AMERICUS — The music and magic worlds, along with friends in Americus, are feeling sadness for the passing of Americus native Tabby Crabb, who experienced success as a musician, record producer, magician, photographer, filmmaker and author.
Crabb, who died Monday at his Leslie home, was a 1963 graduate of Americus High School and went on to Georgia Southwestern College to graduate with the first class under the four-year degree track in 1968, with a bachelor’s of science in political science. After leaving college, Crabb soon learned that the corporate world was no place for his free spirit and creative style.
Since he had been playing music since an early age, Crabb went on the road in 1970, to pursue a career in the music industry. He achieved some fame as part of the original Urban Cowboy Band with Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee, as well as a small part in the movie “Urban Cowboy.” He recorded his first single with LOBO Records in 1983, “Among Grandma’s Souvenirs” — a song about his grandmother’s passing which was the Pick Hit of the Week in Billboard Magazine.
As a solo artist, Crabb opened for such country artists as Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Loretta Lynn. He later decided to settle down and enjoy a more behind-the-scenes role as he built his own recording studio, Flatwood Studio, outside of Nashville, Tenn., which he operated for 20 years working with more than 100 artists. While in Nashville, he worked with such country music notables as Keith Urban and Naomi Judd, just to name a few.
In 2007, Crabb and his wife Gloria moved back to Sumter County to care for his mother, Gladys Crabb. He then had time to work on other interests such as film making and photography.
In addition, Crabb discovered another talent as an author. His first book, “Hometown Americus Georgia: Life and Times — My Side Of The Story,” humorously discusses his growing-up years in Americus and also his eclectic adult life as musician, film and video producer, tugboat deckhand, teacher, movie extra and owner and operator of Flatwood Recording Studio in Lebanon, Tenn.
He was nominated for the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award from the Georgia Writers Association for this book after writing the 210 pages in three weeks during December 2008. Crabb went on to write four other books including “Greenhorn’s Guide to the Art of Fiddling,” “More from My Hometown Americus Georgia,” “Tabman Magic,” and “Music River of Life: How To Survive The Music Business and Have Fun.”
Crabb is also the father of two sons, Tal and Brent, and has three grandchildren.
Several of his friends offered their comments Tuesday on Crabb and the memories they have of him.
Longtime friend and fellow Americus High School graduate Bill Murray said, “As long as I knew Tabby he was in and around music. When we were growing up I always thought that he was fun to be around. He was above all a loyal friend. His magician’s practice was, I believe, part of his enjoyment of joshing and astonishing folks.
Peter Biro, one of America’s premiere professional magicians, rates Tabby highly as a magician.
“Tabby came from a respectable Americus family, but was willing to leave the comfort and security of that to pursue his passions. He was always ambitious to achieve in music. His unending pursuit of this deepest inspiration for him sometimes led to hardships that many people in Americus who had lost track of Tabby did not know about. But he was single-minded and unflagging.
“Those years formed the Tabby we met up with again upon his return to Americus in about 2007. But the old twinkle was still in his eye.
“In high school he could really tap out ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ A little later, I heard Louis Armstrong live play Tabby’s ‘Saints’ at the University of Georgia. But he didn’t play it the way Tabby played it. The whole time I could only think of Tabby. That was his song. That was his independence and bravery. For a long time he has been for me one of the saints ‘going marching in.’ You can really love a fellow like that.”
Gregg Kane, another longtime friend and a fellow musician, recalls some of Crabb’s musical success in a phone interview Tuesday.
Kane said, “We were best friends since about ‘82. We came to Nashville together. He came from Texas, and I came from Oklahoma. And he played banjo, piano and steel in a band called Memphis. ... Several of the members of that group have played with Elvis, and it was really one of the hottest groups at that time.”
Kane also admired the personal attributes and character traits that Crabb possessed, as well as his ability to offer assistance to others in need.
“The things about Tabby personally that made him a mentor to so many people was his honesty (and) his abiding belief in the good of human nature — even when people let him down he would give them a second chance — that was the good thing about him is that he gave so many chances to people at his expense.
“He was a real mentor to countless young and developing talented people of all kinds. ... He taught that you could be a winner without compromising your principles, and that’s a real important message for young people. So, Tabby always stood by that and he was well respected because of it,” Kane said.
Kane also recalls Crabb’s ability to find success in every type of situation.
“He was always brilliant at coming up with a sideways approach to something. One of first people I knew to be on eBay and be active on it. He was always on the cutting edge of things,” Kane said. “... He was so multifaceted and multitalented. ... He was a visionary. He would see something and he would get a vision for it, and he was great at bringing that to fruition. And that’s the mark of a truly successful person.”
Kane says that he and Crabb had been hoping to one day fulfill Crabb’s dream of boating down the Mississippi River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
“... It’s really a shame not to have him in my life anymore. It’s a great loss to me. Great men and good friends are in short supply,” Kane said Tuesday.
Another close friend who also worked professionally with Crabb was magician Pete Biro who said, “Tabby and I go back a long ways as friends through magic. His workmanship and making props for magic is truly wonderful; ... magicians all over the world enjoyed his equipment. And he’s really gonna be missed, not only in the magic world but the music world.
“He was a kind guy ... it was never about the money; it was about making the props right.”
Although Biro lives in Los Angeles, he and his wife have visited Crabb and Gloria several times over the years and kept in contact.
“We’ve all been good friends even though we live so far apart, but we corresponded constantly.
“We’re just really gonna miss him. I had gotten e-mails almost daily from him, (and) it was so nice to visit him and Gloria in Leslie last month.
“I’m still pretty upset (about his passing). Gloria called just after he passed away (Monday).”
An Americus local who also lived near Crabb for several years is Jimmy Poole. Poole, who says he’s known Crabb about “40-something years” says they shared a similar interest in photography.
“He was really very talented. We shared a love of photography,” Poole said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He was always wanting to show me his new camera, and I was interested in that kind of thing, too.
“I lost track of him and he went to Nashville to make his fame and fortune. He was an all-around great guy,” Poole said.
One short one: Christmas Eve 1972, Hue, South Vietnam. There were only 200 Marines left defending the main military compound in Hue--the US had all but handed over the defense of that former capital to the Vietnamese. We played a show for 100 of the Marines, and they choppered those guys back to their posts and flew the other 100 in for the second show. All of the Marines were short-timers, headed home soon. We ended each show with Silent Night, Tabby played it real pretty with a mute on the banjo (sounded like a harpsichord). Anyway there was not a dry eye in the house, we all sang (Marines included) and we all cried. One of the most spiritual and uplifting moments of my entire life...with Tabby.
- Steve Hill