Remembering Bob Petric, longtime guitarist for Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments
News of the local musician’s death broke on Saturday; memorial plans are forthcoming
I first met Bob Petric at Larry’s, that esteemed, long-gone gathering place for all things underground. Craig Regala, who founded Datapanik records, introduced us as he was showing Bob the test pressing for Bob’s intense, UK post-punk inspired band Girly Machine. Bob was only a few years older than me, but I knew who he was by reputation. While he was not so much a showman on guitar, his — dare I use the term — “chops'' were towering. His sound melded the playing of Eddie Van Halen and Richard Lloyd with the blue-collar work ethic of Strongsville, Ohio, and he could wreck the night for any act that followed, no matter what band he was playing with.
We laughed a lot on that first meeting, two class clowns in the middle of a bar. By the end of the night, we were spitting beer on each other from over the chunky wooden booths that worked so well at hiding those of us who wanted to be seen by being unseen.
Bob would soon form Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments with my Used Kids Records co-worker Ron House after Ron’s band, Great Plains, broke up and there was no opener for the show that had been scheduled at Stache’s. What resulted from that clumsy live debut were a series of critically lauded singles, a masterful first album on Rick Rubin’s Onion Records imprint and two more full-lengths on Bob Pollard’s Rock-a-Thon record label and local indie Anyway Records, which I founded and continue to run.
TJSA managed to squeeze in tours with Guided by Voices and played with some of the era’s finest bands, continuing to play concerts sporadically up until 2020, when COVID-19 changed us all forever.
Petric was playful on stage, his crooked grin and laughter belying his approach to playing. He was a literal powerhouse whose muscular approach to guitar was cemented by the way he almost flexed the instrument. He was never showy; he just destroyed. It didn’t hurt that Bob was somewhat of a gym rat for much of his adult life, his biceps poking through his flannel and T-shirt. He was the perfect counter to House’s snarky punk-rock sneer, which never grew old even though Ron and the rest of the band did.
More than anything, though, Bob was a sweetheart — a fixture at not only the aforementioned Larry’s, but also Stache’s, Little Brothers and, over the past 12 years, Ace of Cups, where he could be found at the far end of the bar, chatting, joking and generally being interested in the lives of the people he was around.
Both Stache’s and Little Brothers posted signs as a reminder for whoever was working the door that read, “These people will always get in free,” and Bob’s name was on both signs. There is a Replacements song, “Here Comes a Regular,” a melancholy ode to finding comfort in the familiar setting of a bar, and Bob was the regular. He was never coming; he was always there. Many of us felt the comfort of his easy smile and sparkling eyes. He would put his hand on your shoulder, squeeze and say, “Good to see you,” and his grip made you know he meant it. He would seek you out if he knew things were not going well in your personal life. “I’m sorry to hear you are struggling,” he would say. “If you need anything.” He cared. Authentically.
When I quit drinking many years ago and would go to shows, Bob would pull me aside. He had experienced struggles similar to mine and he’d always let me know that if I felt uncomfortable being at a show, I could find him. It was a gesture that a newbie to sobriety greatly appreciated, because the thought of giving up live music and its community in exchange for sobriety was a mountain too high for me to climb. Bob helped me realize it was something I did not have to.
The generosity Bob showed to others was bountiful. When Used Kids had a devastating fire in the early 2000s, it appeared as though part of the fabric that held our tenuous world together was left smoldering in the embers. But Bob showed up that first day, constructed all of the shelving for the new store and supplied us all with laughter, encouragement and friendship. He helped sew us back together.
Around that time, I would see Bob at the Downtown YMCA where I had been working out (I took up long-distance running to help outrun my demons). We would talk and laugh, both of us doing it for the same reasons, blasting our Walkmans in unison.
A few weeks ago I was buying coffee at Yeah, Me Too and Bob walked in. We chatted about how COVID had isolated us but also made us appreciate the smaller things in life. He said he had been walking a lot, drinking a lot of coffee and working from home. He missed the gym and was hopeful to return to it soon, to get back on the rowing machine.
It was fitting that this would be the last place I would see and laugh with him. The small Clintonville coffee shop had turned into the new weekend meeting place for many of us who had been welded to the High Street bars and stages during the last 30 years: Marcy, Sue, Gretchen, Jovan and many others. On Saturday mornings, it isn’t uncommon to find that community, that family of which some of us have been a part for our entire adult lives, hanging out together, holding cups of coffee at 10 a.m. instead of Black Label bottlenecks at 10 p.m.
On Friday night I was walking with my daughter, who is 15 years old — wise, funny and curious — and she asked about people dying, and how many I had known who had passed on.
“Dad, you lost a lot of friends over the years, right?”
I paused. I don’t want her to think that life is lived just to lose things — lovers, relationships, friends — but rather that there is more to be gained.
“Well, yeah, but I also laughed a lot, and I continue to learn how to love. We need the people in our lives. I think we need to let people know we love them more.”
We walked for about half a block until she said, “Yeah, I think you are right.”
Bob Petric died this past week. And he knew that his friends loved him. After I heard the news, I got many text messages from friends and sent out many in return, and all ended with the same thing: I love you.
Rest in Peace, Bob. I love you.