When Jerry Hludzik auditioned to be the bass player in The Buoys, the song that would become the band’s biggest hit, “Timothy,” was already resonating with audiences locally and regionally, but that didn’t diminish his impact on the group.
“He was so prepared and he was so good,” said Hludzik’s longtime musical partner, Bill Kelly, of the audition. “We went outside and left Jerry inside, and I remember saying, ‘He’s so good. We’ve got to hire him. We’ve got to hire him. That’s how Jerry got in The Buoys.”
Jammin’ For Jerry, a concert to honor and benefit Hludzik, who is living with early-onset dementia, will begin at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Best Western Plus Genetti Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
The evening will feature performances by Kelly and Hludzik with Hdluzik’s son, Eli, on drums; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Danny Seraphine of Chicago; Arc Angel; The Idol Kings, Stonebridge; Strawberry Jam; Daddy-O and the Sax Maniax and Flaxy Morgan.
Kelly and Hludzik taking the stage together will be a familiar site to fans of their music. After Hludzik, who hails from Jeddo, joined Kelly, a Wyoming native, and the rest of The Buoys, the two hit it off immediately.
“I was writing a lot and didn’t have a solid writing partner in the band yet,” Kelly said in a phone interview from his home in Nashville, Tenn. “And then Jerry was there. We wrote most of all The Buoys’ albums. Jerry has an amazing work ethic.
“I thought I was fairly disciplined, but I’m nothing compared to him. He’s manic when it comes to sticking his nose to the grindstone.”
The pair would go on to form the Jerry Kelly Band as an outlet for their original music that, according to Kelly, didn’t interest other members of The Buoys. They also founded Dakota, a group that opened 35 dates for Queen during the 1980 “The Game” tour.
“We wrote five days a week,” Kelly said. “We’d get up early and we’d hit it. I’d get to Jerry’s house, and he’d be two pots of coffee in already. We were into it, passionate about the music we were writing, and that’s how the friendship and the relationship grew.”
That relationship is strong today, although it was tested — Kelly and Hludzik didn’t speak to each other for 17 years after parting ways in 1987, but a mutual friend, Jim Della Croce, brought them back together by inviting them both to the same dinner.
“I walked in, and who’s sitting with (Della Croce) but Jerry and his fiancee, Annie,” Kelly said. “By the time dinner was over, we buried the hatchet … and before you knew it, we put it back together again and we were writing.”
Referring to himself and Hludzik as “brothers in arms,” Kelly was hit hard by the news of Hludzik’s diagnosis.
“It’s nothing short of heartbreaking when you have somebody that close to you and you can see and hear little by little them fading away,” he said. “It makes you appreciate every moment you have in conversation and in hanging out.”
Jammin’ For Jerry
Kelly said he’s been in awe of the outpouring of love for Hludzik by all involved with the benefit. From Rich Kossuth at Pittston’s Rock Street Music, who made his inventory of sound equipment available, to Seraphine, who “dropped everything” to honor Hludzik, to all of the local musicians who jumped at the opportunity to participate, the effort, Kelly said, has been staggering.
“We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have Daddy-O be Chicago for the night?’” Kelly said. “They said, ‘What do you need.’ No questions asked. ‘We’ll do it for Jerry.’ That’ll humble you really quickly and make you grateful.”
In terms of the concert, Kelly said he’s sure it will be full of special moments, and he’s looking forward to the spotlight being on Hludzik.
“He’s been the best friend I’ve every had. He’s been more than a brother to me, and continues to be that,” Kelly said. “We’re going to do our best to do a great job for him. I just want to see that guy smile.”