Most people know Jay McDaniel, aka Jay Mac, as a radio personality, the DJ who spins classic rawk favorites evenings 6 to 11 on 103.5-WIMZ; a few know her, too, as a powerhouse performer in her own right, a formidable blues belter who has guested on stage with a number of local blues and rock outfits, and who fronts her own Jay McDaniel Band.
Fewer still know her as a parent, the hard-working mom of a 12-year-old son, Collin, who suffers from autism. The latter role is closest to her heart, and so it is that she’s found a way to use her job and her talents in service of helping her son and others like him, kids who suffer from autism, a puzzling and singularly frustrating neural development disorder.
Jay Mac and her band along with WIMZ will host an evening entitled “For Those About to Rock (A salute to the guitar-slingers of rock for autism awareness)” on Oct. 17 at 10 p.m. in Scruffy City Hall. The night will see a host of celebrated local axe manglers join Jay Mac’s band on stage and pay tribute to select six-string icons, from Hendrix and Page to Van Halen and Angus Young.
Autism is a widely misunderstood condition, in part because even doctors and researchers are uncertain as to how and why it manifests. Symptoms can be profoundly different from one sufferer to the next; in the case of Jay Mac’s son Collin, at age 12, he has never spoken a word.
“He’s very smart, and he wants to communicate, but he can’t,” she says. “So it’s very frustrating for him. Some kids can speak. There are different levels of affliction; the spectrum of disease is huge. In my son’s case, it happens to be pretty severe.”
Jay Mac started putting together autism benefits six years ago. Her first efforts were motorcycle rallies. Then, three years ago, she decided to change tacks, and started promoting rock ‘n’ roll tribute shows.
The first couple of shows featured tributes to Pearl Jam, and then Jimi Hendrix, with several area bands taking the stage each night and performing the songs of those artists. This year, she’s changing things up yet again, this time by keeping her own band onstage for the duration of the evening, and having guest guitar players join them for select tribute sets.
“I’ve been around here eight years now, and I know the music scene pretty well,” says Jay Mac. “I’ve met some great people, and some great players.
“There’s a lot of down time when you’re changing out bands, so we thought, instead of having different bands, we’ll just get different guitar players. I got with each of the players I wanted and we picked out with each one what songs would work for them.”
The evening’s set list was mostly culled from the WIMZ playlist, with a few of the individual guest guitarists’ favorites thrown as well. Participating players will include Evan Melgaard (The Reigns Band); Preservation Pub regular J.C. Haun (J.C. and the Dirty Smokers); new-guy-in-town Johnny Monster; Doug Shanklin and Chris Johnson (past and current guitarists for Left Foot Dave and the Magic Hats) along with Jay McDaniel regulars Martin Geppertt and Stevie Jones.
A native Kansan, Jay Mac herself hails from a musical family; her father was a bass player, active in her hometown music scene. “I grew up around music and musicians and band practices, going early to shows to help set up sound,” she says. Her own endeavors began at age 4 when her mother made her sing in church.
Despite her Midwestern roots, Jay Mac now considers herself a Knoxvillian, through and through. “We moved up here and decided we couldn’t leave,” she laughs.
The For Those About to Rock Autism Awareness benefit will be at Scruffy City Hall Friday Oct. 17 at 10 p.m.