Happy hunting ground

Ave atque vale

By now most of D-town’s rock ’n’ roll community has heard about the bizarre car wreck/explosion that took down two of the good ones Dec. 8. Tim Van Esley, 24, and Scott “Shwaac” Head, 34, leave behind two loving families and — based on the enormous turnout of those who’ve paid their respects — more friends and admirers than either of them, in life, could have ever imagined they had. Their unexpected deaths came as a shock to many.

Van Esley moved to Detroit from Redford at the age of 18 and discovered pretty early on that he was in love with this town. His first job had him barbacking and chasing pins at the Garden Bowl/Magic Stick, and it was there — the second home to innumerable Motor City musicians and artists — that Van Esley developed an appreciation for the scene. And, without getting all mawkish, we can say that his quiet demeanor fronted an enormous intensity — he believed in the power of music and art, he believed in the rebirth of Detroit and he believed in the kindness of people.

“His obsession with music, physics, computers and science were only overshadowed by his obsession with friendship. He cared so much for his friends, and he didn’t let it show very often, but he cared deeply for his family as well. He was a misunderstood genius, and I know that right now he’s on a celestial tour of the solar system and he’s quite happy about it,” Jeff Richards, Van Esley’s friend and roommate, says.

Many remember “Shwaac” as the jocular barkeep from Small’s and the Motor Lounge. With his signature black bowler hat and wry smile, Shwaac’s reputation for high jinks and hilarity often preceded him. At his wake, owner of the Painted Lady and close friend Joe Lampinen toasted his fallen bud: “I stole Shwaac from Small’s because I knew he’d bring in customers.” And he did.

Kyle Thatcher knew Shwaac better than anyone. The two met as middle-schoolers through a mutual love of skateboarding and continued their friendship for two decades. “Shwaac didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He had an excellent sense of humor and was always good for a laugh.”

There will be a fundraiser for the Van Esley and Head families on Saturday, Jan. 1, at Alvin’s, 5756 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-4577. Several of Van Esley’s and Shwaac’s favorite bands are scheduled to perform including Pub Life, Human Eye, the Valentinos, A.L.D., Terrible Twos, Grayling, Gender, Speedball, Whiskey Diaries, The Big Spit, H8 Inc., the Bill Bondsmen and DJ Top Kat.

If you noticed Grayling on that list and wondered if it was the same ’90s power pop band that fizzled before its time, the answer is yes. In fact, the adored hometown combo reunited last Saturday for their first show in ages. Led by the songwriter/frontman Jerrod Wolny and backed by former Back in Spades members Joe Leone and Jackson Smith, Grayling returned to its East Side stomping grounds and ripped the Tap Room in two. (Fags’, Skeemin’ NogoodsJohn Speck is filling in on bass until the band can land a permanent low-ender.) The evening wound up being a drink-hoisting tribute to the memory of Shwaac. “The crowd was singing along so loudly, we had to turn up the P.A.,” Speck says. Grayling is scheduled to play two shows at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom supporting Smith’s mom — Patti Smith — on Dec. 30 and 31.

One more moment of silence

Jazz artists and fans thronged Bert’s Marketplace on Sunday, Dec. 12, to support and raise funds for an ailing Roy Brooks, who gave the day’s most memorable moments, playing a snare drum and cymbal from his wheelchair while Geri Allen responded from the piano. But on the same day, Detroit jazz was losing another drummer of note. Before returning to the Motor City in the late ’50s, Frank Isola spent roughly a decade in New York recording with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan and Mose Allison among others. Known for eschewing flash and keeping great time, Isola remained active until quite recently, participating in several fine recordings for Hugh Leal’s Parkwood Records with Marcus Belgrave, Franz Jackson and others.

Isola died at age 79, at the Veterans Administration hospital in Detroit. A memorial service is set for 5-8 p.m. (not 3-6 p.m., as previously mentioned), Jan. 9, at Tom’s Oyster Bar, 15402 Mack, Grosse Pointe Park. Call 313-882-7421 for information.

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