Michael John PackerDecember 20, 1950 ~ May 6, 2017 (age 66)
MICHAEL JOHN PACKER was an American singer/songwriter, guitarist who rose to fame in the late 1960’s and early to mid-1970’s as a member of several groundbreaking bands and who counted among his friends and bandmates at one time or another many of the most well-known music artists in the rock and blues worlds.
Born 12/20/1950 in Manhattan to Theodore and Pauline (nee Powers) Packer, he was raised in Bedford Hills, NY. Mr Packer was recently inducted into the Fox Lane High School Sports Hall of Fame in his hometown where he excelled in track and field. Moving back to NYC he did his first professional gig at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village at the age of 15. In 1969 he formed the group ‘Papa Nebo’ which included saxophonist Bob Mintzer who went on to perform with the Grammy award winning ‘Yellowjackets.’ Papa Nebo recorded an album for Atlantic Records after they were personally recruited and signed by industry legend Ahmet Ertegun. That record has become a collector’s item.
Packer relocated to San Francisco where he met and began hanging and playing with many of the famous and soon-to-be-famous in the Haight-Ashbury area. He and George Thorogood would play on the streets and it was then and there Mr Packer was turned on to the blues.
Moving back to NYC, Packer and fellow ex-Nebo bandmate Sandy Allen formed ‘Free Beer.’ Free Beer was born at Gerdes Folk City in Greenwich Village (1973) where they added singer-songwriter Bob Potter. Free Beer recorded 3 albums for Buddha and RCA Records and toured extensively with the likes of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Johnny Rivers, Dr. Hook and Clifton Chenier, to name a few. All of the albums made the Billboard top 100.
After the demise of Free Beer in the late 70's Michael opened for John Hammond Jr. and sang with the Matt Murphy Band. In 1984 in Boston he fronted a 10-piece band called ‘Coolstep,’ who opened for Huey Lewis on a New England Tour. After personal troubles caused him to suspend his music career in the late 80's and early 90's, a one-year jail stint in the infamous Rikers Island found him to appearing as part of the prison band in the HBO special, ‘The Prisoners of Rikers Island.’
In the last chapter of his life he became a well-known and respected member of the New York City Blues scene. The Michael Packer Blues Band’s many album releases have received rave reviews across the world and continue to be available through Alan Lorber's Iris Music Group.
His unique vocal style and easygoing guitar technique made him a popular guest and sideman, a memorable highlight being his time spent with nonagenarian blues legend, 2 time Grammy award-winning David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards. The late Delta blues guitarist, who knew and played alongside Robert Johnson, utilized Packer on occasion for the last years of his life, passing on in 2011.
In 2013 Michael Packer performed at the Chicago Blues Festival and Buddy Guy's Legends. Known for his stewardship of the NY Blues Hall of Fame and the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame, as ambassador Mr Packer sought to highlight legendary as well as ‘in the trenches’ blues artists – his belief that the blues as an art form needs to continue to be promoted so that future generations will be able to appreciate the music from which jazz, rock, soul, funk and rap ultimately emanated.
In 2016 Mr Packer formed an international event, Blues for Peace, where blues bands from multiple cities throughout 10 countries performed blues events to benefit the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee relief organization.
When prompted by so many fans and friends to write his life story, Packer instead took to telling his tale in the medium in which he felt most comfortable – recording. Through music and narration, ‘I Am the Blues’ Volume 1 (2013), Volume 2 (2014) and the posthumously released Volume 3 (2017) – are a unique glimpse into his life and times.
Michael Packer was inducted into The New York Blues Hall Of Fame on September 25th, 2011.
He wished to be remembered simply as a Bluesman.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.