James “Jim” McGee Lackey spent a lifetime doing what he loved – drumming.
Lackey of Charlotte played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and performed at one of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural balls in 1961. He died on Saturday. Lackey was 77.
Over the years, Lackey played with nationally known jazz ensembles. One of his early gigs was with the Glenn Miller Orchestra under Ray McKinley’s direction. He also played with the Tommy Dorsey Band, Judy Garland, Etta James and the late Loonis McGlohon of Charlotte. His longest gig was as director of the 7th Street Gator Band, which could be heard two or three times a week at Charlotte’s Cajun Queen restaurant for the past 25 years.
Assistant manager Robin Eiden met Lackey in 1999 when she began working at the restaurant.
“Jim’s band is the backbone of the place,” Eiden said. “He was as important as the executive chef or general manager – a pillar of the restaurant and a big part of our family here.”
Eiden said Lackey was a generous and colorful man who frequently brought recipes, cookies and interesting newspaper articles to Cajun Queen employees. Lackey had an easy sense of humor, evident when he handed out his business card advertising himself as “C.O.L.D.” – Charlotte’s Oldest Living Drummer.
Lackey’s daughter-in-law, Brittany Lackey, frequently took her 4-year-old daughter, Lila, to see her grandfather perform. She remembers a great intensity and passion in his eyes every time he played.
“So many people wish they could do what they love for a living, and he actually did,” Brittany Lackey said. “He couldn’t have been happier about that.”
Doug Henry played clarinet and saxophone with Lackey in the Gator Band and remembers him for his musical sensitivity and intellect. “He didn’t just put a beat behind what you were playing, he played the drums more musically than anybody I know,” Henry said. “He was such a pleasure to play with because he was always upbeat, happy and energetic – a consummate musician.”
Lackey always arrived at gigs an hour early, making sure his drums were ready, leaving time to socialize.
Pianist Jim Stack also played in the Gator Band. Together, Lackey, Stack and Henry could play thousands of songs from memory. They played modern jazz, country and Broadway tunes at the Cajun Queen, as well as other gigs including sets with Charlie Spivak in Greenville, S.C.
Also with Stack, Lackey recorded two modern jazz albums in 2003 and 2010 under the Artists House label.
Henry loved being around Lackey as a musical collaborator and a friend, and thought he was the ultimate example of a musician that “traveled well.”
“He was compatible with everyone,” Henry said, “fun to play with and fun to ride with.”