By Thomas Crone
"She was the perfect bassist," Tkach's partner and Magic City bandmate Adam Hesed says. "She never needed to be a frontman or the lead guitarist. She was concerned with the music. She definitely appreciated when people appreciated what she was doing -- everyone likes validation of their life's work -- but she didn't crave the center spot."
In early April, Tkach, a bassist and percussionist in a variety of St. Louis rock acts over the past decade-plus, passed away in her hometown of Webster Groves, the victim of an early-morning house fire. She lived there while tending to her father, Peter, then aged 79. On Friday, June 26, Peter Tkach also died following several months of severe health setbacks, including a broken hip and the emotional toll of his daughter's passing.
Hesed concedes that "everything about this is awful," but notes that the elder Tkach was able to come to peace with the finality of his life in his last days, refusing any extraordinary medical efforts.
"He was put in a hospice, basically slept for four days and passed," Hesed says. "He'd made his decision, and I'm happy for him that he was aware and able to make that decision."
Lately, a lot of folks have been wanting to talk to Hesed about Anne and the impact that she had on them. That's been amplified by the arrival of a show at Off Broadway on Friday, July 10. "Wild and Blue: A Tribute to Anne Tkach" will pull together a host of acts that she performed with or alongside, including Peck of Dirt, the Skekses, Ransom Note, the Good Griefs, Hazeldine, Magic City, Nadine and Rough Shop. Fred Friction will play as well, and Hesed will accompany him on standup bass -- Tkach's own -- though he humbly laughs, "That's not print-worthy. Fred plays with about four notes, and I've been able to learn all of those four."
Hesed is finally able to crack a joke -- smile a bit, share a good story -- after some admittedly trying months. Part of his healing has come through organizing the show, as he's thrown himself in with a group of musicians and supporters who are working hard to honor Tkach's memory.
On the night she died, Tkach's many friends and collaborators went to Ryder's Tavern for an informal gathering. Others went to the Schlafly Tap Room that weekend, on an evening when the resurgent Magic City was to have played.
"[Magic City] actually had a show booked three days after she died, and one for each month following," Hesed says. "We had found a new drummer in town, and the band was going to come back."
The impromptu gatherings were nice, but a true tribute took some finessing.
"We knew that we had to do something," Hesed says. "It was obvious. We talked to the ladies from Hazeldine when they were in town for the funeral, and we settled on a date. We called several people from the bands that she'd played with and brainstormed about what to do -- those bands had to find some brave soul who would play bass or drums. We chose a date and approached Steve [Pohlman] at Off Broadway and basically said, 'This is our only possible date.' He had to clear his schedule, finding another venue for the other band, so that no one was ditched. He did his part."
Three groups that helped define Tkach's work will be given feature slots. There's Hazeldine, the New Mexico-based band with which she toured North America and Europe in the late '90s and early '00s -- for this show, the group will be joined by Hesed and ace guitarist Jason Hutto. Then there's Rough Shop, lauded in large part for its well-received annual holiday concerts and songwriter-driven Americana. And, of course, there's the explosive Magic City, which was slated to come off hiatus with new drummer Drew Gowran, though Sam Meyer will play for this reunion show, as will bassist Kiki Solis.
While the music will be the centerpiece of the evening, stories will no doubt be traded throughout the night. For Nadine keyboardist/guitarist Steve Rauner, memories include Tkach's "impeccable instincts."
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"We called it her 'inter chicken,' loosely evolved -- as things do on the road -- from 'inter schenken.' She was impossibly right about things. From finding out how to get to a groove on a song when it was not happening to navigating through a foreign country in the pre-GPS days. I remember one occasion vividly: We were lost on a rural road in Germany, and she popped up from a late-night, post-gig nap in the back of the van only to shout out, 'Next left,' then immediately flopping back down to sleep. She was right, and we got back to the hotel safe and sound.
"Above all, she loved sharing," he adds. "Giving whatever she had to work with to make folks' days a bit better."
Spencer Marquart, drummer for Rough Shop, says, "The sky was the limit for Anne. She could have fronted a jazz or bossa nova band, no doubt. Her bread and butter was rock and soul music, on electric bass with Rough Shop and Magic City. She could easily sit in with a band playing bluegrass and country on her upright bass. Or lead a rock and country band on the drums. Or in bands like Ransom Note, lay down some incredible percussion and sing soulful harmony parts.
"It was her style to lay the foundation for the benefit of the song," Marquart continues. "She was outrageously funny and surrounded by dudes most of the time. She could make us all blush. I'm honored that we got to play together while she was here."
Before she moved in with her father, Marquart and Tkach lived two blocks from one another, and often carpooled to and from band practice and live performances.
"I'd drop her off after 11 p.m. and there would always be bands playing in the basement," Marquart says. "She helped out all these bands, and played with many of them, too. She was all about community and music. A topnotch musician and beautiful person who loved sharing her talent with many bands in town. She taught me everything I know about playing percussion."
"At the time that she died, she had shows booked with four of the nine bands playing at Off Broadway, and a fifth one had a record recorded and mixed," Hesed says. "It was normal to her to have three to five bands playing at various levels of activity. When it was just two, she felt like she wasn't doing anything."
Asked if she sought out opportunities or had to routinely decline them, Hesed says, "People would always ask her. I only knew her to ever quit one band. But she turned a lot of bands down. And she would get really pissed when someone broke up a band. Sometimes that'd last for years. It's kind of the only thing that I knew her to get pissed about. 'Why would you give up? Why would you give up on this?' She was a very patient person."
The outpouring of support from the local community that Tkach so loved is welcomed, and according to Hesed, well-deserved.
"I'm glad that people are paying attention," Hesed says. "There was a little concern that we were doing this a full three months out. Some people thought that might be too long, but it's heartening to know that they're thinking of her.
"She's on my mind every minute of the day," he adds. "It's good to hear that she's on other people's minds, too."
Wild and Blue: A Tribute to Anne Tkach 7 p.m. Friday, July 10. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10 to $20. 314-773-3363.