Local jazz guitarist Roland Gresham passed away on Oct. 18, 2012, at the age of 78.
Gresham was known widely as the guitar aficionado from The Roland Gresham Trio who also jammed with the likes of Etta James. Locally, he was known as a man who would jam with the other locals, as the guy who played Sundays at Bluesboro and the Boro and a lot of other area venues—and as a friend.
Friends of Gresham’s, young and old, from Murfreesboro and beyond, remember Gresham’s small kindnesses, great faith, immense talent and warm heart.
“He was a brief mentor for me when I was living in Murfreesboro in the late ’90s. My band at the time, Signal, asked him to come in and record on this jazzy second line style number we put on our album, and he humbly agreed to come help out some local youngsters, which we were so psyched about. I always had so much respect for him and his music, and he was a genuinely warm and vibrant personality. He will be missed.” – Scott Hall
I think just about every musician that has set foot on stage in Murfreesboro after Roland has been either directly or indirectly influenced by him. I had the great honor to get to sit in with him a few years ago on a New Year’s Eve performance, and I’m so grateful that I did. R.I.P. Roland. I have a hunch Jesus is a jazz lover.” – CJ Vaughn, Murfreesboro blues artist
“A long time ago when a path was being forged, a web was being woven and a spell was being cast, I used to meet up with Dwayne Buzz Gibson at The Boro to hear Roland Gresham on Sunday nights. It’s a tiny, dark venue where the fine sounds of a tremendous jazz guitar player could be heard in a town where real music sadly takes a backseat to karaoke and American Idol. He let me get up and sing ‘At Last’ with him once. It was fabulous. And ironic. And foreshadowing. We will miss you, Roland, and I will always treasure the times I was allowed to share in your music.” – Jolie C. Bell, singer/songwriter
“Until the end, Roland wanted to talk about the passion of his life—music and guitar. I visited him in his final days and told him how much I loved him, his music and influence on local guitarists. His body was frail and weak which belied his exuberance of spirit. He smiled proudly when he told me about a recent visit from his son, Roland Jr. Roland Jr. had inherited his father’s guitar abilities, and Roland proclaimed how his son could ‘run the keys off that guitar!’ Roland was self-taught and in most ways a do-it-yourself man. He built his own house, dug his own septic system and did it the old-fashioned way with his legendary massive hands. The same large, strong and calloused hands that could also dance lightly around the guitar fret board, delicately playing a jazz standard like ‘Misty’ or ‘Tenderly,’ and indeed, run the keys off of that guitar.” – Larry Pinkerton, Murfreesboro jazz artist
Happy I got to sing with him several times back in the day at The Boro…figured I was doin’ something right if he would invite me up to do one with him. Roland was one-of-a-kind in many different respects. – Trev Wooten
“He was a vital part of the Murfreesboro music scene for years and years. He was quite an inspiration to me when I first discovered the world of music and bass. He truly, truly played purely for the love of it. R.I.P. good sir.” – Marc Williams
“I took a few lessons from the elder Mr. Gresham, many years ago; he was an amazing guitar player and very nice man. I know that he played the Chitlin’ Circuit back in his younger day, and he once told me he gave a guitar lessons to Jimi Hendrix.
The world lost a real piece of history, and a beautiful sound is silenced. The sound he gets from his style could not be duplicated.
Although we were not personal friends, I still feel a loss that he is gone. Rest well in the arms of your maker, Mr. Gresham, and Godspeed to your family and loved ones.” – Tony Lehew
“Roland was a very special man. He played my wife’s favorite song, ‘At Last,’ for our first dance at our wedding, with Dallas [Starke] singing. Truly a loss of a great human being.” – Jonathan Hobson, Nashville graphic designer
“I was hoping he would live forever.” – Lane Rogers
“Wow, what an inspiration this man was. If you lived in Murfreesboro, I hope you had the pleasure of knowing Roland Gresham.” – Ron Cook
The memories Murfreesboro built with the guitar virtuoso preserve Gresham as what he is—a tremendous talent lost but not forgotten.