Friends and fans lend a hand to Jerry Miller

Among the many residents of Pacific impacted by the recent flooding was local guitar hero Jerry Miller. He had recently moved from the North End to the small town that straddles the boundary between King and Pierce counties.

On Jan. 8 the Army Corps of Engineers released water from Mud Mountain Dam into the White River. The action was done to relieve pressure in the reservoir, which had reached its capacity due to heavy rain that was causing flooding around the Puget Sound region. Too much water was released too quickly, causing massive flooding in Pacific.

Residents had just minutes to evacuate. Miller, who was renting a house, only had time to grab his dog, an old amplifier and Beulah, his favorite guitar.

"He literally lost everything," said Lynie Arden, his booking agent. "They had no idea this was coming down."

Miller's car was ruined, as were most of his personal belongings. Friends have donated clothing. He had to move into a motel, the cost of which is creating a financial hardship.

But the worst part is the loss of the mementos of a long career in music. Miller left Tacoma as a young man in the 1960s and headed to the Bay Area, where he was a founding member of Moby Grape. Legal and financial problems led the band to break up within a few years, but their impact remains substantial.

Miller returned to Tacoma and has been a fixture on the local music scene. He also tours, mostly on the West Coast. A friendly, laid-back guy, Miller is well liked as a person and well respected as a guitarist adept at playing rock, blues, jazz and country.

Along the way Miller amassed much memorabilia, from recordings of concerts to tapes of appearances on television shows to photographs of him with Jimi Hendrix, Robert Plant and numerous other rock stars. Now all of that is gone.

"The other stuff can be replaced," Arden said. "You cannot replace a picture of yourself with Jimi Hendrix."

Some of his friends and colleagues are trying to help Miller out during this difficult period. Two benefit shows are scheduled. The first will be at 8 p.m. on Feb. 6 at Uncle Sam's American Bar and Grill, located at 16003 Pacific Ave. in Spanaway. The second will be at the Swiss from 3-9 p.m. on March 8.

Craig Arrowood of Arrowood Productions organized the show on Feb. 6. He said Arden called him to ask if he could put a benefit show together.

Arrowood grew up in the Bay Area and used to attend Moby Grape shows. After he moved to the Northwest he met Miller when he was playing at a club in Seattle. Arrowood was the promoter for a concert at Seattle Center in the late 1980s when Moby Grape did a reunion tour.

"Led Zeppelin said their favorite band was Moby Grape," he commented.

Arrowood noted Miller has often performed for free for fundraisers, including one Arrowood organized to raise money for a facility that provided services to Vietnam War veterans.

"He is always there to play benefits for other people," Arrowood said. "He deserves our help now."

"He is very generous," Arden remarked. "He has played many a benefit for other people."

Terry Howells plays guitar for Waylaid, a band that does rock covers from the 1950s to the 1980s, along with a few country songs. He first met Miller a year ago. Since then Miller has sat in with the group, or they have served as his backing band for his gigs, about 10 times.

"We have a great time every time," Howells said.

Arrowood asked the group if they were interested in playing the fundraiser. "We said we would love to," Howells said. Miller will perform with the group.

When Howells was in college he had a friend from San Francisco who often played Moby Grape albums. Waylaid even covers one of their songs, "Hey Grandma."

Those attending the Feb. 6 show are asked to make a minimum donation of $5, although more would certainly be appreciated.

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