Gordon Garcia. Physician, musician, storyteller.
To begin, Gordon loved nicknames. That’s how I became Droodoo, as in voodoo but perhaps a bit like doo-doo too. This led to the rhythmic salutation, “Droodoo, how do you do?” Our mutual friend Felix Luna got dubbed FeeLuna or Brotha Hee, while Gordon himself went by GG or Brother G or sometimes just Gordo.
We acquired these nicknames during our tenure in the University of Houston (UH) big band where the three of us provided the bass, drums and piano for fifteen horn players. Gordo was the only music major in our power trio. Before UH, he’d been a student at UNT, famed for its jazz program, and the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Armed with this elevated band cred, he became our resident storyteller, regaling us rubes with the hilarious and occasionally bitter tales of life among the jazz elite. The dorm room shenanigans on Mass Ave. The politics of lab bands in Denton. He also talked at length about why he loved certain artists. The genius of Prince. The Beatles. Maceo.
There was something in his storytelling, though. A conviction belied by humor and warmth. And he listened intensely when you talked. I knew we’d be friends by the end of our first conversation.
Consistent with his passion for music, the speakers in Gordon’s blue hatchback were never silent when he was behind the wheel. We’d often whirl down the Gulf Freeway in that mobile listening room, his fingers thumping the dashboard. “Listen to that pocket, Droodoo.” You’d feel the rattle of James Brown or the melodic power of Stevie Wonder. On the flip side, he had little interest in the trends that so captivated the other drummers of that era — jazz fusion, prog, etc. Or in musical terms, it was feel over fills, groove over dazzle, qualities that were core to his own playing too.
But his talents ran deeper than just good taste and a great feel. In that same band hall, I once heard Gordon singing “Minute by Minute” in a perfectly affected Michael McDonald rasp. I decided to join in on piano only to realize that he had plucked the record key out of thin air. Poker-faced, I said, “sing another.” He continued with a Beatles tune, which he also got right. I stopped after the third song and said, “OK Gordo, you know you have perfect pitch, right?” He seemed as surprised as I was. Incidentally, Felix has this gene too. And incidentally, I don’t.
Despite these pronounced gifts, Gordon decided to leave music behind and pursue pre-med. I thought he was kidding at first, “Pre-who?” That got cleared up when he got admitted to the UTMB School of Medicine, a school with a 10% acceptance rate. He would later tell me about the grueling orgo and biochem classes he had to conquer before taking the MCAT.
Dr. Garcia graduated in the late ’90s and then moved to San Antonio to take a job with the Air Force. I thought that would be the end of his drumming days but when my wife and I opened a jazz café 150 miles from his home, he became one of our regular weekend performers. Once a musician, always a musician.
I attended his wedding in 2006, just as he had attended mine a decade earlier. Unfortunately we lost touch for a bit afterwards, a downside to my not being on Facebook perhaps. Also, life has a way of blurring time and we all get lost in our own bubbles. But then he surprised me with an out-of-the-blue phone call (“Hey Droodoo….”). His conversations had an instant warming effect; however, when he told me about a sustained bout with cancer and a divorce, I felt awful for not knowing. We made immediate plans to fix this massive gap.
Over lunch a few weeks later, he explained that the cancer had been a rare lymphoma (mycoses fungoides) that took years to properly diagnose and many more to treat. In the end what cured him was a stem cell transplant, one that completely reset his immune system. This meant every outing had to be treated like a war zone. Years before Covid-19 normalized such things, he’d wash his hands with a ferocious thoroughness and when necessary wear a mask too.
In the 2021 novel Between Two Kingdoms, author Suleika Jaouad provides a firsthand account of her own cancer experience and in particular the critical importance of familial support, how she left New York City to move back to her childhood home in Saratoga Springs. When he started his treatments, Gordon did the same. He left San Antonio to move back to his childhood home in Webster. The doctors at MD Anderson may have attended to his health, but it was his family who ultimately revived his spirit. That home was his refuge and they were his nurturers.
When Gordon was finally able to return to work in 2018, I abused the friendship by texting him with various medical questions. Like when I accidentally swallowed glass (“should I worry??”) or when I had hiccups for three days (“Droodoo, I’m writing you a script for Thorazine.” It worked!). He found a practice in Deer Park and was excited to be back at work. I’m pretty sure he was a great doctor.
That year I invited him to our Christmas party where once again we found ourselves sitting in the corner talking the entire time. The primary topic that evening was the new woman in his life. As we chatted his iPhone chirped a stream of back and forth texts. “What do you think, Droodoo?” We parsed meaning into her messages.
Gordon had been the first to arrive and was the last to leave that evening and I am so grateful for every minute of it.
Not long after that night we attended the memorial concert for vocalist Kellye Gray, who we both had played with decades earlier. It was the last time I would ever see him. In September, Felix called with the horrible news that Gordon had passed away unexpectedly after a short illness. A week later we both served as pallbearers for our friend.
Sometimes death makes no sense. His certainly didn’t and eighteen months later I still can’t quite get my head around it. Having played off and on for years at a local synagogue, I thought about the Kaddish. It’s the point during the service when the congregants speak the name of someone they recently lost. Just the name, nothing else. The potency is in what’s not said. That’s how this tribute began: by just writing his name. From there it grew into something much longer, which I’ll now conclude by saying, Rest In Peace Brother G. We had so many more stories to share.
One last thing. While writing this post, I found this old voicemail from Gordo. It begins as always, “Hey Droodoo…”
The reference he makes to Bash is our close mutual friend Sebastian Whittaker (a.k.a., “Bash”) who passed away in 2016. The two of us went to see him in the hospital, at MD Anderson no less, and attended his funeral together afterwards. The benefit he mentions here is one they threw for his mom to help cover his medical costs.