Jeremy Tepper, Alt-Country Impressario, Dies at 60

Jeremy Tepper, who over a long and varied career as a journalist, singer, label owner and radio producer championed the anarchic, high-energy music that straddled the lines separating country, rock, punk and plain old Americana, died on June 14 in Queens. He was 60.

His wife, the musician Laura Cantrell, said the cause of death, at Elmhurst Hospital, was a heart attack.

Born in upstate New York and educated in Manhattan, Mr. Tepper was perhaps an unlikely apostle for a style of music variously called alt- or outlaw country, but which he preferred to call “rig rock” — the sort of sounds favored by long-haul truck drivers.

Far from the big hats and ostrich-skin boots of Nashville’s Lower Broadway, it is the music one might hear coming from honky-tonks, jukeboxes, truck stops and big-rig radios, the greasy corners of Americana that Mr. Tepper celebrated with unironic joy.

“It is taking all that truck-driving music — streamlined, guitar-based country rock — and dragging it onto the modern interstate,” he told Newsday in 1990.

Mr. Tepper was rig-rock’s greatest fan and biggest booster. He wrote about it for publications like Pulse and The Journal of Country Music, and for his own magazine, Street Beat, which was dedicated to jukeboxes and the music one found in them.

His record label, Diesel Only, promoted the careers of artists like Dale Watson, Ms. Cantrell and his own band, the World Famous Blue Jays. It also released compilations of truckin’ classics by artists like Buck Owens, Marty Stuart and Steve Earle.

“Jeremy was always joyful, kind and gracious with his time and effort,” said the musician Jason Isbell. “So many of us never would’ve found our audience without his tireless work and curiosity.”

Mr. Tepper was best known for his roles at SiriusXM, first as a host in the early 2000s and, since 2004, as the programmer, producer and all-around impresario behind the Outlaw Country and Willie’s Roadhouse channels.

He brought on musicians as D.J.s, including Shooter Jennings, Elizabeth Cook and Mojo Nixon, to play an eclectic blend of Jimmie Rodgers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lucinda Williams and the Old 97’s.

“Jeremy championed artists who colored in and outside the lines of mainstream music,” said Emmylou Harris, another artist in heavy rotation on Mr. Tepper’s channels.

A ubiquitous presence at bars, festivals and award shows, Mr. Tepper made connections and introductions, knitting together a community around his favorite music.

“He was the first one to bring me onto Willie Nelson’s bus and introduce me to him,” the musician Margo Price wrote in an email. “It was at Farm Aid in 2016. The first time I ever smoked a doobie with Willie, Jeremy Tepper was the only other person on the bus with us.”

For the last decade, he corralled many of his favorite acts to join the Outlaw Country Cruise, a raucous, nine-day voyage around the Caribbean along with 1,200 excited fans — though no one was more excited to be there than Mr. Tepper.

“Jeremy loved music more than anybody else I’ve ever known,” Mr. Earle said in an email.

The love went beyond the music. Mr. Tepper relished the blue-collar culture of the American highway. While attending college in the 1980s, he worked part time for trade magazines that could be found in the nation’s interstate pit stops, like Main Event, about pro wrestling, and Vending Times, focused on pinball machines, jukeboxes and all manner of things coin-operated.

During that time he fronted the World Famous Blue Jays, a country band that grew out of the anarchic blend of punk, rock and roots music that bubbled up from Manhattan’s East Village in the 1980s. He was, as Spin magazine wrote in 1992, “a 28-year-old giant of a man with a voice as thick as tar.”

Their songs celebrated the working-class life of the open road, especially the men and women piloting 18-wheelers back and forth across the country.

In one song, “Good Morning, Mr. Trucker,” Mr. Tepper exclaimed, “It’s not that I like driving — it’s the only thing I can do.”

Jeremy Evan Tepper was born on Nov. 18, 1963, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to Elly (Zeitlin) Tepper, an artist and educator, and Noel Tepper, a lawyer.

His passion for Americana bloomed in high school, when he worked part time at a record store while also diving through his parents’ collection of country albums. Like many suburban boys of the late 1970s and early ’80s, he was drawn to the manic power of punk and post-punk music, and he found a similar energy in the likes of Johnny Cash, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.

He studied journalism at New York University. By then he was an editor for Modern Truck Stop, a trade magazine, as well as Vending Times, where he became a senior editor after graduating in 1986. He founded Diesel Only in 1990.

He married Ms. Cantrell in 1997. Along with her, he is survived by their daughter, Isabella; two grandchildren from a previous relationship; his parents; and his brother, Anderson.

Mr. Tepper remained a staple in the alt-country scene until his death. On June 12, he was at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for the opening of an exhibit dedicated to his close friend Mojo Nixon, who died in February during an Outlaw Country Cruise.

And he continued to mount the stage, in the squatting, mike-to-mouth pose of a punk rocker, belting out joyfully weird songs about flying saucers, barbecue and big rigs.

“This isn’t camp,” Mr. Tepper told Spin. “This is alternative country music.”

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