He was a talented songwriter with an indomitable spirit — a man who buoyed anyone who met him. John Jarrard put stories to music for George Strait, Alabama, Don Williams and Diamond Rio, but his greatest story may have been his own.
After battling diabetes for years and losing his eyesight, both his legs and kidneys to the disease, Jarrard, 47, died Thursday (Feb. 1) in a Nashville hospital. He had been hospitalized since Jan. 1 for what he thought was just a bad chest cold or pneumonia. His death was caused by respiratory failure brought on by a drug reaction and not complications from the disease that plagued him for most of his life.
“It’s really a postscript to his life that he beat diabetes, which he was determined to do,” his wife, Janet Jarrard, told country.com. “The key to his spirit was that he knew he was not his body. He just loved life and being a songwriter, and he had to keep going no matter what.”
Raised in Gainesville, Ga., Jarrard came to Nashville 22 years ago to pursue the dream of becoming a professional songwriter. He lost his eyesight to diabetes at 27, a tragedy that did not stop him from making the rounds on Music Row. He hired an instructor to train him to traverse 16th and 17th Avenues, and he walked the streets every day trying to get his songs heard.
Jarrard went on to co-write hits like “Blue Clear Sky” for Strait, “Sure Can Smell the Rain” for BlackHawk, and “Mirror, Mirror” for Diamond Rio. His favorites, however, were lesser known cuts by Williams (“Nobody but You”) and Rob Crosby (“That’s What I Am”), according to childhood friend Bruce Burch, songwriter and creative director for EMI Publishing. Burch calls Jarrard an “incredible genius of a songwriter.”
“He had his own style, and it was a real heartfelt style,” Burch said. “It crossed boundaries. He would write country songs, but he would also write blues songs and gospel songs. He had cuts by Little Milton, the blues artist. He wrote from the heart because he lived most of his songs.”
Jarrard continued writing despite having a kidney and pancreas transplant in 1990. He underwent a second kidney transplant in 1997 after the first donor organ failed. Through it all he continued to collaborate with noted Nashville writers including Bob DiPiero, Kenny Beard and Mark D. Sanders.
“Music was his medicine,” said Mrs. Jarrard. “He loved the camaraderie and fellowship of writing with other writers. He just decided that nothing would stop him.”
A memorial service for Jarrard will be held at 11 a.m. next Saturday (Feb. 10) at First Church Unity, 5125 Franklin Road in Nashville. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Diabetes Association, 4205 Hillsboro Road, Suite 200, Nashville, TN 37215-3339 or to Possibility Incorporated, P.O. Box 150005, Nashville, TN 37215.