It’s often been said of larger than life characters that if they didn’t exist someone would have had to invent them. Thankfully we had Michael Riley, because it’s difficult to imagine the twisted cosmic novelist that would have been necessary to come up with him.
Riley was the personification of dichotomy. He was a fixture as an employee in Clifton music stores, but he embraced only very specific kinds of music (my friend Kirk remembers a sticker on a Damned album at Mole’s written in Riley’s Punk draftsman printing: “It ain’t Sham 69 but it ain’t bad.”).
He was a bear of a man with a gentle soul and a fairly effective growl that kept the skittish at arm’s length. He attended Woodstock but was by no means a hippie.
Riley was the big guy behind the counter at Mole’s and the big guy in the crowd at most Jockey Club shows. His long running Danceable Solution show on WAIF (88.3 FM) showed off his many sides: DJ, remixer, music scholar, fan.
He helped resurrect the career of Jump Blues master H-Bomb Ferguson and was so skilled at the Hand Jive that he scored a featured role in George Thorogood’s “Willie and the Hand Jive” video when it was shot at Cory’s (a résumé bullet point that Michael dismissed: “That guy doesn’t play the Blues.”).
He saw The Rolling Stones more times than any human being I’ve ever met, but he was every bit as obsessed with Bette Midler and Carole King.
Riley was such a profound and constant presence within the Cincinnati music scene that it seemed as though he’d always be a part of it. On June 18, a fatal stroke ended his reign as the unofficial Mayor of Clifton Music, a role that, by all rights, should earn him a first ballot skate into the Cincinnati Hall of Fame.
Right now, Riley is in a place where there’s great music playing all the time. And he’s kicking back and saying to no one in particular, “It ain’t the Stones, but it ain’t bad.” We’re missing you already, Homes. (Brian Baker)
Other Local Notes
• Every month, the Southgate House’s cozy, never-a-cover front room — better known as Junie’s Lounge — opens its stage to a new local “artist in residence,” a down-home group that plays each Wednesday until the month’s up. July’s weekly entertainment will come courtesy of The Crisp Brothers, a collaborative “real Country” band featuring local Rockabilly vets Ed Vardamin (Straw Boss) and Jerry King (The Rivertown Ramblers) along with solo Country bluesmen Dave Johnson and Jerry Hedge. Mysteriously enough, however, no one in the band claims “Crisp” as a surname.
• After you’ve had your fill of the Northside 4th of July Parade and Festival on Saturday, head over to the Blue Rock Tavern for a free show from The Sundresses, The Serfs, Banderas, Pike, Gang Green (the legendary Punk band is now a Cincinnati one, too) and SS-20. The noise starts around 9 p.m.
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