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The Slide Man

Versatile, joyous musician Dave Giegerich remembered through a pair of memorial shows

Photo: Photo courtesy Pam McLeod, License: N/A, Created: 2009:07:04 15:37:16

Photo courtesy Pam McLeod

Local musicians who played with Dave Giegerich fill the bill at a tribute/benefit concert in the late steel guitarist’s honor April 29.


Aloha Dave! Dave Giegerich tribute

With The Hula Monsters, Smooth Kentucky, Dede Wyland, Randy Barrett and Mama Tried, Tracey Eldridge and the Flying Aces, Stoney Point, Arty Hill, and Karen Collins

April 29 at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson

Visit creativealliance.org for more information

The group also plays a tribute at the with Robin and Linda Williams, Bill Kirchen, the Aloha Boys and Cathy Fink, and Marcy Marxer

Birchmere June 19

Visit birchmere.com for more information

It was such an unusual memorial service that people weren’t sure how to respond. On the one hand, everyone was devastated that 57-year-old dobroist and steel guitarist Dave Giegerich had died of complications from a blood disorder Dec. 29. On the other hand, the service featured far more music than talking and it was difficult not to respond with a smile or applause to the bluegrass, hillbilly, Hawaiian, and swing music played by his former bandmates.

It was Jan. 15 in Mayfield, and the 450-seat sanctuary of former Catholic church St. Matthew’s, now the Maryland State Boychoir Center for the Arts, had nearly 600 people crammed into wooden pews and metal folding chairs and standing against every wall. “I didn’t know we knew that many people,” Giegerich’s widow Pam McLeod said later. The Boychoir (Giegerich’s son Axel had been a member for 10 years) sang Sibelius’ “Finlandia Hymn,” Jo Morrison played “Ash Grove” on Celtic harp, and an all-star bluegrass quartet played “I’ll Fly Away,” but the crowd remained silent.

“At the end of the first songs, nobody clapped,” remembers Mike Auldridge, the dobroist from the Seldom Scene and Giegerich’s one-time mentor. “I played ‘Till There Was You’ by myself, and that segued into ‘How Great Thou Art.’ When I finished playing, everyone applauded. I was shocked because a memorial service is supposed to be so solemn. But after that, they started applauding everyone, and it became more of a concert.

“It was amazing to see how it changed as the service went on. Everyone was thinking, ‘Gee, I’ve never been to a memorial service like this.’ People realized it wasn’t a mournful thing but a celebration. First of all, it was a sad event, but over the course of the day it became more and more a tribute to his music and his personality. And because his music was so sunny and his personality was so funny, it became that kind of service.”

The celebration of Giegerich’s life continues with two concerts in the coming weeks. The April 29 Baltimore tribute at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson features Dave’s primary band, the Hula Monsters, as well several others with whom he often played. The June 19 Washington, D.C., tribute at the Birchmere features the Hula Monsters and several other Giegerich-associated acts too.

If Auldridge broke the ice at the January service, Steve Giegerich shattered it. Dave’s brother stood up at the pulpit and claimed that Dave had once told him that his funeral should include lots of music and jokes; it should begin, “There once was a girl from Nantucket . . . ” Steve honored the request by telling one hilarious story after another about his late brother, from their childhood in Michigan to their 20-something years in Fredericksburg, Va., and on to Dave’s musical career in Maryland. It was eerie because Steve not only looks a lot like Dave—with the same broad face, thatched brown hair, heavy eyelids, and sly grin—but also sounds just like him.

By the time Steve climbed down from the pulpit, the party was on. The music from the Hula Monsters, Wyland, East of Monroe, and Dave’s son Carter became livelier and the spoken remarks warmer. After the official service ended, everyone moved to the social hall for potluck food and a picking session. Smaller picking circles broke out elsewhere—bluegrass in the hall, swing in the kitchen, Hawaiian in the foyer. It seemed like nearly every roots musician in the Baltimore-Washington area was there.

