Roots rock pioneer Don Rader had one wish: to keep on rockin’ until the very end.
He got his wish. Even Rader’s passing hasn’t stopped his gig this Wednesday, July 28 (tonight), at Memphis Smoke.
After a year-long struggle with heart disease and several surgeries, Rader finally succumbed to the malaise on July 5 at the University of Michigan Medical Center. He was 66.
And even thought the guest of honor can’t make the gig in human form, Rader’s band has opted to perform a tribute concert in honor of the local rockabilly great.
Rader was born in what is now Hazel Park, and began playing at barn dances as early as age 12, according to his bandmate, Scott Campbell.
“He would play to 1,200 people when he was just 14,” says Campbell, who has worked with Rader since 1996. “By 17, he was a professional.”
Rader first broke out with his 1956 hit “Rock & Roll Grandpap.” A series of hits followed, and Rader bounced around the country, briefly living in Chicago, Florida and Nashville, where he recorded “Goodbye, I Hate to See You Go,” in 1967, a national hit.
After moving back to Michgan in the ’70s, Rader continued to play and record. His 1995 release, “Detroit Rockabilly Man,” made its mark on the roots rock circuit in Europe.
But illness began to creep up on him. “He was still playing in between surgeries,” says Campbell. “Don would tell me, ‘Don’t let them know I’m in surgery.’ He wanted to keep it a secret because he was afraid [club owners] would cancel the date on him.”
“He made it very clear he wanted to play up until the day he died.”
Despite his declining health, Rader always remained optimistic and youthful at heart.
“He was like an endless stream of jokes. He was an entertainer offstage,” remembers Campbell. “He just has an irrepressible sense of humor, like a 15-year-old trapped in the body of a 66-year-old.”
Goodbye, Don. We hate to see you go.
Don Rader’s tribute concert takes place Wednesday, July 28, at Memphis Smoke, (100 S. Main St., Royal Oak), call 248-543-4300 for more information. Admission is free and all ages.Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]