For most of last week, it was sad news for followers of Fresno’s music scene, as social media pages filled up with memorials to two well-known performers.
The first was Geoff Thurman, who died Jan. 12 after being hospitalized for an emergency surgery. He was 59.
That news was followed quickly by the death of Jonathan Mahaffey. The singer and guitarist (also 59) was found behind a Round Table Pizza in northeast Fresno on Jan. 17. The city’s police department said he had been shot and is investigating his death.
Mahaffey graduated from Hoover High School and became a part of Fresno’s rock scene in the late 1970s with his band The Roids. Over the years, he became known mostly as a solo artist, writing and recording raspy-voiced blues tunes and performing at bars and clubs around town.
“There was a built-in charisma in his music,” said Central Valley Blues Society president Don Heflin. He remembers meeting Mahaffey as teenager at a concert at Roeding Park. Years later, they played together in The Roids.
Heflin counts his work with Mahaffey as some of the best of his career.
Mahaffey was not without his demons, Heflin said. While the two remained friends after the Roids, Mahaffey floated in and out of Heflin’s life, often inviting him to lengthy recording sessions – some lasted as long as 24 hours – then disappearing for a month at a time.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help Mahaffey’s family with funeral expenses. A memorial is being planned for next month, Heflin says.
Thurman was comparatively new to Fresno.
He moved here in 2011 from Nashville, where he had worked as a record producer and songwriter, alongside artists like Amy Grant (he also accompanied Ricky Skaggs at The Ryman Auditorium, if you need evidence of his cred).
Thurman was eager to become part of the local scene, said Michael Keeney Sr., who remembers getting multiple calls from the musician asking for a spot on one of Keeney’s infamous showcase concerts. He agreed to let Thurman play in between sets.
“He blew everybody away,” Keeney says. Thurman became a staple at the Keeney Nation concerts and put together a seven-piece jazz/pop jam band that gigged around town.
He also became an adoptive member of the Keeney family.
And he stayed that way.
“I’ve had 17 surgeries over the last three years,” Keeney said.
“After every one of them, Geoff was there in the room when I woke up.”
A songwriter memorial will be held for Thurman 1 p.m. Feb. 11 at K-Jewel Art Gallery in the One Putt building downtown. A second tribute will be held Feb. 18 at Fulton 55. That will be the “loud one,” Keeney says.
A third memorial will be held in Nashville on Feb. 24, according to a Facebook post from Thurman’s family.