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Dayton musician
Gregg Spence dies at 32

Dayton Daily News
Saturday, January 22, 2000

DAYTON--Popular local musician Gregg Spence, 32, died Friday afternoon after an intensive nine-month battle with cancer.

Well-liked on the Dayton music scene for his warm and generous spirit as well as his versatile creative abilities, Mr. Spence spent his last days at Hospice of Dayton, where scores of friends from the local alternative music and arts community visited and held vigil.

Diagnosed last spring with what he called at the time "basic cancer of the stomach," Mr. Spence faced the disease with his typical optimism and good humor, hoping to beat the illness in the same way he had survived Hodgkin's disease during his teen-age years.

Jim Carter, a longtime friend who hosts the Around the Fringe radio show on WYSO-FM, said he knew Mr. Spence must have been in great physical pain, but it never affected his intrinsically warm character. "From his first days to his last days, he was the same person," Carter said.

A singer-songwriter, guitarist and drummer, Mr. Spence was a ubiquitous presence on the local music scene before illness curtailed his activities last year. Having picked up his first guitar as a pre-adolescent, he began learning drums as a Fairborn High School student, and then started soaking up the homegrown music scene as soon as he was allowed in the door at area clubs.

He eventually became an integral part of such notable local bands as the Underdogs, the Killjoys, Cage, Real Lulu and most recently the surf-rock instrumental trio The Mulchmen, in addition to making frequent appearances as a solo performer.

When his last illness became known, his many friends responded to the situation--and the financial burdens that come with it--by putting on a series of concerts last summer to raise money and also to show appreciation and give encouragement to their "brother," as Bob Pollard, founder and front man for Guided By Voices called Mr. Spence before a benefit show in which his nationally known band performed.

Pollard described Mr. Spence as "a really super nice, positive person."

Carter said that Mr. Spence touched many lives in lasting and significant ways that went beyond any musical success. "You could fill a whole newspaper page with people's stories," he said.

The man who rocked
Local musician Gregg Spence leaves a legacy of good times, rock 'n' roll and amazing talent
by Don Thrasher of Dayton's IMPACT WEEKLY

On Friday, Jan. 21, Gregg Spence, one of Dayton's most talented musicians, passed away after a valiant fight with stomach cancer. In his final days at Hospice of Dayton, the 32-year-old was surround by his devoted parents Don and Marilyn, fiancee Ashley Deem, and countless friends and family members.

He was known by many as a loyal friend, multi-talented musician and ardent supporter of local music. Spence was a soft-spoken songwriter with a large heart, an anarchist's spirit, a wicked sense of humor and an astounding wealth of inner strength. Despite being diabetic, he was an active musician, contributing to some of the area's best underground bands over the last two decades.

Spence first made a name for himself on the local club scene in the late 1980s. At the time, he was playing guitar and singing in the scrappy punk trio the Underdogs along with Ian Uppstrom (bass/vocals) and Ben Schelker (drums/vocals).That band imploded before receiving the credit it was due, but the Underdogs delivered some ragged and glorious sets of earnest and catchy punk rock during its tenure.

Even then, Spence was doing solo shows, delivering chronicles of real-life (aging, dead-end jobs, failed love) in the guise of a singer/songwriter, while alternately slashing at his Rickenbacker like Billy Bragg or picking his acoustic guitar clean and clear like T-Bone Burnett. Even in his early 20s, Spence was capable of writing songs of amazing power and honesty, traits that would remain in more recent songs like the beautiful "She's Like Church."

Over the years that followed, the talented songwriter, often took a background role in groups with his friends and never again fully asserted himself as a band leader. After some time off following the demise of the Underdogs, Spence joined the Raging Mantras. The local art rock band featured current Guided By Voices drummer Jim MacPherson.

