Feb. 24, 1927 — Feb. 1, 2019
Ernie Weber, a fiddler, guitarist and banjo player who for many years was a mainstay of Western New York’s country music scene, died Feb. 1 in Mercy Hospital after a short illness. He was 91.
When he was 7, his oldest brother, Fritz, who played banjo and dobro guitar, bought him his first guitar from a Sears catalog. Soon he was playing bluegrass music on street corners with Fritz and another brother, Walt, who played mandolin and bass.
As the Weber Brothers Band, they started performing in the Buffalo area in the late 1940s and played regularly at the Club Utica, TNT Western Paradise, Rinaldo’s and later at Luder’s Log Cabin in Elma.
On many Sundays in the 1950s and the 1960s, they took part in country music jamborees throughout Western New York. Locally, the Webers and Ramblin’ Lou Shriver’s Family Band were considered the first families of country music.
Mr. Weber also is credited with introducing the Fender Telecaster electric guitar to audiences here.
After the three brothers split up to lead their own bands, Mr. Weber put together groups in the 1970s that included the River Border Band and Ernie Weber and the All-Stars. At times, he was joined by leading local rock musicians such as pianist Stan Szelest and drummer Sandy Konikoff.
The Weber Brothers went on to recruit their children and grandchildren to play in their bands and several went on to have music careers of their own.
Born Ernest M. Weber in Buffalo, one of seven children, he attended elementary school in Cheektowaga, where his father was custodian for Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church and Shrine. He enlisted in the Army in his mid-teens during World War II and served in Europe in a special investigation division.
Returning from service, he became a member of the Teamsters Union and worked as a truck driver for 40 years for Pine Hill Concrete.
He and his wife of 68 years, the former Jeanette Lina, began dating after he offered her and a girlfriend a ride in his convertible when he saw them walking on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga.
“He started flirting with the girls,” his daughter said, “and they had a dinner date the next night.”
He had opportunities to play country music in Nashville, Cindy said, but decided to stay in Western New York with his family.
“He never missed a day of work,” she said. “He’d work, come home, mom would have dinner on the table, then he’d go out and play music in the clubs. He would play until there was nobody to play for. He did it for the love of it and the bar owners would love it.”
He also was a mentor to younger players.
“A lot of musicians would come over to the house,” Cindy said, “and they would get licks and style of playing from my father. Many of them said my father gave them their first break. He’d call them up on stage, good or bad, and see how they liked it.”
He continued performing until about two years ago. He frequently played at Ernie Weber’s Beef N’ Ale, a bar and restaurant operated by his daughter on South Park Avenue in Lackawanna.
He was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as part of the Weber Family Band in 1999. He was honored in East Aurora with the 2012 Mary and Gil Stott Award, which recognizes commitment to the arts and the Roycroft spirit.
In 2016, the Americana Music Foundation presented him with its Bill Kirchen Pioneer of the Year Award.
An Elma resident since the mid 1950s, he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in East Aurora.
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, James; another daughter, Dawn; a brother, Paul; two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A Remembrance Mass was offered Thursday in St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 6441 Seneca St., Springbrook.
Story topics: country music