Keith Grant was born Aubrey Kenneth Grant to Evereen and Elmo Grant on December 22nd, 1958 on a small farm near Dallas, Texas. His family called him Keith, and that became his official legal name for the rest of his life.
In 1974, Oak Park and River Forest High School teacher Tom Graziano called me at asked me to loan one of my acoustic guitars to a student named Keith Grant, for the schools 1940’s “Decades Week.” Keith took part in a group that paid tribute to “The Mills Brothers.” I was a first-year student at Triton College, and I wasn’t happy about loaning my guitar out, but a year earlier, “Jade 50’s” got our start at the very first “Decades Week” … a tribute to the 1950’s. Tom Graziano became our manager, and asked me, as a favor to him, to loan Keith my guitar. I finally agreed.
A few days later, a cute little Black guy rang our doorbell at about 7:00 AM, and that’s the first time I met Keith Grant. I sized him up, handed him my guitar case and asked, “when are you going to bring it back?” He said, “Tomorrow, after school ends.” Later in life Keith and I laughed about our first meeting, and he said he was terrified of me.
In 1975, some of the original members of Jade 50’s informed me that they wanted to continue as fulltime college students, and gave me three weeks’ notice. I needed a drummer, bass player and a guitarist. I knew about a neighborhood kid named Ray LePine, a great drummer, who was the leader of a three piece jazz band. Ray was a friend and classmate of my brother John. I asked John for Ray’s number and called him and asked if he and his band would like to join forces with me in Jade 50’s. With out hesitation they agreed … Ray’s bass player was his brother Danny and his guitarist was Keith Grant.
We had three weeks to put together 4, 45-minutes shows before performing live again. Ray and Keith refer to those rehearsals as the “Adolf Hitler Sessions!” I didn’t need our keyboard player, John Galasek, or Don Rubino and Rich Wayne to come to rehearsals until the three new members knew the show.
Ray, Danny and Keith were Juniors and Seniors in high school and they would come to our family home in River Forest immediately after school. They’d head downstairs to a practice room my parents let us have, called “The Jade Room,” and we’d begin. We’d rehearse for 3 hours, take a dinner break, and resume rehearsal for another 3-hours. I would drive Keith home after rehearsal. In those days, Keith lived with his father in Westmont, but still attended Oak Park and River Forest High School, because his mother lived there. We all knew Keith did not have a cheerful home life, but he always maintained a cheerful, happy outlook on life.
Believe it or not, at the end of three weeks the band was tight, polished and ready to rock. The last few days we began creating “characters” for our new members. Ray LePine, became Jacque LePine, a Canadian Mounted Policeman. Danny became “Danny,” a Chicago greaser, and Keith became “Killer Berry, Chuck Berry’s Nephew.” The nickname “Killer,” would be his nickname for life.
Jade 50’s was the first interracial band to come out of Oak Park.
In the early days of Jade 50’s, I would sing every single song, but with a talent like Keith now in the band, we began to structure our show differently, and soon Keith would be singing all the Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker and Sam Cooke tunes.
When our show producer and choreographer Denis Berkson, replaced Tom Graziano as our manager, he wrote one of the funniest bits for Keith. Keith would come to the front of the stage wearing sunglasses, stumbling to the microphone with help from my brother Jimmy (Bevo Stallone) and sing a Stevie Wonder song and “Georgia” by Ray Charles. Keith did the songs beautifully, however, at the very end, he would reach his hands out, feeling his way off the stage, trip, fall, get up, trip and fall again and crawl off the stage, as the audience roared with laughter. We were very “politically incorrect,” and folks LOVED it. Keith was becoming a beloved star in Jade 50’s.
Keith was living with our family in River Forest by 1976 and in June of 1977 Keith with the rest of our Jade 50’s family, were the ushers at Carolyn and my wedding. By that point, all of my ten brothers and sisters adopted Keith as our 12th sibling. Keith lived on the third floor with a private bedroom and bathroom.
