Ottawa bluesman Jed “Rocket” Rached had a voice as deep and thunderous as the rumble of his Harley-Davidson, a personality big enough to fill any stage and a mission to share the music he loved.
The singer, who died Friday at the age of 55, was known for assembling one of the city’s first extended blues bands, complete with an all-star, multi-piece horn section. They were dubbed Rocket Rached and the Fat City 8, although the actual number of musicians ranged between eight and 16 depending on how many could be rounded up for each gig.
In 2011, they released a live CD, entitled Seven Years of Thursdays, recorded over two nights at Elmdale Tavern. At the time, Rached wrote about his influences, listing blues greats Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon as his main sources of inspiration.
“That growl possessed by The Wolf was what pulled me in to sing the blues,” he wrote, adding that listening to Waters helped him discover his own showmanship, while Dixon’s songwriting prompted him to try his hand at it.
Rached, who could hold his own on trombone and tuba, was also a force to be reckoned with behind the scenes. He was a band manager, a booker and a sound tech whose career over the decades included stints at clubs such as the Rainbow Bistro, and the long-closed Whipping Post and Bayou.
To encourage younger musicians to play the blues, he organized the Blues Guitar Riff-off competition for guitarists and the Blues Harp Blow-off for harmonica players.
Born and raised in Ottawa and the youngest of four siblings, Rached was a founder of the Ottawa Blues Society in the mid-90s. His music-industry know-how earned him a gig as a stage manager in the early, bluesier years of Bluesfest and later, at the Calabogie Blues Festival, where he was also the host and ringleader of the after-hours jam.
Despite struggling with health issues in recent years, which meant he had to give up riding Bessy, his beloved Harley, Rached continued to occasionally host the Thursday-night blues jam at Irene’s Pub.
In fact, his final gig was hosting his own birthday bash at the Bank Street pub on March 12, just before the novel coronavirus-induced shutdown of live entertainment. Ottawa Blues Society director Debra Thornington was happy she made it to the celebration.
“Jed was on that night,” she said. “It was really awesome to see him so happy and full of life and energy. His voice sounded so damn good, and all the fellas who played horns for Fat City showed up. It was a fantastic night.”
The tight-knit blues community is mourning the loss, she added, without a way to celebrate his life because gatherings are restricted during the pandemic.
“We’re all feeling those blues,” Thornington said. “We can’t come together as a community to grieve and heal. It’s grueling right now. There was no one else like him on the Ottawa scene.”
The cause of death is under investigation.