Calgary's music community is still in shock following the announcement that Reverend Ron, 20-year host of CJSW's The Blues Witness, passed away Thu., Nov. 12, after a battle with cancer.
Ronald J. Predika died the night before CJSW made their long awaited move to the third floor of the MacEwan Student Centre, on the University of Calgary campus. The last song to be played in the old space was Ron's theme song, Merlin Johnson's "Down on Easy Street."
Ron was respected by many and his social circles extended wide and far, said CJSW station manager Chad Saunders.
He kept his illness private. People didn't know much about his background because he didn't think it was necessary -- he wanted to know what your thoughts were now, explained Saunders.
"I can recall blues musicians coming into CJSW," he said. "They were welcomed by Ron as if they had been friends for years -- some were and some he had just met."
Saunders first met Ron after a station meeting when they went for a beer in the Den and sat down at the old picnic tables. When Ron asked the server what was on tap, she replied Labatt's Blue.
"Ron pointed at me and said 'That's for young guys like him, that's not my beer.' The server went through all the beers and Ron had a comment on every single one. It was pretty funny," he recalled.
"Then Ron looked at Don McSwiney [former CJSW station manager] and said, 'Let's talk about CJSW and what makes good radio.' For somebody brand new to the station, that was probably the most informal yet most significant oral history lesson on what it took to make good radio. You knew that as long as Reverend Ron was there, it was going to be alright. He was also our good luck charm when it came to the funding drives. He could get people pumped up."
Over half of CJSW's impressive collection of blues discs have Ron's notes written on them. He had an influential hand in defining that library.
"I don't think that anyone who knew Ron here at the station will forget his programming," mused Saunders. "That will live on forever for sure."
It was Kerry Clarke, now artistic director for the Calgary Folk Music Festival, who put Ron on the air for the first time in 1990.
"I invited him to come on a show Suki Davis and I did as a guest," recalled Clarke. "He brought all kinds of wacky albums, including some Hawaiian ones he found in the garbage. Upon discovering he knew quite a bit about the blues, I asked him to do a few shows. He initially just hosted and I teched. I slowly groomed him into taking over the show, [then called The Blues Experiment.] I remember his first few interviews, where he asked artists things like 'do you have a jukebox?' and 'do you eat jambalaya?' which prompted nervous record reps to suggest that I have Ron ask about their latest album and tour."
During the Calgary Midwinter Blues Festival last February, Ron was inducted into the Calgary Blues Music Association Hall of Fame as a Lifetime Achievement award recipient.
Calgary International Blues Festival co-producer Cindy McLeod said they couldn't imagine a more worthy choice.
"His acceptance speech underscored his humble view that he was 'just a guy spinning records,' but to those of us who love the blues, the Rev will evermore be remembered as the man who brought the best in blues to our radios every week for nearly two decades."
Friends and family are invited to a celebration of Ron's life at Mikey's Juke Joint, 1901 - 10th Avenue S.W., at 12:30 p.m. Sun., Nov. 22. All are invited to stay for the following Sunday open jam.