We all just loved him, and Keith referred to my parents as “Mom and Dad,” which they loved.
With the success Keith had with the songs he was already performing, Denis Berkson came up with another genius idea. Denis had Keith, Jimmy and me dress in silver gowns with wigs, and we did a tribute to “The Supremes.” Keith was Diana Ross, and folks would watch in amazement as we performed a medley of The Supremes top hit songs perfectly, with the exact same Supremes “moves.”
Then our manager Denis Berkson had Keith put on a “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” over his clothes with a wig, and I would sing that song, which ended with Keith doing a striptease, peeling off the bikini. Hilarious!
Jade 50’s was the band that Paramount Pictures picked to perform at the premiere of the movie-musical “Grease,” at the Chicago Theater. We performed at several premiere’s in the Midwest, which gave us an idea. The movie was such a blockbuster hit, and songs from the film were reaching the “Top 10” on the Billboard Charts, that we added two of those songs to our show; “Summer Lovin” and “You’re the One That I Want:” Keith was Sandy! The bit was once again, hilarious and became a “show stopper.” It was Keith who made it funny.
Soon we were offered the job to perform with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Chubby Checker on the Main Stage at a new event in the city of Chicago, called “ChicagoFest.” It was a dream come true for us all. I can remember talking with Chuck Berry before the show, and telling him that we called Keith, “Killer Berry – Chuck Berry’s Nephew.” With a surprised look on his face, and after sizing Keith up and down for a few seconds, Chuck said … “Cool.”
Later that summer we received a call from “Marriott's Great America” in Gurnee, IL to perform eight shows with Dion over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and return the following weekend to do the same with Tommy James and the Shondells as part of “Wolfman Jack’s Rockin’ Oldies Show.” As with everyone who met Keith, Wolfman Jack LOVED him.
By the end of 1979, Ray, Joey Giovannini, Bob Reaumond and Keith had enough of touring coast to coast, without a break, and opted out of Jade 50’s.
After a few months, Keith ended up joining our friends Rick Saucedo and the Fabulous Ambassadors as their lead guitarist and vocalist. We would still see each other at various shows, and Keith still spent his Holidays with our family.
After 14 years, Jade 50’s broke up, and I decided to perform in a band called “The Joe Cantafio Band.” Keith Grant became our bass player and vocalist, that band morphed into “The Giant Killers” with a seven piece horn section and featuring former Cheap Trick bassist Jon Brant, rocker Phil Miller, drummer Mike Arturi and keyboardist Paul Coscino … Keith Grant was also on guitar and vocals.
Keith moved in with my wife and family as he reorganized his life a bit, but it was great to have him in the house, knowing he had a warm bed and three squares. Carolyn, Keith and I would laugh together nightly and play Scrabble after the girls went to bed. My daughters called him Uncle Keith for their entire lives.
After a few years Keith climbed back on his feet and moved out on his own, always keeping in touch. He continued to spend every Holiday with our family, and when I divorced, he and I would spend the Holidays together with my daughters.
Keith was a Huge Chicago Bears and Bulls fan, he didn’t care that much for baseball, but he’d sit and watch it with me, and we’d talk about everything, except baseball, during the games.
Keith and I headed in different musical directions for a while, but we missed each other a lot, so every Sunday, for almost 4-years we’d have Brunch together at Rosie O’Hare’s in East Dundee.
That’s one of the things I’ll miss the most. Those long, 3-4 hour lunches and dinners when we’d talk and have deep discussions about everything in life. Keith was a very smart, self-educated man. He was well versed in computers, music, sports, politics, American Military and 1st Responders. He read constantly, and he was one of the funniest people I have ever met, and I’ve met some very funny people during my life.
When I turned sixty-five, I decided to have both knees replaced. I took a few months to recuperate but I soon could stand and walk without pain and decided to perform again. I ended up being booked to perform at a fundraiser for the Illinois Rock and Roll Museum on Rte. 66. My old friend Jimmy Tsicouris asked me to perform a short set representing JADE 50’s. When Jimy Sohns of the Shadows of Knight learned that I was going to perform there, he asked if I would perform with him, which I did.
