- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Of all the stories of Rip Reagan following his recent death at 84, and the impact he had on young lives, Kevin Meads’ might be the best.

Meads remembers being an eighth-grade trumpet player at Ragland High School and going to Wallace Hall to see Maynard Ferguson perform.

Ferguson, a legendary jazz trumpeter and band leader, was a friend of Reagan’s who occasionally played in Gadsden.

“I told my band director, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to play with him,’” Meads said.

Years later, Meads auditioned for a scholarship in Gadsden State’s jazz band.

“I shouldn’t have gotten a scholarship. I was nervous. I had a terrible audition,” he said. “But Rip saw something in me.”

He gave Meads a half-scholarship, and a chance.

Soon Meads had earned a full scholarship, and he told Reagan he should bring Ferguson back to Gadsden. Reagan arranged a performance.

“He introduced me to Maynard and the band. I got to hang out with those guys,” Meads said.

Later, when Ferguson’s band was back in town for another performance, they asked Meads to go on the road with them, and he spent four years touring with Ferguson.

“Maynard loved Rip,” Meads said. “We would talk about Rip all the time on the road.”

One of the most memorable performances, he said, was when he came back with Ferguson’s band to Wallace Hall.

“I got to play with Maynard Ferguson’s band in that same place that I told my band director, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Meads recalled.

Meads would go on to Los Angeles and work in artist management, mainly with Snoop Dogg. He moved to Nashville eight years ago and is an agent with William Morris Endeavors, formerly the William Morris Agency. It’s the largest talent agency in the world, he said, and he books performances for Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and other country artists.

He’s the agent for rising country artist Cole Swindell.

“Everything I’ve been able to accomplish in my life, I owe to Rip Reagan,” Meads said. “Every step of my professional career has been touched by Rip Reagan.”

As a small-town kid, he said, he didn’t even know what jazz was before coming to Gadsden State.

“I’ve gotten to live out my dreams,” Meads said, because of the belief Reagan placed in him. “I’ve traveled the world. I played with Maynard’s band. I’ve been to awards shows and worked with celebrities.

“I can’t imagine my life, if it hadn’t been for Rip Reagan.”

Pat Morrow was one of Reagan’s students, and followed his footsteps as a band director. He was Reagan’s assistant and director of the General Forrest Middle School band before succeeding Reagan as Emma Sansom’s band director.

“Rip’s responsible for me going into band directing,” Morrow said. “I remember there were a few years when the band boosters gave Rip a car. One year it was a Cadillac, and one year it was a little MG sports car. I was impressed with that as a high school student. I remember thinking, ‘I’d like to have a job where someone would want to give me a car.’”

Steve Means, a former student of Reagan’s, said Reagan was instrumental in the creation of the popular band, the Kings of Swing, helping to assemble the musicians for a one-night performance 20 years ago.

The group recently noted its 20-year anniversary, performing at a fundraising auction for St. James School.

“We’re still going strong,” Means said.

Rod Ferguson is another former band student of Reagan’s, and a member of the Kings of Swing.

“He helped so many of us students to get scholarships,” Ferguson said, “and when we got jobs, he’d come help us with our bands. He was a father figure to a lot of us guys.”

“It’s been kind of a double whammy, losing him and George McSpadden in the same week,” Ferguson said.

McSpadden was a longtime faculty member at Gadsden State, and had played organ for every commencement ceremony at the college but one since 1967. He died Wednesday.

Ferguson said in recent years, as Reagan faced health issues, he subbed for him some as band director at Gadsden State.

When Reagan decided to retire in February, Ferguson was asked to finish out the year as director.

“It seemed fine to him that I did that - one of his boys,” he said.

Reagan’s influence was felt through generation after generation of band students in Gadsden.

“There’s no telling how many lives he touched,” Ferguson said.

“You don’t count them by hundreds,” he said. “You’d count them by the thousands.”

A second generation of Ferguson’s family counts Reagan, and McSpadden, as great influences.

Laney Boman is Ferguson’s stepson, and was a member of the Gadsden State Show Choir from 2011 until earlier this year.

Boman said he was having a difficult time deciding whether he wanted to pursue music as a career, and both men helped with that decision.

“They told me to go for my dream. They said, ‘You can do it,’” Boman said, and he said he’s not the only to have received their support.

He praised both men as spiritual leaders. “It meant so much to see them and their walk in the Christian faith,” he said.

Boman said Reagan would sometimes call students into his office, just to talk and to laugh.

“For many people my age, he was a grandfather figure,” he said. “That’s the way we thought of him.

“Everyone has a Rip Reagan story,” he said, and McSpadden also held that kind of place in students’ lives.

“Their legacies will live on,” Boman said. “They both left something in our hearts.”

___

Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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