Duane Eby: A Gift Who Will Keep on Giving

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When local singer-songwriter Duane Eby succumbed a week ago to the cardiac problems that had plagued him for many years, the outpouring of grief and disbelief on social media was like a shockwave.

“Duane always made people feel at ease in their own skin,” fellow singer-songwriter Sunny Taylor said. “Whether I was listening to him perform, or talking with him one on one, he always allowed plenty of room for me to be my own weird self. He validated it and encouraged it. It still doesn’t seem real that this world doesn’t have Duane Eby anymore.

Local music booker and booster Brad Etter recalled a time when he was in the hospital suffering from some heart issues of his own.

“Duane had been a patient at various hospitals off and on for the past five years for chronic cardiac conditions,” he said. “This time, though, I was not visiting Duane in his hospital room. Duane was visiting me in mine.

“Duane, armed with only his ‘mighty uke’ and carrying a large black notebook, entered my hospital room,” Etter said. “He told me to pick any song that he had in his big notebook. There were hundreds of songs with lyrics, music notations and charts – literally hundreds of songs, if not more, neatly organized and categorized in his notebook.”

Etter chose “Across the Universe.”

“To this day, every time I hear this popular Beatles song, I immediately think of my lovely, gentle friend Duane,” he said.   “What a treat. What a thrill to have Duane share a solo, mini and private concert for me while I was a patient in the hospital.”

Fans, friends, collaborators and well-wishers will gather at 1 p.m. Saturday at Wunderkammer Company, 3402 Fairfield Avenue, to appreciate Eby’s life and legacy through song.

Local producer Jon Gillespie, who worked with Eby on his 2005 album, “It’s what’s inside that counts,” said his imagination was always pushing his musicianship.

“There are a lot of people who have great chops but not so great imagination,” he said. “Duane was always pushing himself to be better and he made great stuff because of that.”

Gillespie said “It’s what’s inside that counts” was his gift to Eby and, after his death, he knew that “someone had to do a tribute album.”

Unsurprisingly, that someone turned out to be Gillespie.

“People hold him in such high regard,” he said. “And my attitude was “Well, nobody else is going to do this so I’d better do it.'”

Gillespie said he currently has 12 people signed up to perform Eby’s songs and another dozen-or-so sidemen who say they want to play backup.

The idea, he said, is not to do a “cover band” tribute to Eby, but to allow people to interpret his material as they see fit. It’s an approach that Eby would have very much enjoyed, Gillespie said.

“We’re trying to do stuff with a fair amount of variety,” he said. “Everything from neoclassical to electronica to folk and rock.”

For example, Gillespie is arranging Eby’s “Overcome” for string quartet. The tribute album version will feature Hope Arthur on vocals and Jane Heald, Felix Moxter and Derek Reeves on strings.

Gillespie doesn’t want to let the project marinate too long.

“I want to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak,” he said. “I don’t want it to come out a year from now. I’d like it to be a few months. But it’s a huge amount of work to do.”

Gillespie is open to having more folks get on board.

“I want anybody who was very moved by Duane’s music,” he said. “Some of the people who are involved knew him really well and a few people didn’t know him well but were big fans of the music.”

Gillespie said people can contact him about the project via his Facebook page.

Any proceeds from CD sales and downloads will go to Eby’s widow, Janine, Gillespie said.

A secondary goal of the project is to give people a creative way to express and process their grief.

“It’s rare that you see this kind of outpouring of grief and love and admiration for a 65-year-old local songwriter,” he said. “What it’s doing for the community in terms of bringing us together and allowing us to collectively grieve is crucial;”

Asked to assess the musician independent of the man, Gillespie said the two can’t be separated.

“He was such a gentle, encouraging, nurturing soul,” he said, “and that went along with his music. It seems like everyone he came in contact with came away the better for it. Everyone came away more passionate about music.”

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