Obituary: Dave Hagerty of Fattback, 1981-2010

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Ask people what they remember most about Dave Hagerty, and chances are they won't mention his genre-bending guitar playing or the bizarre obsessions he sang about in his band, Fattback. What friends recall is Hagerty's smile - a genuine, kind-eyed grin that rarely left his face.

"Dave had the perma-grin," recalls his Fattback bandmate, John Joern. "He looked like he was enjoying life every day no matter what."

Adds Steve Pohlman, co-owner of Off Broadway, where Fattback frequently performed: "If you look at photographs of Dave on stage, that smile was always there. That was consistent - that wasn't an on-stage thing. When you saw the guy, you were gonna see that smile."

According to Hagerty's parents, that sunny disposition revealed itself early. "From birth on, he always had a smile on his face," remembers his father, Brian Hagerty. His mother Diane concurs: "He did. He was always a real happy kid."

Hagerty, 28, passed away on Monday, August 2, from injuries he sustained in a car accident the previous weekend.

The gregarious Hagerty was best known as a member of Fattback, but he played many roles within the local music community. He co-hosted the weekly open mic night at Venice Café, played in the reggae group Ashaka & Ram Jam Reggae, ran trivia nights and taught guitar lessons in Off Broadway's building. Most nights of the week, he could be found engaged in some musical pursuit.

The middle of three boys, Hagerty began taking guitar lessons just like his older brother Jim, who has played with local math-rock whizzes Yowie. "He was interested early on," says Brian Hagerty. "His older brother took lessons and everything, and I remember us taking him to lessons at Music Folk in Webster. A lot of it, he progressed on his own. Musically he [drew from] so many sources. He could play any instrument.

"He got interested in music and never wavered. He liked to experiment and expand, like you know from his songs. He likes humor, and his songs are usually pretty 'up,'"

His band mates saw a similar drive kick in a few years ago, after Hagerty returned to St. Louis from a four year stint in Texas. "He kinda followed his dream a couple years ago," Joern says. "He worked for 1-800-GOT-JUNK for a long time and just got sick of that whole thing, and all he wanted to do was play music. So he started teaching lessons and until he passed, that's what he did for a living. He had something like 30 students and taught guitar and did trivia and hosted open mics. That's what he loved to do."

Hagerty and Joern began playing music together when the two were students at Webster Groves High School. The pair formed Fattback in 2005 along with Sean Dallmeyer, Mike Apperson and Grady Breidanbach. The band put out two full-lengths and released its last CD, the five-song EEE PEE, on July 24. Fattback excelled at blurring the lines between rock, country, folk and jam-band music, and the band's songs featured nonsensical, off-the-wall lyrics that nonetheless became audience sing-alongs at Fattback's raucous, participatory live shows.

"As far as songwriting, I would say that 75 percent or more was Dave's, lyrically," Joern says. "He was the main driving force of Fattback, really, just because him being who he is, it made it so easy and perfect. We just took anything that came out of his brain, put it on the paper and turned it into music."

According to his parents, Hagerty remained humble and vague about his contributions to the band - and always highlighted the contributions of the other band members instead of himself. "I would always ask David, 'Did you write this song? Who wrote this song?' - like a typical Mom," recalls Diane Hagerty. "He always called me 'Mama,' and he would say 'Mama, I'm not gonna tell you who wrote what 'cause then you're gonna be prejudiced and like that song better.' So I don't know which songs he wrote." Mike Tomko recalls asking Fattback to be part of the first An Under Cover Weekend. The popular annual event features local bands "becoming" other acts and performing sets of cover songs. After tackling the Cars in 2007, Fattback played a set of Huey Lewis & the News songs the next year. To this day, that set remains legendary. "People were chanting 'Huey! Huey!' before their set," Tomko recalls. "They truly had a hand in helping define what that [weekend] has become."

Beyond his musical gifts, Tomko remarked on Hagerty's genuine personality and his easy way with people "He was one of those people who would introduce himself to people you were with before you even had a chance to introduce him, and I always thought that to be a really cool quality, because it showed that he actually cared about the other people in the conversation," he says.

On Monday, August 2, friends, well-wishers and members of many local bands gathered at the Venice Café in Hagerty's honor. Miles Long, Hagerty's open mic co-host, had the unenviable task of serving as emcee that evening. A handful of performers played their songs as people stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar and packed the Venice's courtyard. Those in attendance shared stories, marveled at Hagerty's songwriting technique, danced to Fattback songs and mourned his loss with smiles, tears and a few cheap beers.

Long reminisced on what made him such a good open mic host. "He was just real, real slow and really gentle with people. It was amazing to see," he says. "He was very patient and encouraging, and you always got the sense that he was listening to everybody. He had a genuine interest in everyone who came out."

The unofficial memorial continued on Thursday, August 5, as the Rhode Island-based band Deer Tick played to a sweaty, sold-out crowd at Off Broadway. It was a show that Fattback was supposed to open. In a touching display of class and sympathy, Deer Tick donated a portion of the night's proceeds to the Dave Hagerty Memorial Fund. Singer John McCauley started the show by stating that the night was both a tribute to Dave Hagerty and a celebration of local music. He then performed a nimble but forceful version of the instrumental classic "Sleep Walk" in honor of Hagerty.

Off Broadway's Pohlman first knew Hagerty as a musician but came to regard him as part of his extended family. In fact, his regular presence at Off Broadway was a big part of the club's home-away-from-home appeal. "He was a guy that was enjoying whatever he was doing in that minute," he says. "It sounds like a cliché, but he really was a great kid.

"The other word I think about him is, he was so sweet," Pohlman continues. "It sounds weird to say that about a guy, but he really was. So it's hard to think about the fact that he's not gonna come walking around the corner."

Hagerty's younger brother Danny is also a musician, and he spoke of Dave's support and encouragement of his own musical talents. "He was just a huge part of my life. It's impossible to grasp him not being around. I called him on anything," he recalls. "I called him just the other week about how I needed a singer for my new band. He had been through the whole process before and was walking me through it."

For his band mates, the loss is understandably profound; after all, few musicians have the skill, panache and beautiful brain to pull of what Dave achieved on stage. To those who knew and loved him, however, his positive attitude and big heart matters most - and continues to endure.

"I had a conversation with someone the other night and they were saying, 'Oh, I bet you've seen everything with Dave, the good times and the bad times,'" Joern remembers. "And I honestly could not think of one bad time that I've had with Dave Hagerty. I mean, knowing the guy for fourteen years or whatever it's been, I don't think I've ever been in an argument with him. I don't think we've even disagreed. It's insane, but Dave was just an easy-going person. He never had a problem with anything."

Dave Hagerty's visitation/wake is from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, August 6, at Bopp Chapel, 10610 Manchester Road, Kirkwood. His funeral is at 10 a.m. Saturday, August 7, at St. Michael's Church, 7622 Sutherland Avenue, Shrewsbury.

(Note: According to a post on Daily RFT, police "are pursuing strong leads" in search for the other driver involved in the car accident.)

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