By Jack L. Pier
The recent departure of bandmates Shonna Tucker and John Neff saddened fans of the Drive-By Truckers. Both played with DBT for many years, but decided to form their own band: Eye Candy. It’s not the first time the band has had to face adversity and make adjustments. In 2007, Jason Isbell left the band to go solo. So this year, while the exact lineup may have been in question, fans never doubted the band would survive. All of this, however, would seem trivial after January 18th, when news of the sudden death of crew member Craig Lieske began to circulate. He passed away of a heart attack the morning after a DBT show at his beloved 40-Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. Friends say he was on top of the world after performing with “Thundercrack”, the crew based band that was the evening’s opening act.
Lieske, born in Lima, Ohio on December 30, 1964 was known to some as the “Merch Guy” you’d see at every rock show for the last decade. He had an uncanny ability to remember names of people he may have only met once, and details about their conversations that took place years ago. For die-hard DBT fans, it didn’t take long for some special friendships to develop. Once you got to know Craig, you realized how well read he was, and that his knowledge of music was amazing. I had the privilege of knowing him myself after a mutual friend introduced us a few years ago, when DBT was in town playing at the House of Blues. We quickly bonded over shots of Makers Mark, discussing the bands we grew up listening to and the ones we felt were up and coming. We stayed in touch via Facebook and met up again in Austin for SXSW the next spring, and at the 40-Watt in Athens the following winter. He made a special point to make me feel welcome when I came to town.
Playing at Billy Bob’s in Ft. Worth on January 26th must have been tough on the band. It had only been a week and a day since his death, but they said he’d have wanted the show to go on. They dedicated one of their songs, “The Living Bubba” to him, and it was quite moving. The song was written years ago about a musician dying of cancer, but who still had “… another show to do”. You can see a video of it on YouTube if you search for it.
Patterson Hood, one of DBT’s songwriters, wrote a song in Craig’s honor called “Grand Canyon” and performed it at his memorial on February 2nd (also at the 40-Watt Club). Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. My aforementioned friend was there though, and he said there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. People came from all over to pay their respects. Many of the 2,100+ friends he had on Facebook, myself included, coordinated a toast at 4:00 EST to remember the occasion. Wes Freed, band artist, created a print of Craig that quickly became everyone’s profile picture. Everyone went back into their photo libraries and started tagging Craig wherever he was spotted. As a result, we got to see photos of him taken all over the world.
The man’s contribution to the band may not have been fully understood until recent interviews shared how he would act as a sounding board when new songs were being written. Patterson Hood talks about long bus rides where Craig would be a tough critic, but always encouraging, a muse – if you will. I think that’s how I’d like to remember him. He was a good friend and will be missed by many. We’ll see you at the Rock Show Craig!