall and many other venues.
Gary also was a self-taught dobro and steel guitar player, but kept it a secret for many years and later started playing them at the music store jam sessions. Gary was always shy about singing, but truly knew the words to more than a thousand songs. He came out of his shell and made a CD in 2013 titled, ‘With Our Friends At The Old Country Church.’ His very close friend, Donnie Dowdy, recorded this CD for him and sang harmony vocals. One of guitars he used to record with was the Gibson ES175 his daddy bought for him. Gary never kept one penny of the proceeds from the CD and instead, he donated all of it to his church.
Gary played one last time at The Music Man – the song ‘Long Black Train’ – on June 6, 2015 for family and friends, bringing one again a smile to those around him. Two days later God called Gary home to be with Him. Gary will forever bring a smile to those around when his name is mentioned and will continue to change lives by the example and the legacy that he left behind. What a wonderful gift God gave to us all in Leon Gary Tucker.
“My family and I would like to thank each and every one that was a part of making Gary’s music a success. He lived many happy hours with his family and friends, entertaining us all with his many talents,” Lynn Tucker said. “We would like to say a very special ‘thank you’ to the founders of The Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame for this great honor bestowed upon him. We would also like to thank The Kirkland and Friends band and our Hollonville Opry House friends. Also, thanks to the many other friends who Gary played with during the years and the fans who supported his music.”
John Ellis is a freelance reporter living in Pike County, Ga.