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R.I.P. Michael Riley

By Alex Weber · July 1st, 2009 · Spill It

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.

CONTACT ALEX L. WEBER: music@citybeat.com



07.02.2009 at 12:53 Reply
Michael, along with "New Wave Dave" Dave Mund and John McCarthy, were my mentors at WAIF, cajoling, influencing, and inspiring me to become a programmer, first, as co-host of The Final Solution with Spiv Daniels late in '79, before it evolved into the legendary Search And Destroy program in January, 1980, adding Hockey Punk in the 80's, and Hardcore Bob and Scooter Dave Lewis for a later reincarnation of the show in the early 90's. His taste in music was impeccable, and his influence on the local scene cannot be overestimated. I will greatly miss him, not just as my mentor, but also a friend. Rest In Peace, Michael, if you manage to run into John Peel on the other side, tell him hi and save a spot in the on-air studio for me for when I get there. Handsome Clem Carpenter South Fairmount


07.07.2009 at 11:50 Reply
Michael Riley was seminal in my musical development and his passing moves me. In 1978 I was a Mt. Healthy High School student, exploring Corryville by bus as an oasis of eye-popping culture. I was a part of Tom Knox’s Radio Workshop at WAIF in its original location in the basement of the Alms Hotel, spinning old Soul 45’s overnight and simply delirious whenever I’d catch an early Sunday morning shift on WEBN. Record nuts back then did the “Frank Buck” weekly crawl through the record stores in Clifton – Mole’s, Ozarka Record Exchange, Zoo Records, and the appropriately named Another Record Store in a tiny basement on West Charlton. With a specific order of attack, each store emptied my pockets a little more. Mole’s was the place I began to connect-the-dots within my growing knowledge and passion. Fooling with wire antennae to catch the best possible signal for his Danceable Solution program on WAIF, I would, like many others I guess, record those shows on cassettes and hurry down to Mole’s that week to pick up a photocopy of his playlist. Illustrated with Michael’s signature old-timey clippings, his artistic taste, from his setlists to concert show flyers, was perfectly in step with the kitsch-punk-zippy-nifty beat that Corryville strutted to in its heyday. His musical taste, shared through his radio show or record shop hi-fi, lead my path and countless numbers of my peers. I’ll always remember Michael’s celestial concert attendance trifecta - as he was at Woodstock, saw the Beatles and yes, there may be a bunch of folks who can punch both those tickets – but he also saw the Sex Pistols on one of their handful of dates in the USA. I don’t think today’s youth, trading MP3’s and Sharpie-scribbled blank CD’s can ever expect to feel the connection between a treasured album and where you bought it. The news of Michael’s death had me digging out some of his old radio shows and thumbing through my LP collection. It’s funny how sometimes taking a chance on a used LP later becomes a personal classic or touchstone to a particular time. The Urban Verbs, Magazine and the Times Square soundtrack. The Clash, Tim Curry and Lene Lovich. There they were, those big corner stickers on the front of the album jackets with Michael’s distinctive handwriting. Years later, when I was behind the counter at Wizard’s, I always felt those big price stickers of Mole’s were such a buzz-kill for the magnifying glass of the collector’s market. (Nothing was worse than the awful rubber stamps that Everybody’s marked on the actual LP labels of the used records they sold…) Now those Mole’s stickers make me feel warm, thankful and pensive. I’m glad they are scattered throughout my life. I’m not sure who’s fingertips touched more copies of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in the glory years of customers hauling crates upon crates of vinyl to sell or trade on Short Vine. God bless you Michael. Thank you for your influence in my life. May your turntable never stop spinning. I can only imagine your big grin as you tour through heaven meeting American Indian chiefs and legends of the Blues.


07.10.2009 at 06:52 Reply
Me and 2 buddies ran into Michael in front of Mole's right as he returned from TN? after seeing the Sex Pistols. I'll never forget the look in his eyes - the look of being blown away by what he just experienced. Even though we were not SP fans, we appreciated the moment. R.I.P.


06.02.2010 at 12:02 Reply
Michael's signature old-timey clippings, his artistic taste, from his setlists to concert show flyers, was perfectly in step with the kitsch-punk-zippy-nifty beat that Corryville strutted to in its heyday. His musical taste, shared through his radio show or record shop hi-fi inspired my own. I can still remember when I first met Riley and Matt after a concert one night. R.I.P. Riley. You will be missed.