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Gary “Meatball” McMeekin: Fort Wayne’s First Father of Rock-n-Roll
By Greg Jackson
Fort Wayne Reader
If you’re a long time resident of Fort Wayne who frequents the local music venues, odds are that at one point, you’ve seen and heard Gary “Meatball” McMeekin do his thing on guitar. Meatball has been performing for over 40 years in countless bands, locally and otherwise. I’ll get to the details of his lengthy career in a moment, but first, a personal story…
As a musician 20 years his junior I have had the pleasure of playing with Meatball at a jam party in the “Capone” house multiple times. On our first meeting, I was called upon at the last minute to take my place behind the drum kit. The problem was, I barely knew the song, and had never played with any of the musicians. So I was struggling, and a few of the players (who will remain nameless) weren’t exactly patient with the new guy.
It was Meatball who figuratively held my hand and got me through that potentially embarrassing situation just out of the goodness of his heart. He slowed it all down and scooped me up in that proverbial hand and led me through the jam.
My young daughter asked me what Meatball looked like and I said well… Santa Claus. But though he does look a bit like Santa Claus, that’s really more how I see Gary’s personality — he is one of the most generous and giving musicians I have ever met. I am sure throughout the years there have been disagreements between him and band mates — we all have had to deal with that as musicians — but how many other people did he help? I am sure it is countless people who are better in the long run for having played with Gary “Meatball” McMeekin.
Recently, Meatball has fallen on hard times — job loss and medical issues have put him in a bad spot. So a few weeks ago, some of Gary’s best friends and colleagues organized a benefit for Meatball at 4 D’s Bar and Grill. It was literally a who’s who of local musicians young and old, and it made me proud to say both I know Meatball and am part of a scene that pulls together for one of its own.
Like many musicians of Meatball’s generation, the story starts with Elvis. He remembers eating with his family in the kitchen of their Fort Wayne home when he was a young boy. Elvis came on the TV screen, and everyone rushed out to see the superstar do his thing, leaving Meatball alone at the dinner table. He finally got to see what all of the excitement was about, and as a young impressionable kid this was all that was needed to kick-start the story of his life. He says as soon as he saw Elvis and The Beatles he had no choice but to learn how to play. He immediately started to learn how to play and a few short years later came the neighborhood rock band. As a teen growing up all he did was hone his craft and it didn’t take long for him to start playing in front of people. It was the 60’s and he was playing rock-n-roll.
Fast forward a few years and Meatball started playing with the FBC band that consisted of many different members and played lots of gigs ranging from smaller local places to larger venues that would eventually feature bands such as U2 and the Police. He spent roughly from 1973 to 1982 playing in that band and loved every minute of it. He said they had created a monitor mix in the PA system that would allow them to open up for larger name bands, and let them use the monitor mix — at the time this was quite uncommon. This gave their band an edge over other bands that were vying for the same gigs opening up for larger names like Iron Butterfly and others.
When the FBC band ran its course, Meatball started a band called White Tiger here locally. After a few years of White Tiger and the local scene he decided it was time to try Los Angeles. So, he moved out to LA and auditioned for a handful of bands out there. Due to some family issues he was cut short in LA and had to move back home. This wasn’t such a bad thing since once back home he was introduced to Roger Marshall and started playing with his country/rock band. They released an album called Hiding in the Open and made it as a mid-major with a record deal and videos that played on GAC, a country music network showing music videos at the time.
After about 5 years of playing with The Roger Marshall Band, Meatball tooled around town jamming with a few different people before taking a gig with a band called the Vidal Brothers Band, opening for the likes of Eddie Money and others.
A couple years ago he started playing with the Chris Shafer band The Why Store and did that for about a half a year or so. He talked about the creative freedom in that band quite fondly, almost to a sense that he would like to still have a gig where he could tap into his deep pool of talent.
As I said above, a couple weeks ago there was a benefit for Gary at 4 D’s Bar and Grill. The number of musicians and friends who came out to lend their support spanned generations, and was a great testament to the respect and affection people hold for him (and by the way, a special thanks to Michelle Lantern, Beecher Heines, 4D’s Bar and Grill, and especially XKE and Doc who got the word out). All in all Meatball has had a very extensive and rewarding life and a musician, and I am sure there will be more to come. I don’t get a sense he is anywhere close to being done giving us the incendiary sounds of the 60’s and 70’s inspired rock n roll he grew up on, or the experience of a guy who has spent his entire career a one of the hardest working musicians out there.