May 31st, 2011 By Brian Baker | Music | Posted In: Local Music

R.I.P. Tebbe Farrell 1956-2011


Whenever I would get a phone call from Tebbe Farrell, I’d usually save whatever I was working on and put my computer into sleep mode. Regardless of the purpose of the call — to hip me to an upcoming show, to pitch a story that she wanted me to write, to alert me to some injustice that required a damn good righting — I knew it would ultimately turn into a marathon conversation that was destined to go completely and wonderfully off tangent. The primary reason for this was quite simple; if Tebbe felt passionate about something, whether it had to do with music or a social cause or a political issue, she made sure that, a) you knew how passionate she felt about it, and b) by the end of the conversation, you’d feel passionate about it too.

Given her amazing talent for persuasion and conversion, there was little doubt that she would achieve both goals in a single phone call.

When I got Mike Breen’s email last week with the subject line “Tebbe,” I assumed that she was working him about a story that she wanted me to write and CityBeat to run. Typically, she contacted me first to make sure it was something I’d want to write (it always was), and then she’d go after Mike for the confirmation, but I figured there must be a reason that she had reversed the process.

Sadly, that was not the case.

Mike’s message was not about a story that Tebbe wanted written. This time, Tebbe was the story and the almost unbelievable and totally unexpected headline was that she was gone, felled by an aneurysm at the all too young age of 55.

The fact that I am never again going to enjoy the pleasure of being shanghaied on the phone for hours at a time by Tebbe is a source of personal emptiness. The fact that the city has been robbed of one of its most outspoken and committed activists on an endless variety of fronts is a universal tragedy.

Tebbe’s most recent cause was helping disadvantaged single mothers learn computer skills in order to put them in a more employable position, which she did through the auspices of Venice on Vine, the pizza joint run by Power Inspires Progress, a small business cooperative whose mission is to help inner city residents maintain stable employment. (The photo above is of Tebbe with Jazz artist Rick Dellaratta of the Jazz for Peace org, who had come to town for a Venice on Vine benefit.)

Tebbe was a tireless champion of women’s rights, as well as anyone who fell through the system’s cracks, but, as in all things, she was never interested in theoretical success, like the paper victory of passing toothless legislation.

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Tebbe was more concerned with the real work that happened in the trenches, where real people triumphed over real adversity.

For all the enormous good that Tebbe accomplished concerning the many social and political causes she soapboxed, her most lasting legacy may well be her work in the local music community. Tebbe and longtime paramour/best friend Michael Riley may well be remembered as two of the most influentual individuals in contemporary Cincinnati music history.

Old friend/co-conspirator Mark Bennison cited the pair as “the mother and father of the alternative movement in Cincinnati,” and it’s an apt description; they were among the earliest DJs programming their own shows at WAIF and, between their popular radio slots, with their club DJ gigs and their roles in promoting local bands and national touring acts, the duo were vital in shaping the direction of music in Cincinnati in the ’70s and ’80s.

Former WAIF associate Kirk Pennak recalls how Tebbe masterminded all the elements necessary to stage live radio simulcasts, securing the cooperation of Tomorrow’s nightclub to broadcast from The Pit, the club’s Tuesday night Punk alter ego (“They turned out the lights,” said Pennak. “That made it Punk …”), generating the funds for a T-1 phone line and even booking the talent, including the first area appearance of Rank & File on their first American tour.

Tebbe and Michael became the first couple of Cincinnati music, booking acts they thought might otherwise bypass the city and attending the shows that were obviously the coolest thing happening in Cincinnati on that particular evening. And when the coolest things happening weren’t happening here, they traveled around the country to see them. Even after the pair ended their personal relationship, they remained steadfast friends and constant companions. They eventually helped revive and guide the career of Blues/Soul shouter/piano pounder extraordinaire H-Bomb Ferguson starting in the mid-’80s and continuing sporadically until H-Bomb's death in 2006.

Over the past two years, all of my conversations with Tebbe eventually came back to Michael, who passed away in June of 2009. After Michael’s death, Tebbe spent five months planning a tribute to her late friend which took place at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center just before Thanksgiving. It was an impressive and loving homage that spoke as loudly to Tebbe’s dedication and loyalty as it did to Michael’s amazing accomplishments, many of which were notched with Tebbe firmly by his side.