When the Mantras folded, Ed Lacy and Nick Kizirnis and Spence recruited drummer Matt Espy and formed Cage. The quartet practiced a brand of modern rock that incorporated elements of pop, punk, new wave and experimental rock. Cage released a couple of 7" singles and one LP, Magnificent Propaganda Opportunity (Simple Solution Records). Some of the LP's best cuts were Spence compositions like "Return To Cold" and "Days Like These (Java King)."

While still in Cage, Spence offered to play drums for a new project by Sharon Gavlick and Kattie Dougherty. The band was Real Lulu and Spence's practical experience was instrumental in transforming the trio into a tight, garage rock outfit. In Real Lulu, he soon proved he was as good and creative on the skins as he was as a songwriter.

When Cage broke up in January 1996, Spence and Kizirnis turned their attention to an instrumental combo called the Mulchmen,. For four years, the trio - Spence (drums), Kizirnis (guitar, theremin) and Brian Hogarth (bass) - blurred the lines between surf music and instrumental rock. The Mulchmen began as a fun little side project. Nothing more than a couple of friends, veteran rockers quickly approaching 30, getting together to have fun, rip on each other and learn a bunch of surf covers. As an added laugh, they decided to try their hand at writing original instrumental tunes.

The months passed and soon the Mulchmen had a set full of mostly original material and, as it turned out, a bunch of damn good songs. The musicians were having so much fun - and so were the growing crowds that flocked to the Mulchmen's shows - that they decided to concentrate more on new material. Soon the side project was the primary musical focus of Kizirnis, Spence and Hogarth. The group's discography includes a 7" EP, a cassette-only release of covers and two full length CDs.

Through the years, Spence would periodically perform as a solo act at local coffeehouses, share club dates with local bands and open for touring performers, but it seemed secondary to having fun playing in bands with friends. In 1998, he made a conscious effort to pursue his solo career and began working harder on new songs. Spence was a mid-way through recording his long awaited solo debut when he was hospitalized last year. He leaves behind a vast catalog of songs, some recorded in the studio, others captured on tape during live shows. It's too early to tell what will become of this material.

Throughout 1999, Kizirnis and Big Beef head honcho Andy Valeri organized a series of concerts and live theatrical events in support of Spence. Because he's been such an integral piece of Dayton's musical backbone for the past 15 years, organizers had no trouble lining up local bands to support their brother-in-need. The events held from June through November featured local acts Guided By Voices, Toxic Reasons, the Mulchmen, Shrug, Johnny Smoke, Robthebank, the Altered Statesmen, Heike, swearing at motorists, Real Lulu, Nostromo, Sundrop, Big Marauder, the Mystery Addicts, Let's Crash and King Eel at venues like Gilly's, 1470 West, Canal Street Tavern and Bogart's in Cincinnati.

At Spence's request Kizirnis and Hogarth kept the the Mulchmen going while he was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Brian Hoeflich, Spence's hand-picked understudy, filled in on drums for a series of shows the group played at Canal Street Tavern. The Mulchmen quietly donated proceeds of these shows to the Spence Fund.

The only reason Gregg Spence never achieved wide spread fame, is because he never really wanted it. Most of his idols, from the Misfits to Richard Thompson, never attained mainstream "superstar" status. I think it's telling that one of Dayton's best songwriters and singers spent the last decade pursuing projects that didn't necessarily showcase his best assets. Not to slight his drum work with the Mulchmen or Real Lulu, or his excellent production work on the Mulchmen's final LP Greetings From Planet Stupider (Big Beef), but in my mind he is foremost a songwriter of great talent.

He leaves behind a legacy as a true friend and talented musician. Unfortunately Spence's songs may not end up on any top 100 lists - but, for that matter, neither will those of his beloved Richard Thompson. However, for those of us touched by his talent and warm spirit, the music of Gregg Spence will live on in our hearts forever.


if you would like to send personal cards or letters to Gregg's family and/or friends, you are invited to send them via email or by post...
c/o Big Beef Records
P.O Box 303 WBB
Dayton, Ohio 45409