After the show Jimy and his wife Kathy asked if Jimy could join me for a few shows per month. I explained to him that my shows were just me alone with a guitar, and he said that was exactly what he wanted to do. However, before we did the first show together, I decided to bring in Keith Grant on guitar and vocals, and it sounded great and Jimy loved it and loved Keith.
For the last 9-months of Jimy’s life the three of us performed about 2 or 3 dozen times together. On Jimy’s final show Keith and I joined The Cave Dwellers and performed with Jimy.
Keith would join me occasionally and perform next to me at many of my shows. He began doing shows with other local artists as well … and he was having fun again.
When Mike Arturi and I decided to put Jade 50’s back together again, we knew, there could not be a “Jade 50’s” without “The Killer.”
Keith was the best sidekick I could ever imagine. He played the guitar like ringing a bell, he could sing like an angel, he could deliver comedy, melt into a ballad, and then tear the roof off of a theater with his version of Johnny B. Goode, complete with the Chuck Berry duckwalk.
He’d light up the audience with his infectious smile. He never just said “Hi,” to people, and walked by, he’d stop, sit down and he took his time with anyone who wanted to talk with him.
About 12-years ago, Keith and Rose found each other, they moved in together, and became best friends. Rose and I became friends and occasionally Rose would join Keith and me for Sunday Brunch, and the three of us would laugh for hours.
This past September Keith began to feel sick, he mentioned that to a lot of our friends. Jade 50’s bassist, Joey Giovannini, helped Keith register for Social Security, Medicare and a supplement insurance plan.
In mid-December Keith finally went to see a doctor. He never told anyone what the doctor had told him after the examination, but on Christmas morning when he showed up at my home, he said that he had quit smoking and drinking and didn’t even want any coffee. We all thought that was great, and he said he went cold turkey two weeks earlier.
We talked again on New Years Day to wish each other a Happy New Year, and on January 18th we were scheduled to rehearse for our upcoming Jade 50’s shows. Keith called me that morning, coughing and wheezing badly. He had pneumonia and he said that his antibiotics were not working, and he had to go to the hospital for better medication. He said he would call me the following Monday.
On Monday January 22nd Keith called and sounded great. His voice was clear, his mood was happy and he wanted to know if he and I should get together and rehearse. I told him “nawww, we’ll get to Peoria early, run the whole show with the band, take a nap at the hotel, have dinner together and do the show.”
On Sunday morning, January 28th, I was driving to pick up my sister Monica and brother Frank. At 8:59 AM my phone rang. On the screen the name read “Rose.” Rose had never called me before. I answered, “Rose???” and she started crying, and I screamed “NOOOOOO.”
The results of the autopsy stated that Keith had a heart attack.
Keith Grant was a guy who was loved by so many people, he touched so many lives. He made people happy, and made people feel good. He was kind to everyone; he was a gentle-man and a gentleman. He was given an abundance of talent by God, and he used it to the best of his ability.
He was the last guest to leave Christmas night. I gave him his “Lasagna Care Package” that my daughters prepared for him. We hugged each other, kissed each other’s cheeks, as we have done our whole lives, and we told each other “I love you.”
That was the last time I saw him. I wish I could hug him one more time and kiss his cheek again.
I love you Killer … I’ll see you again on the other side. ~ Joe Cantafio
There will be a Memorial Mass at Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church ~ Monday, February 19, 2024. Visitation begins in the Gathering Space at 10:00 AM, followed by Mass at 11:00 AM ~ 845 W Main St., West Dundee, IL 60118 (Near Routes 31 and 72.) A “Celebration of Life” will immediately follow the church service at Rosie O’Hare’s, located at 702 Water St., East Dundee, IL 60118.
ALL ARE WELCOME!
Arrangements entrusted to Chicagoland Cremation Options in Schiller Park, Illinois.