“At one funeral Dave told me, ‘Never let some preacher turn my funeral into an opportunity to convert people,’” McLeod recounts. “I know religion is a comfort to a lot of people, so we had a few prayers. But I also knew Dave wouldn’t want to stay in church for more than an hour. He’d say, ‘The food’s getting cold, let’s go pick.’ I knew Dave would want us to celebrate his life. He wouldn’t want us to be sad. I think he would have been pissed that he couldn’t be there.”

Though Giegerich kept his day job as the media coordinator for the University of Maryland at Baltimore’s department of social work until he was too sick to work, his main focus was always on his music. When he moved to Fredericksburg to hang out with Steve, he met McLeod in 1980 and their house soon became the center for regular picking parties. They got married and moved to Maryland in 1985.

“I started out playing slide guitar like Duane Allman,” Giegerich told me in a 1995 interview, “but then I heard a dobro. I bought a Tut Taylor record in a store and I was hooked. Instead of playing slide regular style, I started doing it lap style. I just liked the sound of it and when I went to jam sessions with 10 other guitarists, this set me apart. Right away I was able to find little melodies without any instruction.”

When you play horizontal slide guitar, you have a lot of choices: You can play dobro in a bluegrass context, you can play table steel in a western swing context, you can play pedal steel in a country context, and you can play lap steel in a Hawaiian context. Giegerich chose to do them all. He played in many different bands as a result—his recording credits include Bill Kirchen, the Greg Kihn Band, the Red Stick Ramblers, Jimmy Gaudreau, the Polkats, Wayne Taylor, and Arty Hill. Eventually Giegerich co-founded his own band, the Hula Monsters, which would play all those styles.

“Dave brought the Hawaiian music to the band, I brought the jazz, and we were all into western swing,” explains guitarist Tom Mitchell, a co-founder of the Hula Monsters with Giegerich and bassist Moe Nelson. “Dave’s focus was on his instrument and all the things it could do. When he played a Hawaiian tune it sounded like a real Hawaiian tune. When he played a swing tune, it sounded like a real swing tune. When he played a bluegrass tune, it sounded like a real bluegrass tune.”

The one thing everyone mentions about Giegerich—whether in remembrances during the service or conversations later—is his sense of humor. “Dave was very smart and very quick,” Mitchell says. “His sense of humor had a lot of sarcasm—short one-liners when you say the opposite of what’s really going on—but never that mean, hurtful stuff. It was more ironic.”

The Hula Monsters never released their long-promised album, though there are mountains of live tapes to go through and edit. Giegerich did release a solo album, 1988’s Slidetracked, and he was almost finished with a second album when he died. Cathy Fink, a Grammy-winning folk-music performer and producer who always used Giegerich whenever she needed a steel guitarist for her Hank Williams tribute show or Cathy and Marcy’s Country Jamboree, volunteered to finish up the album in time for the Giegerich tribute at the Birchmere, a show that she is also organizing and planning to record for another possible album.

“Dave’s solo album was nine-tenths finished,” Fink says. “Dave had done all his parts, and he left good charts for the overdubs he wanted. Jimmy Gaudreau will add the mandolin, Ricky Simpkins the fiddle, Gary Ferguson and Tom Mitchell the guitars. Everyone’s doing it as a contribution to Dave’s sons’ college fund. It will be a great record. One of the most important words in music is taste. Dave had tons of talent and tons of licks, but he also played tastefully, which means as he was playing he was always making smart choices.”

The memorial service ended with the surviving Hula Monsters playing “Aloha ’Oe,” a wistful song of farewell. More than one person in the pews had both moistened eyes and a wide grin. That may seem paradoxical, but Giegerich was that kind of guy and it was that kind of service.

“For the past four years, he had been through one horrible thing after another,” McLeod says. “They poked and prodded him for weeks at a time. But he’d even crack the nurses up. He could take the worst situation—here he is with tubes in his arms in the hospital—and still crack jokes. He would go to this crummy $25 bar gig and still have a good time and come home in a good mood. That’s what I hear again and again from the people who played with him—he could make even a boring gig fun. Dave would always find something funny to say or a new way to play an old song. He brought joy to everything he did.”

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