Bennison recalled many vivid memories of hanging with Tebbe and Michael over the three decades since meeting them (like so many of us, through Michael’s days behind the counter at Mole’s Records in Corryville) — seeing and meeting Joe Strummer and Jon Langford (among hundreds of gigs attended over the years), haunting local record stores, long conversations about every conceivable type of music. He noted that when he and Tebbe went to a movie, it had to be something with a point and a message, not just mindless entertainment. And when they saw something terrible, they invoked a quote from Roger Ebert, who once criticized a film by saying it should be cut up and used for ukelele picks.

In summing up the lives of both Michael Riley and Tebbe Farrell, Bennison used a phrase lifted from the movie Reds, Warren Beatty’s biopic on revolutionary communist writer John Reed — "Sincerity of conviction."

“They meant what they said and they said what they meant,” said Bennison. “No bullshit.”

No bullshit indeed.

What will we miss going forward without Tebbe Farrell in our midst? Her dogged determination to make everything better for those that needed it most; her unwavering passion concerning everything from music to local culture to our damaged political mechanism; her complete loyalty and commitment to her ideals even (and especially when) they clashed with the prevailing view; her ability to cut through the spin and see a situation for what it was; her utter honesty, lack of pretense and directness; her unbelievable sense of empathy; her twisted sense of humor; her endlessly great stories. In short, everything that made her Tebbe Farrell.

No bullshit? That’s putting it mildly. And Tebbe Farrell never put anything mildly.

05.31.2011 at 12:33 Reply
Wonderful piece, Mr. Baker. Tebbe was a wonderful asset to the city, she will be missed, but ultimately we are lucky to have had her for the time that we did.


05.31.2011 at 02:00 Reply
Thank's for hipping us to this tragedy, Brian. Tebbe (and Michael) were my good friends, and I will miss them both terribly. I helped her put together the slide show and music for Michael's memorial, and we were still planning to make a DVD of that program, featuring cuts of Michael's best shows. Sadly it will never be. We need to figure out a way to get this out there, as a tribute to both of them. The legalities and details were holding us up, but with this loss, we should find a way to make it happen in her honor. The only good thing about this is that Tebbe can join Michael awaiting Kieth Richard's eventual appearance in Heaven to play in that kick ass band. I love you both... save me a seat, and I'll hopefully see you there down the road.


05.31.2011 at 04:19 Reply
Wonderful Kate. Thank you. Here's what people here at Venice said about Tebbe: Alecia said: "She taught me to believe in me when I didnt believe in myself." (Alecia will pass her GED this summer.) Trina said: " She took me to my first broadway play- i'd never gone to the theater before." Daniel said: "She was going to help me create a visual blog of experiences in Over-the-Rhine." Chet said: " She was just so enthusiastic about the future of her students at Venice on Vine. She will truly be missed and all of us can learn something because her focused commitment and fine example." Rina said: "there's not a place here at Venice she hasn't touched."


06.02.2011 at 01:13 Reply
Brian, great job. You hit it on the head about both of them. She will be missed.


06.03.2011 at 06:18 Reply
I am aware of Tebbe's commitment to so many causes. And especially to the resurrection of H-Bomb's (and others') musical careers. I first met Tebbe through Michael Riley, a close friend of mine from high school, college and beyond. While in high school, he and I would call one another when WSAI-AM radio would release it's weekly Top Ten playlist, and talk (and haggle) over which of our favorite songs should have been on it and didn't make it. In college, when I didn't have a ride home after classes. Michael would often let me stay over at his Mom's house on Jefferson Avenue in Clifton. So many of my favorite albums, and new "stuff", came from Michael (with discounted prices!). Often, he would let me and my brother John "sit in" with him at his earlier WAIF shows, doing station IDs and such. Believe it or not, Michael and I went to the first (yes 1969!) Woodstock Festival together. He got us transportation off of the ride board in the Student Union at U.C. Looking back, I suppose this was the highlight of our time as friends. But, back to Tebbe...she and I and Michael hung out many times through the years. Though I supplied many of the printed materials to her (from me and Michael's old days) for the memorial tribute, I just could not attend. I was still grieving too much and simply couldn't deal with it. I so much appreciate what Tebbe did out of her love and commitment to my long-time friend Michael. I only wish that I would have expressed it to her more sincerely. God bless you, Tebbe.