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Who Jody Rainwater
What Jody Rainwater, bluegrass pioneer, radio personality dies at 92
When December 24, 2011
Where Richmond, VA

His real name was Charles Edward Johnson, but everybody knew him as Jody Rainwater. And that does mean everybody, said his friend Christopher Gowin.

Mr. Rainwater, a bluegrass music pioneer and a radio personality whose influence went far beyond his Southside Virginia base, died on Christmas Eve in the hospice unit at Richmond's Retreat Doctors' Hospital, not long after moving there from his home in Crewe. He was 92 and had suffered heart disease for more than two years.

A funeral will be held today, Wednesday, at 1 p.m. at Jennings-McMillian Funeral Home in Crewe. Burial will follow at Trinity Memorial Gardens in Rice.

"As a child growing up in Nottoway County," Gowin said, "you knew Jody Rainwater. He was a member of that generation of radio personalities that woke you up every morning and left you with memorable quotes to keep you moving throughout the day."

Before he became the voice of WSVS-AM in Crewe, Mr. Rainwater blazed a trail in bluegrass music, first with his brother in High Point, N.C., as Chuck & Slim. He played with other bands, booked acts and honed his skills as a comedian.

He served in the Marine Corps in World War II. When he came home, he was right back into his music.

In 1949, when Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were starting The Foggy Mountain Boys, they asked Mr. Rainwater to join them, first as a booking agent, then as a musician. He wanted to be a mandolin-playing tenor but almost always played and sang bass. His comic bits and novelty songs made him one of the group's most popular figures.

Among the band's classics is Mr. Rainwater's original song, "I'm Waiting to Hear You Call Me Darling."

By 1952, the long workdays and tough traveling schedule had taken a toll on Mr. Rainwater's health. At his doctor's recommendation, he left the band and settled at WSVS.

He was the station's morning jockey for the next 20 years, and his stage name became the one his listeners would always know. He was a magnet for music acts he once had his old friends Flatt and Scruggs based there for several months. He generated most of the station's income and listeners. Later, he worked at other stations until he retired in 1984.

He continued to play. He had his own band, The Jamboree Gang, and made countless guest appearances at festivals, dances and bluegrass jam sessions.

It wasn't until 2007 that Gowin got to know Mr. Rainwater closely. That year, Gowin left his middle-management retail job to become general manager of WSVS, where he had listened to Mr. Rainwater. He was determined to keep the financially troubled station on the air by taking it back to its roots.

"I was sitting there at my desk," he said, "wondering if I'd made a big mistake, and Jody came in. He told me he believed in me and believed in what I was doing. That was the way he was. He could change your mood in a minute."

Mr. Rainwater's daughter, Charlie Rainwater of Urbanna, said her father was never pretentious about his role in bluegrass history.

"When I was a kid, it was just part of everyday life the musicians who came to see him and play with him, the way people loved him. It wasn't until I was in my teens that I started really listening to bluegrass and appreciating it."

She worked for her father in radio and found him to be a beloved boss. "I know it sounds like I'm gushing," she said, "but it's the truth."

She said he made "a conscious choice to believe the best of everyone, and to let them know he believed it. He had a way of making you believe that along with him.

"He was a man of deep Christian faith," she said, "but never preachy. He didn't have to be preachy. He set his example by the way he lived."

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 57 years, Emma Ison Johnson; another daughter, Pat Johnson of Westfield, N.C., a son, Ronald Gallagher of Mechanicsville; 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

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Contact Randy Hallman
Richmond Times-Dispatch


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