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Longtime Chicago stagehand Jolly Roger to get a new smile with help from his friends

A GoFundMe campaign has raised over $47,000 from about 400 donors. Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons donated $5,000.

Chris Shaw, better known as Jolly Roger, works on a Chicago stage.
Chris Shaw, better known as Jolly Roger, has worked in the Chicago music scene for decades.
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A legendary stagehand who has worked for decades in the Chicago independent music scene will get a second chance at a new smile, and maybe even help others out in the process.

Jolly Roger, whose real name is Chris Shaw, has toured with acts such as Ministry, Ozzy Osbourne, Cheap Trick and the Pixies. Chances are, you’ve run into this one-man concert-producing machine. He’s worked for Jam Productions, a Chicago-based concert promotion company that hosts shows at the Vic, Riviera Theatre and Aragon Ballroom for over 40 years.

Health care benefits such as dental insurance aren’t something 73-year-old Roger had access to throughout his career. Over the decades he’s had to have teeth pulled because he “did some things wrong” — like smoking for 45 years. He kicked the habit 18 years ago, but he’s now down to four teeth.

“I can’t eat nuts, can’t eat apples unless they’ve been cut up. My daughter keeps trying to feed me kale,” Roger said, chuckling. “Not because of anything other than there’s no way to chew it.”

Chris Shaw, better known as Jolly Roger, has raised over $40,000 for dental work. Shaw is standing in front of a road marker for Fort Shaw.
Chris Shaw, better known as Jolly Roger, has raised over $40,000 for dental work.
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Though Roger was initially hesitant, Geno Byrnes, one of Roger’s friends, persuaded him to create a GoFundMe campaign to pay for his dental work. They said the page reached $20,000 on its first day.

“He’s been in the industry since the ’70s. I met him in 1978,” Byrnes said. “There’s so many bands and people he’s worked with from when they were unknown. He’s beloved.”

Created on March 21, the GoFundMe campaign has raised over $47,000 from close to 400 donors. Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons donated $5,000 to the cause. Most of the donations are coming from Roger’s colleagues in the industry, other stagehands, producers and sound and lighting technicians.

Byrnes said it’s hard to forget Roger because of his size — he stands at 6-foot-8 and at one point weighed 300 pounds — and his caring nature.

“He’s a big man with a booming voice and a big heart. He loves helping the little guy, giving people a second chance,” Byrnes said. “He knows a lot of famous people, but I told him, ‘I think it’s the people you’ve worked with over the years who are going to come together and do this. There’s a lot of people you’ve helped over the years, and I think you’re going to get a little payback.’ And I was right.”

Jolly Roger’s nickname started in high school when classmates began calling him “Jolly” after the Jolly Green Giant. The second name, Roger, came from an unexpected source.

“Gene Simmons (of the band KISS) gave me that name,” Jolly said. “He said, ‘From now on, you’re Jolly Roger.’ And it’s been that way ever since.”

Roger’s dental implants will cost about $40,000. Roger and Byrnes said any money left over will be donated to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 2 of Chicago.

“It’s going to go back to the people who are out of work — the concert industry and the convention industry. They’ve been out of work for 13 months, and they’re dead in the water. He’s giving it back to the people who have helped him, so it’s a full circle,” Byrnes said.

As for the dental work itself, Roger said he’s ready for a new smile.

“That’s the part I’m going to find interesting, is if it’s going to change my looks,” he said. “I know it won’t make me look any better; let’s hope it doesn’t make me look worse.”