Trading `rock' for `country'. A geology professor hits the road as a musician's truck driver

IT was a sun-filled August day, and the breeze rustled the brilliant green and peaked tenting of the summer musical circus. A crew of motley-dressed young people rushed about on the theater-in-the-round stage, setting up lighting and shooting each other with water machine guns.

As I waited for Russ Jacoby to drive up, I wanted him to be working for a rock band - he's a professor of geology, you see.

But no, his summertime boss is country-pop singer/composer Eddie Rabbitt.

Mr. Jacoby's employer first became known when he wrote a song called ``Kentucky Rain,'' recorded by Elvis Presley in 1970. Mr. Rabbitt has since done two network specials and a successful commercial, and has just finished writing a new album, about to be released.

Sporting Nashville license plates, Jacoby's white rental truck carrying Rabbitt's sound equipment pulled into the parking lot two hours late - from Texas and Maryland and Toronto and New York. The truck backed around while the playful crew deserted the dampened stage and swarmed over to the tailgate.

Jacoby emerged from the cab to supervise unloading.

When he finally climbed off the tailgate a half-hour later, I picked up a piece of gravel and, for openers, I took it over to him and asked him what kind of rock it was.

We'd never met before - he didn't know who I was or how I got there - but Jacoby never missed a beat.

He said something about having neither his magnifying glass to get a close look at the rock nor his hammer to break it with.

I decided to stop the ruse right then and tell him I was there for an interview with the unlikeliest musician's truck driver imaginable.

Jacoby grew up in a coal-mining district of eastern Pennsylvania and won a football scholarship to Syracuse University.

Later on, he attended Queens University in Toronto to earn his PhD in high-grade metamorphic geology.

After teaching at Central Missouri State University, he moved on to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., where he has now been for 16 years.

During the school term, that is.

Driving summers for a country-pop musician gives Jacoby a radical change from the rigors of academia.

Last year he covered 44 states with the tour and drove about 24,000 miles in less than eight weeks.

Nevertheless, on the way he gets to see - and sometimes inspect - geological items or formations that previously he has only read about or taught.

``Last summer,'' he says, ``within about 10 days I was up in the Great Lakes area, went up the back side of the Rockies, down the front side, up the Sierra Nevada, down the back side into California.

``A few days later I was going through the Mojave Desert with no air conditioner.

``I got to see the Columbia River basalts, the volcanic flows up in Washington. A lot of this stuff I teach sort of academically, and had never seen it.''

How did a professor of geology get into this business?

``My best friend,'' Jacoby explains, ``was a fellow I grew up with since grade school.

``He's Eddie's road manager ... got tied up with Eddie about 10 years ago. And I hadn't really seen him in quite some time.''

One Christmas when they were both back in their hometown, Jacoby continues, this friend explained how they hired a truck driver to get the sound equipment around each summer.

``I said, `I'm not teaching summer school this summer.'

``He said, `If you want the job, you can have it.'

``So that's how I did it.

``I didn't realize Eddie was a songwriter for years and years before he actually became a performer.

``Some of the tunes of Eddie's I knew, but I wouldn't have been able to tell you the artist.''

Jacoby's previous summer jobs have been a little more traditional.

``For about 15 summers I went up north - Labrador, James Bay, Hudson Bay,'' he explains.

``I did geology.

``When I was in Alaska, I was working for a bunch of the native Americans for the Land Claims Settlement Act - evaluating their mineral deposits.

``The government decided to give some of their land back.

``What the government did was give them tens of thousands of acres, and said, `Out of this you may have a certain portion.'

``So the native Americans hired foresters, land use planners, fishery people, geologists - and said to `take a look at all the government is offering, so that when we have to make a choice, we can.'''

And does Jacoby like driving?

``Yea, you see so much.

``I stop at truck stops, fuel up with the guys, and do all that stuff.

``If that's all I was going to do, it would wear thin pretty quick.

``But you get here in a place like this, and you get to meet the local kids who are going to help you unload, and that's good.

``And very shortly our stage crew will arrive.''

Just before Labor Day, Jacoby's driving summer will end with a 2,100-mile straight-shot trek from Montana back to Nashville.

What do the students think of his unusual summer profession?

``The geology majors think it's neat,'' he says. ``They like my T-shirts.''

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