Locals toast music legend Jack Sager

Jack Sager with his daughter June Speakman, who's holding one of his old license plates. Jack Sager with his daughter June Speakman, who's holding one of his old license plates.

 

Jack Sager with his daughter June Speakman, who's holding one of his old license plates.

Jack Sager with his daughter June Speakman, who’s holding one of his old license plates.

Jack Sager has made countless friends over the course of his crazy life. On Sunday, Jan. 26, a few of them will hoist drinks in his honor.

Friends of the Barrington resident will hold a fund-raiser for the him at the German Club on Kelly Street in Warren. It runs from 1 to 5 p.m. and Mr. Sager, who has been battling health problems for the better part of a year, is going to try to make it.

Even if he can’t, though, there should be plenty to talk about. Mr. Sager, a regular at Jack’s Bar on Water Street, has had an amazing 80-odd years.

A giant music lover who grew up playing the drums and still has a kit next to his kitchen, he founded and ran Hitsville, the largest distributor of Motown records in the Northeast during the Detroit sound’s heyday. If you grew up in the Northeast in the 1960s or ‘70s and ever listened to the Supremes and countless other acts, chances are your musical life was touched, in some small way, by the Roslindale, Mass. native.

Over the course of his long career, he saw it all, good and bad: He promoted “black” music at a time when the Northeast music business wanted nothing to do with it, earning in the process the gratitude and respect of many Motown artists. He once took Diana Ross to the doctors when she collapsed of exhaustion on stage, driving her to the office in his 1965 Mustang — white, with a black top and red interior. He rubbed elbows with the biggest players in the music industry, from Stevie Wonder to Ike and Tina Turner and many others. And along the way he made and spent piles of money, caught giant fish in Florida, drank with legends and unknown jazz players, traveled the world, bought sports cars and called professional ball players his friends (he’s a huge Red Sox fan). He and his late wife June had four children, June, Jim, Joe and Jeanne, and lived large.

“We had a lot of fun,” he said.

Though he left the business in the late 1970s and played drums for regional bands for the next 20 years, the good times continue, thanks in many ways to the folks at Jack’s Bar, who are organizing Sunday’s fund-raiser.

Mr. Sager and his late wife moved to Barrington eight or nine years ago to be closer to his daughter June Speakman, a member of the Barrington Town Council and a teacher at Roger Williams University. They had been living in Harwich Port, Cape Cod, in a house that was funded by royalties he made distributing the Woodstock live album — “man, did we make a lot of dough off that one!”

Anyway, he moved to town and one day went down to Mercier’s Hardware on Water Street to buy some nuts and bolts.

“I loved that place. So I finished up inside and came out, and outside stood Joannie (Jack’s bartender). She’s become a very good friend, and she and this other guy, Ray Pearson, they were out on the sidewalk having a cigarette. I said, ‘Oh, is this place open?’ They said ‘Yes,’ and I went in.”

Jack Sager shares a drink with Diana Ross.

Jack Sager shares a drink with Diana Ross.

In he went, and fell in love. Jack’s is known as a friendly spot and when the regulars found out that he was the distributor for Norm Greenbalm’s “Spirit In The Sky,” that was it — that was the house song at Jack’s for years, he said.

“And that’s how I became a legend at Jack’s,” he joked.

Until he got sick last year, Mr. Sager was a regular. He’d nurse vodka and cranberry juice and tell endless stories about the music business — some short, some tall — to his friends. As his illness has progressed he hasn’t been able to get down to the bar, and his presence has been missed. A few months ago, 20 or 30 regulars signed a giant homemade ‘get well’ card for him, complete with a Jack’s Bar wooden nickel, good for a drink.

Friends have been visiting him at home, too, to trade stories and keep him up to date. One of them is Water Street artist William Schaff, a drummer himself.

“This is kind of the thing people do in Warren,” Mr. Schaff said. “We look out for each other. On a more personal level, we just love Jack. He’s been such a bright spot in Jack’s. He brings intelligence and wit without being hoity-toity or pretentious. This man has had incredible experiences but he comes off just as anyone else when you sit down next to him.”

“This is how we can help him.”

Note: Tickets to Sunday’s fund-raiser for Jack Sager are $20. It runs from 1 to 5 p.m. and there will be music (of course), food and drinks, and many raffle items, from a home-cooked meal by a renowned local chef to massage therapy and more. Pick up a ticket at Jack’s Bar, which is open daily from 4 p.m. to midnight.

 

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