It was August 2002, and I had just received a phone call from my friend Erik asking if I wanted to go with him to Charleston, West Virginia for the evening.
He went on to tell me that a new club had just opened on Kanawha Boulevard, and he was going to make the 45-minute drive to check it out.
I had nothing better to do so I said “sure" and, along with our buddy Chris, we headed out for the highway.
As it would turn out, our destination was the spot that is now known as The Sound Factory.
When we arrived around 7 o’clock that evening and strolled up to the door none other than John Kerwood was there to greet us.
By this point, I hadn’t seen Kerwood in five years, the last time having been while I was still working at Davidson’s Music on Fourth Avenue in Huntington.
He stopped by one afternoon and hit that place like a tornado – literally bouncing off the walls and talking at the speed of sound.
Then, in a split second, he was gone and I hadn't the slightest idea what became of him over the next half decade.
(As it would turn out, he spent those years drifting around Charleston, no doubt plotting his next endeavor.)
Honestly, the Kerwood that I knew existed in the crazy stories and interesting anecdotes that I heard told about him by those whom knew him best.
Frankly, I didn't know whether to believe what I heard or not given the ridiculous nature of those tales.
The first time that I did meet him, however, occurred in the summer of 1994, when I was 17-years-old.
Gumby’s was looking to host its first show outside of the four walls of 1318 4th Ave., and Kerwood and company had set their sights on downtown Huntington’s Harris Riverfront Park.
There were only two problems with this idea:
1. Huntington’s mayor (Jean Dean) was a notorious opponent of the city’s nightlife.
2. The band was Cannibal Corpse.
the thought of holding it downtown was quickly nixed, but the show would go on (at a Building off of Route 60, in Huntington's Pea Ridge neighborhood).
Around this time a childhood friend of mine was hanging out with Kerwood, and he had asked if she knew anyone that could assist in the show’s promotion.
Because she was acutely aware of my growing enthusiasm for the local scene there was no hesitation on her part to inquire if I would be interested in helping out in exchange for free admission to the show.
I agreed, and went with my brother and a couple of friends to meet Kerwood at Gumby's on a Monday afternoon to pick up some promotional materials.
From there we proceeded to blanket the entire City of Huntington with Cannibal Corpse flyers anywhere we thought people would see them - hell, even a tree in Woodmere Cemetery (one of our usual hangouts) was sporting one after we'd finished.
On the day of the show we drove to the venue and, much to our surprise, were turned away at the door because only one of us would be allowed to enter.
So, we declined the offer and went on our way, understandably pissed.
Fast forward eight years later and Kerwood was greeting me at the door of his new venture in Charleston (called Club 812 at the time ) like a long-lost friend, and any animosity that I may have harbored over my denial into that show quickly evaporated.
It's my belief that he had this characteristic that prevented anyone from disliking him; to the contrary, the guy was infinitely likable.
But, it was evident from the start that he was quite proud of his new establishment, and understandably so.
Kerwood was responsible for nearly every detail and personally did much of the work on the club which, as of my last visit in may 2010, appeared to still be intact, perhaps in tribute to him.
On that night in 2002, Kerwood wasted no time in giving us a tour of the joint, complete with a visit to the third floor, which doubled as his living quarters.
(For those whom may not be aware, Kerwood resided above Gumby's at 1318 1/2 4th Ave. until the electricity was finally turned off in February 1995, following the closing of the club by fire inspectors.)
Following our tour, Kerwood informed his bar staff working that night that "anything these guys want is on me."
We spent that night partying long after the bar had closed, and it wasn't until the sun had come up that we finally walked to the car and began the return trip to Huntington.
None of us could have guessed that would be the last time we'd ever see Kerwood alive.
John Kerwood died five months later on December 29, 2002. He was 39-years-old.
I was living in Georgia at the time when I got a phone call from an old friend in January 2003, relaying the grim news.
The saddest part is that, for the first time since his Gumby's days, Kerwood had built something from the ground up for which he could truly be proud again.
Fortunately, The Sound Factory is still alive and well, and as long as that's the case, John Kerwood will always be (at least in my mind).
In fact, during my aforementioned visit to the place in 2010, I couldn't help but think about those whom had gathered there that night and whether they understood how they came to be there…in that moment?
The vast majority of people were well younger than I, so it's highly unlikely they knew the answer to that question.
That, to me, is the biggest motivating factor as to why you're reading this now.
John Kerwood left an indelible mark on both Huntington and Charleston, and his is a legacy that deserves to be celebrated and honored.
I'd like to think that Huntington, West Virginia is a much better place for him having called it home.
The 10th anniversary of John Kerwood's passing is approaching, and because I know that my own story undoubtedly pales in comparison to many others, I encourage you to leave yours.
It's the least you can do for a man that enriched all of our lives.