Lucky to be alive: Shooting survivor Counter back in music

(Patrick J. Ferron photo) JIM COUNTER OF Appleton, Wis., sings the national anthem Saturday at the Mulva Family Fitness & Sports Center at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., before the men’s basketball game against Knox College. In back is Green Knights coach Gary Grzesk, who reached out to the Aurora, Wis., native who previously has sung the anthem at Lambeau Field and Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Counter survived a near-fatal shooting in Nashville, Tenn., in April.

AURORA, Wis. — High notes are still hard to reach, but his voice and body continue to recover.

In April, musician Jim Counter was the victim of a robbery and assault in Nashville, Tenn., a 9-millimeter bullet ripping through his upper abdomen, exploding through his back, barely missing his spine and shattering the car window behind him.

Lucky to be alive.

Friday will be a celebration of sorts, with Counter back on stage, entertaining on his home turf at the Hitch-N-Post in Aurora, the town where his music career began as a teen drummer in the 1970s.

“Over these past seven months, my wife, Cindy, and daughter, Sara, have been there for me, and I could never really thank them enough,” Counter said. “Their love and support have been amazing. I’m happy to say that I’m feeling great.”

A scar running the full length of his torso is lasting evidence of the work done by surgeons at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“They saved my life. I often think of them as my angels,” Counter said. “My mom and dad live right next door to Sacred Heart church (in Aurora), so I knew where they went.”

His near-brush with death didn’t keep him off the circuit for long. By July, the Appleton resident was back at it, doing previously promised gigs at bars and wineries in Wisconsin. Voice strained, body ailing, string guitar flowing.

Hard to keep a good musician down.

“I often think about how I’ve been given a second chance, so I’m appreciating the need to go out there and try to make the most of it,” Counter said.

A Tennessee woman faces numerous charges in the shooting, including attempted first-degree murder.

Counter, who was in his car, was accosted at gunpoint in broad daylight near several popular restaurants in East Nashville. The confrontation began when a Dodge Avenger suddenly pulled up next to him. A pistol was tapped at the window and pointed to his head.

Counter had just gotten out of his car when the shot was fired. The suspect fled with an accomplice, who also has been charged. Undercover officers and a helicopter crew helped locate the Avenger. During a high-speed chase, the suspect reportedly swerved into oncoming traffic and at one point drove between houses to avoid arrest, according to WKRN-TV.

Keinesa Lillard, 23, was taken into custody and a 9mm pistol was recovered from her purse.

Meanwhile, patrons at Mas Tacos restaurant came to Counter’s aid and an ambulance rushed him to Vanderbilt, where initially it was touch-and-go. After two weeks in intensive care and 15 days of wound care, surgeon Raymond Georgen of Neenah, Wis., took over the recovery process closer to home.

“I’m extremely grateful to everyone who went out on a limb to help me that day, and for all the kind thoughts and prayers from everyone,” Counter said. “I owe an unending gratitude to Vanderbilt University, and its amazingly great surgical staff, the rapid ambulance response and training, Dr. Georgen, and all my family and friends who have stepped in to help out.”

Counter’s repertoire ranges from classic country to jazz rock and pop favorites, as well as originals. Friday’s show at the Hitch-N-Post starts at 8 p.m.

Brule Saloon at Ski Brule in Iron River will host Counter at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Jim Anderson can be reached at 906-774-3500, ext. 26, or