A Memorial Tribute: Local musician Jeff Humphrey dies way too young at age 43

Kearny native loved sharing music with others

By Kevin Canessa Jr.
Observer Correspondent

Jeff Humphrey loved music. He loved it so much that all he ever wanted to do was share his love for music with everyone he knew.

Humphrey, a longtime Kearny resident, died Monday, June 9, in a crash along the New Jersey Turnpike in Carlstadt.

He was only 43.

Humphrey had an incredible love for rock ‘n’ roll at a very young age. When we first met in 1985, there were countless times when I’d come to his house to visit my friend and his brother, current Kearny Library Director Josh Humphrey, when he tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to listen to Led Zeppelin.

I always declined.

Finally, one day, while I was at his house on Devon St., he put on “Stairway to Heaven.” And I listened to it in its entirety. I was hooked. That day, he taught me a concept I’d never heard of before — splitting the music.

Put on a pair of headphones, and in one side, you’d hear the instruments. In the other side, it was just the vocals. This was a common practice in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but I had never known of it.

It was the first of many things Jeff Humphrey taught me about music — and so much more beyond music.

Many years later, Jeff would go on to form the Jeff Humphrey Trio, a band, I regret, to this very day, that I never heard play live. But they certainly played a lot — including right here in West Hudson.

They recorded a lot, too, including covers of songs written by other bands — and some that Jeff, himself, wrote.

A few years back, Jeff was involved in a contest with Rolling Stone magazine. He was interviewed by the magazine, and was asked why music was so important to him — and why he was in the contest in the first place. And to no one’s surprise — again, it was about sharing music with others, especially those who might not have had an appreciation for it — or for people who might think music isn’t important because they don’t play an instrument or aren’t all that skilled at singing.

“I would hope it would encourage people to get out and sing, and write songs, and be together,” he told Rolling Stone. “I certainly don’t have the best voice and you don’t have to, either, or you can — but it’s a great experience to get out and to share (it) with people.”

Remarkably, music was only a hobby for him. In reality, he was a med-tech instructor at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. But the truth is, very little mattered more to Jeff than his family, his children, making people laugh and music.

When this writer first moved to Kearny in ’85, I was 12 — and Jeff was 16. He took me under his wing and it didn’t matter one bit that I was four years his younger. All he ever cared about was that the people he knew and loved were happy — and had a better appreciation for music because of his influence.

And while it is absolutely true many people’s appreciation for music grew because of Jeff, I can say, without hesitation, that my appreciation for laughter, loving people and loving life, grew exponentially because of his incredible influence.

He was a gentle soul. He was a great friend. He was a magnificent father. And probably to his delight, he’ll always be remembered as a talented musician. Beyond the music, he knew he was succeeding when he got people to laugh. And Lord knows, he did that better than most others.

There was a memorial service for Jeff this past weekend in Kearny at the Armitage & Wiggins Funeral Home and, later, at the Kearny VFW. And while I wasn’t able to be there because of geography, I’m told there was a lot of music involved. Mourners came wearing Beatles shirts — and shirts of other musicians and bands.

Stories were told and shared about his love for music — and the musicians he loved.

It was as fitting a tribute to the man as there ever could have been.

Jeff Humphrey left this world way too soon at 43. But in West Hudson, he leaves behind a musical legacy that will be hard for others to match, let alone surpass — and a void no one will ever be able to fill.

That so many came out to remember him was a sign that he wasn’t just a fine musician — he was a wonderful human being, all the same.

West Hudson may not be well known for its musical talents — but one thing is for sure: The scene will never be the same again now that Jeff Humphrey is no longer here.

The next time you hear “Stairway to Heaven,” think of Jeff. I always do when I hear it. But this time, think a little differently.

Because that “Stairway to Heaven” was ready to greet him a little more than a week ago when he died. And when he got on it, though this world was much sadder without him, Heaven became such a much better and happier place.

Rest in peace, Jeff.

Our world will never be the same again without you.

Jeff Humphrey is survived by his former wife, Kathy; two daughters, Madeline and Leah; his parents, Linda and Willard Humphrey; his brother, Josh Humphrey and his wife, Jennifer; his nieces Cate and Anna Humphrey; and many other aunts, uncles and cousins.

The family requests donations be made to www.hungryformusic.org, an organization that provides instruments to children whose families otherwise couldn’t afford them.

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