Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

Ross Rowley – Appreciating the absurd, remembering the lost

Feb. 3, 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of the airplane crash that took the lives of Richie Valens, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) and Buddy Holly. Such a great loss in the rock and roll culture during that time. All in their 20s, they were so young, just at the beginnings of their careers.

Death is tragic. But, it is an even more bewildering tragedy when it comes at one’s own hand.

I awoke from a terrible dream on Feb. 2 being haunted by the images of three young men, 20-something musicians in Humboldt County, who took their own lives. This dream was so vivid. Robb Rierdan, Nick (Faulkner?) and Geoff Simpson were sitting on barstools at the Victorian Inn in Ferndale. I approached them to say hello. I uttered, “Everyone thinks you’re dead.” Robb turns to me, gives me a big hug and answers, “Yes, I know.”

Geoff Simpson was the drummer for Rolls Rock, one of the leading local bands of my high school youth years. They were quite a gifted trio featuring Ron Corbett, Rob Ruiz and Geoff Simpson. When they played in Willow Creek during the summer of 1978, all of the girls swooned at this handsome trio of Eureka/Arcata rockers. And, they were good. Very good. Ron went on to a successful career of singing and management in the studios of Los Angeles.

Rob Ruiz is in the Bay Area and plays music with other local Humboldt-to-San Francisco transplants. Rolls Rock played, looked and were rock and roll in a late 1970s sense. They had a soundman and a manager. Hey, at that time, that was a big deal.  Geoff Simpson was the very colorful, very gifted drummer for the group. Quite amazing really, almost with a Keith Moon type of demeanor. In many, many ways. Not long after the break up of Rolls Rock, Geoff committed suicide.
Nick Faulker (I believe that was his last name) was the singer for a very popular Humboldt County band by the name of Mason-Dixon. They played in the style of southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchett. The band of veteran musicians found Nick playing the folk singer circuit, accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar and singing blues. Nick had a huge presence.

In short time, they became the big draw band on the North Coast. They were the local favorites opening for the Allman Brothers Band at Redwood Bowl in 1980. Nick was the focus of the band with his huge voice and persona. But, along with the notoriety came elements of the early 1980’s rock scene. On a misguided notion to go rafting on the Trinity River in early March after staying up from a night of partying, Nick and the band’s manager never made it past the Burnt Ranch gorge with its class five rapids. Both were drowned.

Robb Rierdan played in a couple of Panache-zine era bands. He represented the post-punk scene here. No rules, do-it-yourself, brash. He played in the band Audio Wreckand later, Candy Muscle. His loud, uneven guitar style was like no other. Candy Muscle consisted of just guitar and drums. That was enough instrumentation to say what they had to say.

Beyond music, Robb was an accomplished artist. His swirling pop-art works are stunning. I know nothing about art, but to me, Robb’s work was such a refreshing change from the constant landscape and still-art safety we see from his local contemporaries. The majority of the artwork I got to see he used fluorescent paint, the kind used for blacklight posters.

He discovered that viewing his paintings with 3-D glasses put another spin on his creations. He wondered where he could get 3-D glasses. Oddly enough, I had a box of 200 glasses that I had acquired somehow, somewhere. He accepted my gift; that’s where we made a connection. Musically, Robb and I were worlds apart, but we both appreciated each other’s sense of absurdity in both art and music.

The last time I saw Robb Rierdan, he was selling copies of his latest Candy Muscle CD from an Easter basket. We were both inside of the Salvation Army store looking at the oddities the store had to offer. We made our cash for CD exchange right there in the knick-knack aisle. It was a nice little moment.

He died of a heroin overdose a little while later. I had no idea he was a substance abuser. I should have known when I witnessed his snot-slinging, obnoxious, drunken antics at his friend’s wedding reception. He was making a complete ass of himself. In retrospect, all he wanted to do was to sit in with our band and make a joyful noise.

Rest in peace, Richie, J.P. and Buddy… and Geoff, Nick and Robb.

Don McLean really said it well with his tribute to the 1959 airplane crash and the day the music died.

Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singing this will be the day that I die. This will be the day that I die.


1 Comment»

  Rob Ruiz wrote @

Hi Ross,
Just came across your article “appreciating the absurd,remembering the lost”. Thanks for remembering Geoff and Rolls Rock.. I do miss Geoff. I played bass with Rolls Rock and am still in contact with Ron Corbett. I visit him in Burbank at least once a year. Man, we did a lot of rocking all over the US and Canada and had loads of fun! We never made it big outside of Humboldt County, but opening big shows for such artists as Van Halen, Rick Springfield, plus playing Indian reservations in Drumheller Canada are what rock memeories are made of! I ‘ve played with The Sorentinos (for over 23 years!) here in the bay area with Howard Vatcher and Kenny Susan, (formerly of Mr. Science and Rolling Bob),and songwriter Danny Sorentino. Howard and I hope to record a couple of old Rolls tunes for an upcoming trio CD we call “The Beer Scouts”. After all, rock and roll has always been at it’s best with guitar,bass, drums, and someone screaming over it!
Thanks for mentioning Rolls rock my friend!

Rob Ruiz

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