Mere hours after receiving the devastating news of his father’s death, Jay DeMarcus sat down at his piano. And, in the stillness of one of the cruelest nights of his life, a grieving son finished a tribute to the ultimate music man.
“The only regret I have with this song is he wasn’t able to hear it,” DeMarcus tells American Songwriter in a revealing interview about his touching new song “Music Man.” “I had the penchant to finish this song and let it be in honor of him while he was still living.”
But that wasn’t to be.
Stanley Wayne DeMarcus passed away in the early morning hours of October 29, 2020 at the age of 78. And while his father would never hear the completed song during his time here on earth, DeMarcus recently made the decision to share his personal tribute with the rest of the world as part of one of his first solo projects since his time in Rascal Flatts.
“It wasn’t my plan to do something on my own solo wise, but when my father passed, I knew I had to get all that I was feeling out somehow,” explains DeMarcus, who had a hand in writing Rascal Flatts’ hits such as “Unstoppable” and “Winner at a Losing Game.” “I sent the song to some of my closest friends and they were all like, ‘people have to hear this.’ And especially in light of what had already been an awful year, they thought it could help others dealing with their own grief.”
Indeed, the grief of ultimately losing the man who had taught him so much about life and music had long been on the horizon for DeMarcus, especially as his father’s health began to worsen.
“Covid-19 didn’t kill him, by any means, but it sort of pushed him on over because he couldn’t see anybody,” remembers DeMarcus. “He lived in an assisted living facility and they wouldn’t let anyone in to see him and he just got lonely. He was just so tired.”
And while the acclaimed singer/songwriter had actually written the first verse of “Music Man” when his father first started getting sick, he never seemed to be able to write the final lyric or place that final note. And in September, during what would end up being his last in-person visit with his dad, DeMarcus still had not finished the song.
He had far too many other things on his mind.
“It was one of those times in your life where you know there is a possibility that you are visiting with someone for the last time,” DeMarcus remembers. “There was an uncertainty in that visit because he had not been doing well. So, I held him a little tighter and I specifically remember how I wanted to be sure to soak up every moment.”
Soon after, DeMarcus’ father was admitted into the hospital, and during one of his last visits with his son, he listened as DeMarcus played the chorus of the Dan Fogelberg classic “Leader of the Band” over FaceTime. And then, the father who once had been so full of life…was gone.
But the story of “Music Man” was just beginning.
“On the night after his death, I had gone back through photos of he and I sitting at that very piano together and he is leaning over me and putting his hands on mine and showing me different chords,” remembers DeMarcus, who now heads up his own Christian music label, Red Street Records. “I just kept thinking about how he played that exact piano and how he taught me so much on that piano. And now, I was writing this song on that piano.”
DeMarcus not only made the decision to serve as the sole writer, producer and vocalist on “Music Man,” but to play nearly every instrument on the track, instruments that all had some sort of connection to his late father.
“The only thing that wasn’t connected to him in some way was the drums that were used in the song,” DeMarcus remembers. “And in that moment and with every instrument I played, he was there with me, guiding me yet again.”
Since its release last month, “Music Man” has resonated with many. People have not only poured out their condolences onto the heart of DeMarcus and his family thanks in part to the song, but they too are finding comfort within its soothing words and sweet melody.
And, at this very moment, DeMarcus finally feels at peace.
“I’m so thankful my father is not in pain anymore,” he says quietly. “And, I’m thankful that he finally might be able to hear his song.”