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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