Saxophone takes Hagerstown native Jerry Doyle on life journey
Around Hagerstown, he might be remembered as Jerry Doyle, the kid who played the saxophone since he was 10, was voted “most musical” when he graduated from North Hagerstown High School, and who became known as “Jerry D,” playing with members of Latin-influenced pop band Miami Sound Machine.
But in the music world today, and in his Christian ministry, Music for Life Ministries, Doyle is known as Eirinn Abu, which means “Irish Forever.” He recently spoke with a Herald-Mail reporter from his Florida home about upcoming concerts in the Hagerstown area.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, Doyle will play during morning services at Antrim Brethren in Christ Church in Chambersburg, Pa. The same evening at 6 p.m., he will perform a concert at Ebenezer Church in Greencastle, Pa.
Falling out and back into love with music
Music seemed to be a natural progression in Doyle’s life, he said.
“My parents, my whole family, had a very big musical background, my father’s side,” he said.
His grandfather, Charlie Doyle, played guitar, mandolin, banjo and accordion and worked at the former Moller Pipe Organ Company in Hagerstown.
Doyle played saxophone in elementary and middle school and continued in music with the North Hagerstown High School marching band. He attended Shepherd College, transferred to James Madison University, and eventually moved away from music into medical software sales.
“I was studying jazz at JMU and I think I didn’t like the type of instruction I had. It was a lot like, almost mathematical. To me, that kind of took the art out of the music. It took the soulfulness out of the music. The whole art part just left,” he said. “After I left JMU, I didn’t like music at all.”
He pawned his saxophone and didn’t play for nine years.
His career in the healthcare field led him to Florida and then, in 1992, to Atlanta, Ga.
“All the sudden while living in Atlanta, I found myself in this wonderful music environment. There was great soulful music – R&B, smooth jazz. Kenny G had just started really coming out. There was another sax lady, Candy Dulfer. The style of her music was really soulful.”
Doyle found himself drawn back to his love of music.
“One day, I was out farcing around and I went into a pawn shop to buy some time. I looked up on the wall and there was a professional alto saxophone. I bought it, just on a whim,” he said. “Then I got the fever.”
Breaking into the business
Though he hadn’t played for nine years, he said, his playing seemed better than ever.
“Maybe it was just maturity, my head being able to translate the music,” he said.
He hired a saxophone coach to help him bolster his skills, and began recording at an Atlanta studio.
At 32, he got a new artist contract with Sony Music, he said. His first Jerry D album, titled “Do You Want It,” was picked up by major retailers including Barnes & Noble and the now defunct book and music store Borders.
“It did well, got radio play,” he said. “I got my first song on the radio, then another from there. My career started to take off.”
Members of Miami Sound Machine played on his first record and traveled with him on tour. Today, he has eight records. Among his musical accomplishments, Doyle said he is most proud to be “the first solo country instrumentalist in Nashville.”
“It was actually a really big deal. In Nashville, you played instruments normally to back up vocalists. I got to be on the (Country Music Awards) in 2005. That was a big accomplishment,” he said.
Equally gratifying was working with country legend Dolly Parton.
“She offered to sing with me on my new recording. She sang ‘I Will Always Love You,’” Doyle said. “We walked in the studio. Dolly Parton is waiting on us. It was a serious moment. I was so nervous I couldn’t believe it. She said, ‘I’m going to take you under my wing and help you fly like an eagle,’ and she did.”
Their collaborations featured Doyle playing saxophone on the first verses, with Parton joining in the middle of the songs with vocals.
Doyle said struggles in his personal life over the course of several years led him to shift his focus.
“A lot of people going through storms get the feeling that maybe there is not a way out, but there is hope,” he said. “I believe God had a plan for me to reach a lot of people. So God put me into a platform where I utilize my music as a way of bringing people into that. Now my music ministry reaches millions of people each year.”
Under the name Eirinn Abu, he runs Music for Life Ministries, partnering with about 120 churches worldwide giving concerts and sharing his testimony.
“The concerts are very moving. I joke. We have fun,” Doyle said. “On the other hand, I do my best to touch every emotion that a person has. I’m going to take people from one side to the other. I am sure they are going to be moved and they will feel the spirit of God in the house.”
He plays both Christian and secular music, with many songs from his CD “Ten Love Stories,” an album featuring adaptations of theme songs from films about love. Songs include “Unchained Melody,” “My Heart Will Go On” and “Love Story - Where Do I Begin?”
Looking ahead, Doyle hopes to make one more album highlighting songs that take him “somewhere back in time.” He also would like to arrange a full concert at The Maryland Theatre.
“I’d like to do a fundraiser for (Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.) I feel like there are, like, three of us who left town and have done something really cool in the music world,” he said. “We were fortunate to have great teachers. I want to come back and show people that this is where it all began, in Hagerstown.”