The musicians and bands whose careers Eric E. Stanley has supported come together to help him fight cancer. 

Payback Time

Some know Eric E. Stanley as the knowledgeable radio programmer and disc jockey who has brought an entertaining and singular mix of blues, jazz and rock to Richmond's airwaves. Others may know him as the relaxed master of ceremonies who is unsurpassed at getting a dull crowd up and going during band introductions with his unrelenting, "I can't HEAR YOU." And others know him simply as the amiable music-loving guy at the bar who likes to relax over an Absolut or two.

What many do not know is that Stanley, 50, is fighting prostate cancer.

Local musicians will hold a benefit concert on Sunday, Aug. 27, at Alley Katz to help raise money to support Stanley and a charity of his choice. Eight bands are set to play, and music starts at 4 p.m. Donations may also be made to the "Friends of Eric E. Stanley" account at the Consolidated Bank and Trust.

Concert organizer Lee Pillsbury, a longtime friend of Stanley's, says it's a chance to help someone who has given his all to improve Richmond's up-and-down music scene. "I think he's going to be all right …," Pillsbury says, "[but] I just want to put a little cash in the man's pocket."

The bands set to play include some of Stanley's favorites and several he's doggedly promoted through the years through the Bebop, Boogie and Blues Revue live music series he's organized in a number of Richmond bars during the past decade. Plunky and Oneness open the show, and up-and-coming jazz singer Rene Marie follows with her critically acclaimed vocals. Jazz Poets Society hits the stage next and Bio Ritmo follows. One of Stanley's longtime favorite bands, The Nighthawks, is coming down from Washington to lend its support to the effort. Hard rockers Helel follow the 'Hawks. The Deprogrammers will reunite for the show for a set, and Carbomb, Inc. is slated to close things out. Each band will play for about 45 minutes.

It means a great deal to Stanley that so many people are coming together to help him out. "One day you're in a needful situation, and these guys are going, 'I'm going to help this cat,'" he says. "… I'm very humbled by it."

Stanley's love of music is a lifelong affair. As a child growing up in the '50s, his mom owned the Hilltop Restaurant on U.S. 1 in Ashland. The spot was a stop for blues players traveling the chitlin' circuit, and here rural folks could hear the rough-and-raw sounds of Elmore James and Jimmy Reed, while Stanley's uncle sold shots of whiskey. Stanley remembers Reed would sometimes baby-sit him when Eric's mom didn't want her boy underfoot.

After Stanley graduated from high school in 1968, he took an 11-year hiatus from Richmond to explore New York, Detroit and Chicago. He eventually settled in Washington. There he made the club scene, soaking up blues, funk and rock 'n' roll. He also worked at listener-supported WPFW, a radio station with an open-ended format.

Stanley returned to Richmond in 1979 when his dad convinced him to come back to run a restaurant. Instead, Stanley found himself a home on Richmond airwaves. From 1983 to early 2000, Stanley reigned over a number of shows on both AM and FM bands. His playlists covered a colorblind range of styles from gospel to jazz to rock. Blues and funk might follow new wave and hip-hop. Stanley's approach to the typically bland Richmond airwaves may have caused him some problems with station managers, but it earned him respect from his listeners.

Stanley's most recent radio stint was on WCVE, where he worked until January 2000 as one of three jazz programmers. Since then, without a radio slot, he's been selling cars at a local dealership. He hopes the benefit demonstrates to local corporate radio folk that there's a diversity of musical appreciation in the city that should be more closely examined.

"It shows there is a music scene," Stanley says. "… It's deeper than a one-hour local music show … [There's an] artistic spirit that goes beyond format and playlists."

Sunday's benefit was organized to acknowledge Stanley's spirit, and some of the participants freely speak of Stanley's past and continuing importance to the city's music scene.

Mark Wenner, founder and harmonica player for The Nighthawks, has known Eric as a tireless blues promoter. "He's carrying the ball down in Richmond as far as blues goes," Wenner says from his D.C.-area home. "Anytime we've been in town during the last 15 years, he's had something to do with it."

James Talley, leader of the Deprogrammers and former owner of the now-defunct Shockoe Bottom bar, Memphis, says Stanley was one of the first music promoters he met when he came to town from New York in 1992. Stanley talked him into taking chances on some shows in his club, and his instincts proved to be on the mark.

"He was one of the first guys I met when I came back to town," Talley recalls. "He immediately made me feel comfortable with the music and radio scene, and we've just been hanging out ever since."

A longtime personal favorite of Stanley's, The Jazz Poets Society, will also play the benefit. Patrick Mamou, band founder, remembers the group met Stanley at the Underground Railroad in the Bottom and says they have appreciated his strong support. He says the benefit is a "no brainer." If it were for someone else, he says, Eric would be right there with his support.

"He's always been the guy you can call on for advice," Mamou says. "He's a real genuine guy … always been on-point. On a personal level, he's just a cool guy."

Jazz singer Marie remembers that Stanley helped her put her first bands together. "I'm really indebted to him for that," she says. "It made things easier when I first started. I feel it was a very big part of me doing well."

Stanley, who plans to attend the benefit, "as long as absolutely possible," will no doubt be behind many future shows in Richmond. But just this once, really let him hear you good and

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