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Richie Pidanick, drummer, music store executive, dies at 64

Richie Pidanick

July 18, 1952 – Sept. 27, 2016

It’s a common tale.

A young boy finds himself in front of the family television set on the evening of Feb. 9, 1964. At 8 p.m., just as his Buffalo factory-worker parents are thinking of getting him ready for bed, the Ed Sullivan Show comes on. Twelve minutes into the show, four musicians from England take the stage and perform three songs. The boy is overwhelmed with emotion, has an epiphany, and suddenly sees his life’s journey laid out before him: He will be a musician.

That young Beatles fan became Richie Pidanick, a drummer and national music store executive who was twice inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.

Pidanick died Tuesday under hospice care in his home on Hilton Head Island, S.C., after a three-year battle with liver cancer. He was 64.

Pidanick was first chosen for the Hall of Fame in 2003 for his individual achievements, then was honored in 2015 with the other members of the storied 1970s progressive rock band Flash.

Since 1983, he had been associated with the Guitar Center music instrument stores, advancing from sales associate, to store manager, to the company’s number two position – senior vice president overseeing all the branches across the nation.

Tributes from his fellow musicians and Guitar Center colleagues poured in on his Facebook page.

“There was no one that had more influence on the Guitar Center family,” one colleague wrote. “He was a great friend, a true mentor, and an inspiration to all of us.”

Born in Buffalo, Pidanick related in his Hall of Fame autobiography that he was inspired to become a drummer while listening to his older brother Nick Jr. rehearse in their basement with his band, the Vibra-Tones. Lacking the money for a drum kit, he said he played along to records on an old metal chair and snuck into the basement to practice on the band’s drums.

When he was 12, he became the group’s drummer, playing weddings, dances and clubs. After his brother went into the Army, he found other players and performed in a succession of groups at high school dances, church halls and college parties. His band Cold Soup hosted Monday night jams at Aliotta’s Lounge on Hertel Avenue and opened for national touring acts there. Later, he was part of the Jerry Hudson Group, which was the house band at the Executive nightclub, and worked on many recording sessions in studios in Buffalo and Rochester.

After he graduated from Kenmore West High School in 1970, he played on the first tracks for Flash, a band made up of leading young players who wrote their own songs – an anomaly in a local music scene that favored bands performing the hits of the day. Flash moved to Los Angeles and continued recording, but was unable to land a contract with a record label. When LA club owners began suggesting that Flash begin covering Top 40 tunes in concert, keeping the original songs to a bare minimum, the band saw the writing on the wall, and called it a day.

Like his bandmates, Pidanick went on to have a successful career elsewhere in music. For several years, he toured with singer-songwriters Paul Williams and Ned Doheny, among others, and was a studio musician in Los Angeles. He also developed the Richie Ring, a muffler which suppressed harmonic ring on drum heads for recording sessions.

“After coming off the road with Paul Williams in 1983,” he wrote, “I felt it was time to get involved in another aspect of the music industry. A friend of mine from Yamaha recommended me to Guitar Center in Sherman Oaks.”

He quickly went from drum salesman to assistant manager. A year later he was promoted to manager of the San Diego store, then managed the store in Sherman Oaks. He was assigned to manage new stores in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1988 and Dallas, Texas, in 1989. He was promoted several times, eventually to the position of regional manager for the Northeast in 2004, then vice president in charge of the company’s internet operations from 2006 to 2011. Recipient of several awards from the company, he retained the title of vice president for culture and values. In this capacity, Pidanick was interviewed for the 2012 NAMM Oral History Program, and offered a quote that summed up his attitude toward both musicianship and his role in the corporate culture of Guitar Center.

“We have to live our core values,” Pidanick said. “Before we can tell someone ‘It’s all about integrity,’ they have to see us living it.”

“He was beyond generous,” his wife, Patti Turri, said. “If he heard you say you needed a box of Kleenex, he’d go and buy you a dozen.”

In recent years, he returned to performing on club dates with bands in Buffalo and California. Locally, he was featured in a tribute to his late bandmate Larry Swist in 2014 and took part in a Flash reunion. He was celebrated by his fellow musicians in Richie-Palooza shows in California in 2014 and last year at the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Buffalo.

“Richie was a unique friend,” said Richard Sargent of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, who worked as a liaison between Flash and Janus Records in the early 1970s, and stayed close friends with Pidanick thereafter. “He had the ability to make you feel like an equal, like someone he was interested in. He listened to the conversation and would respond accordingly. Richie always looked for the positive in everything and everyone. That’s a rare trait.”

Pidanick moved from Thousand Oaks, Calif., to Hilton Head Island four months ago. A new CD, “Carpe Diem,” featuring guest appearances by numerous well-known players who were among his friends, was recorded over recent years. The finished, packaged CD arrived at Pidanick’s house just a few days prior to his death.

“I knew Richie from his legend for 25 years before I met him in person,” said Sportsmen’s Tavern owner, musician and producer Dwane Hall. “After a few meetings, I found he was just a magical presence. When he walked into the recording studio, you could feel the love coming from him, and you could feel the respect he had for his peers around him. I never met a more gracious, fun-loving and professional man.”

Pidanick never forgot that his love for music was solidified on a winter Sunday night in 1964. The last line of the liner notes on “Carpe Diem” confirms that and also confirms he had a conversation with one of his idols, whose real name is Richard Starkey.

“And last but not least, thanks to – Ringo Starr, ‘The Other Richard’ (by the way, your phone call definitely added time to my clock),” he wrote. “Thanks for inspiring us all. Peace and love forever, Richie P.”

In addition to his wife, survivors include two brothers, Nicholas and Robert; a sister, Judi Magee; a step-son, Adam Turri; a step-daughter, Kelly Mercado; and four grandchildren.

A celebration of his life, and a simultaneous release party for the “Carpe Diem” disc, is planned for November, at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, 326 Amherst St.

– Dale Anderson and Jeff Miers

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