There are many talented musicians in Houston, but perhaps none is as popular in so many social circles as the colorful and charismatic Jerry Atwood. Sometimes called “the man with magic feet” for his ability to work a synthesizer’s bass pedals while his hands render brilliant keyboard melodies, Atwood has been spreading joy with his musical dexterity for 50 years.
One can find this handsome, openly gay artist playing a grand piano at a prestigious gala one night, opening for a national act the next, then entertaining in a quaint LGBTQ bar the night after. The truth is, wherever Jerry Atwood goes, his fans will follow.
His is a talent that developed at an early age. When Atwood was 2, he was singing harmony to the radio. His parents bought him a piano at 4, and throughout his youth his skills advanced. Eventually Atwood became an electrical engineer, but he never wandered far from his first love—music.
“In the early 1980s, I was an engineer by day and a one-man band at night. But I couldn’t remember lyrics—I still can’t,” Atwood laughs. “So I sought out a singing partner. When tenor Ricky Comeaux and I first got together, we soon realized that Ricky excelled at soaring show-tunes, so we started slipping those in with the pop tunes, to the delight of audiences. We found our niche.”
In 1987, the duo officially became “Atwood and Comeaux.” At that time, HIV/AIDS was devastating Houston’s LGBTQ community, so the duo committed to fighting back by launching Christmas Songfest, their nonprofit fundraising organization.
“Songfest raised $4,500 its first year,” Atwood recalls with pride. “Every year after, it got bigger. At our peak, a thousand people attended. Guests signed up to sing Christmas songs on a huge stage, one at a time or one organization at a time. Songfest became a magical, musical hot mess and lasted for 20 years. The memories are still very special to many, including scores of volunteers—without whom it could not have happened.”
As Atwood and Comeaux’s reputation grew, they performed at many bars, restaurants, and other venues in Houston. “We had a long run at the Post Oak Grill,” Atwood recalls. “In its heyday, that spot was the hangout for Houston’s rich and famous. That’s also when the great paying parties and galas really started rolling in.”
In the 1990s, Atwood and Comeaux started performing concerts at Ovations in Rice Village, to packed houses. “Ovations has been my showcase ‘home away from home’ for 30 years now,” Atwood says. “What really put us on the map there was our Phantom of the Opera suite. Ricky donned the cape and mask, sang the title song, and then at the end disappeared in a flash of light and cloud of smoke from Ovation’s grand staircase. People simply loved it.”
Comeaux moved to Kentucky in 1994 when he was hired as business manager for the Kentucky Opera, and Atwood began working with other vocalists in Houston. One was the popular songstress Sharon Montgomery, who enjoys national acclaim from singing with the trio Montgomery, Plant and Stritch.
“It would be impossible to fully state the importance of Jerry Atwood in the cabaret scene in Houston,” Montgomery says. “Through the years, I’d wager he’s worked with every serious cabaret singer in town. But the most important thing I can say about Jerry Atwood is that he is a walking, talking party. He’s a guaranteed good time.”
Atwood says his “most consistently fun gig” is at Michael’s Outpost, which he calls “the only LGBTQ piano bar within 1,000 miles.”
“People are seated around a grand piano, singing one at a time or together,” he says. “I project the lyrics on the wall at the same time, so they call it ‘Jerry-oke.’ It’s quite a hoot.”
Despite his popularity, Atwood remains humble. “I freely admit I’m not the best pianist in the city, but I capture more disparate styles of music than any other, so I stay very busy,” he says. “I intend to remain that way unless the body or brain fails me. Until then, I’m for hire.”
For more info about Jerry Atwood, go to jerryatwoodmusic.com.
This article appears in the August 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.