Larger than life7/17/2013
They say that to watch Brad Engledinger play the drums was a transformative experience.
“I was lucky enough to catch (former Iowa City act) High and Lonesome when they first started playing Des Moines,” said Des Moines guitarist John Price. “There were nights when I’d just sit and watch Brad play with a huge smile on my face.”
“He was a really musical drummer,” concurred High and Lonesome front man David Zollo. “Despite his large and imposing physique, he played with a lot of finesse. His cymbal work was great.”
When Engledinger was killed in a car accident this past January, the sudden loss sent shockwaves through the music scene, not only here in the capital city, but throughout Iowa. Engledinger was a man who was known for his big heart, his deft musical touch and his boundless, overriding love of his family. Which, in Engledinger’s world, included his band mates and fans almost as much as his wife and two children.
The local music community came together shortly after Engledinger’s passing to honor his life in a pair of memorial services. But for Zollo — the man who’d played with Engledinger in a friendship spanning two bands and 10 years — there was more that could be done in tribute.
“Shortly after Brad passed, I was delivering a eulogy at the two services they had, and I thought about (a memorial show) then,” Zollo explained. “I’m sure other people had the idea at the same time, but I was the person who had always done the booking for us when we played, so I think it just naturally fell to me to put it all together.”
Those initial plans coalesced into two memorial shows — one in Iowa City, one in Des Moines — featuring some of the people who knew and loved Engledinger the best. This week’s show, taking place at Wooly’s this Friday, features Dave Zollo and the Body Electric, as well as Des Moines perennial favorites Brother Trucker and Fancy Pants. The event is not only a chance for Engledinger’s friends to remember him through the music he loved so much but also doubles as an opportunity to honor the family he left behind. Zollo said a trust has been set up in the name of Engledinger’s family, and show attendees will have the opportunity to donate money to the cause.
“When an independent musician dies unexpectedly, a lot of times our families are in the wind,” Zollo said. “In this line of work, we don’t have 401(K)s and life insurance. The main reason I wanted to do (the memorial show) was to commemorate Brad’s life, but it was also a way to pay tribute to his wife and children.”
“I’ll never forget how excited he was…the night he met his wife at a river excursion concert in Lansing,” Price added. “I’m so happy that he met Julia. He loved her and the kids so much.”
When faced with sudden, unfathomable grief, we humans tend to honor those we lost in the manner that they lived. As such, part of the legacy in being a musician is getting just enough immortality to help cushion the blow of your own passing. Engledinger’s friends will gather together at Wooly’s this weekend and remember the man as he was: larger than life, strong of will and a damn fine musician.
“ ‘Big Heart’ doesn’t quite do him justice,” said Brother Trucker front man Andrew Fleming. “To watch him play was nothing short of pure joy incarnate.”
“Music was so important to Brad,” concluded Zollo. “With any musician, the most important thing is how you listen, and Brad had big ears.” CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.