Monday, August 12, 2013

Our Thoughts On The Passing Of Tom "Pickles" Piekarski

Tom "Pickles" Piekarski, far left. with John Prine at Carnegie Hall.
(Photo source: Bob Hoban)
With the unexpected passing of Chicago musician Tom Piekarski this past weekend, I unexpectedly found myself looking back at what many consider the glory days of Chicago rock.  It wasn't the glory days at the time, mind you.  We were too busy hauling our amps all over the city, playing any bar that would have us.  Hell, I can't even put a year on it, but it was definitely the late '80s and bars like Orphan's and FitzGerald's were home to working class Chicago bar bands like Mike Jordan and The Rockamatics, for whom Tom "Pickles" Piekarski played bass.

Being new to the Chicago area and having just transferred to DePaul University, I immediately set about booking shows for my band.  Being that it was a stone's throw from my dorm room, and right across the street from my home-away-from-home, Wax Trax! Records, Orphan's was the first club I contacted.  After weeks of pestering the club's booking agent, I was finally awarded a slot opening for Mike Jordan.

I don't remember much about the show, except that our bass player's rig imploded during the third song.  Being that we were the greenest of upstart rock bands, we had no roadies to help us out when things invariably spun sideways.  Before our bass player could even make sense of the crackle and pop coming from his bass cabinet, a stranger burst from the back of the room, grabbed the headliner's bass rig stationed off to the side of the room and wheeled it up onstage.  He then plugged our bass player's cord into the amp, hit the switch, and disappeared just as quickly.  We were able to continue our set uninterrupted and our maiden Chicago gig went on to be memorable for all the right reasons, which was a welcome deviation from the norm.

But who was the mysterious roadie who had appeared out of nowhere to help us in our moment of need? Turns out it was none other than Tom "Pickles" Piekarski, who we presumed was merely a roadie for the headlining band.  It wasn't until they hit the stage, with Pickles on bass, that we finally put two and two together.

As Mike Jordan and the Rockamatics took full ownership of the room, our bass player sat watching Pickles with an awe that I had never seen.  See, Pickles was the sort of bass player that made other bass players immediately take stock of their own talents and dedication to the instrument.  It wasn't so much what he played, but what he didn't play, and the reason he remained such an in-demand player around the city was because of the economy and heart that he brought to his instrument.

It was that no-nonsense approach that made him one of the most in-demand players in the city.  See, when you find a bass player as solid as "Pickles", you hold onto him because those are the kind of players you want next to you in the trenches - someone who can step in like the consummate pro that he was and save the show.

That's what I think about when I think of the man that was, and will always be, Tom "Pickles" Piekarski.

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