When Mesa rock institution Hollywood Alley debuted in July 1988, Ross Wincek was there for the opening night. And pretty much every night that followed.
For close to 25 years, the soft-spoken and curly-haired co-owner (dubbed "Ross the Boss" by many) has worked behind the scenes running the joint with the other members of the Wincek clan, including his mother and father.
From his usual spot behind the bar, Wincek has poured countless drinks, booked bands, dealt with inebriated patrons, and quietly surveyed the scene.
But, now, Wincek is recovering in a nearby rehabilitation facility after recently suffering a stroke. To raise money for the uninsured club owner, nearly 20 local rock bands will gather on Saturday, April 28, for "Ross Rocks!," an all-day benefit concert for Wincek.
Bassist Pete Hinz of JJCnV, whose old band The Customers played their first bar gig at the Alley in 1989, says Wincek has been an important figure in the local music scene, having booked a who's who of Valley bands, ranging from jangle-pop superstars like the Gin Blossoms and The Refreshments to such modern-day acts as The Love Me Nots and French Girls. Despite such prominence, Hinz says, Wincek is humble.
"Ross has always been really laid back and never really been in the spotlight. He's always been like, 'I'm just gonna stand back here and get you a drink. I don't need anyone to pay any attention to me. You should be watching the bands,'" Hinz says.
Local punk scene stalwart Tom Reardon — a veteran of many bands that have played the Alley's stage over the decades — says that Wincek is as much a fixture at the bar as the movie posters shellacked to the wall or the array of vintage LPs nailed to the ceiling.
"I mean, Ross is the Alley," he says. "I can count on one hand the number of times that [he] hasn't been there. It's hard to imagine going to the Alley and not seeing Ross."
So much so, Reardon adds, that when he isn't at his usual post, it means something's amiss.
Such has been the case over the past few weeks, ever since Wincek suffered a stroke on the evening of March 19. True to his work ethic, the 47-year-old was running the bar at the time.
Longtime Hollywood Alley bartender Robert "Fun Bobby" Birmingham, who moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2006 but remains close with the Hollywood Alley family, stated that Wincek was rushed to Banner Desert Medical Center for treatment.
"Ross has had some serious health issues for a while," Birmingham wrote. "[That] night, he went totally blind at work. A couple of people took him to the ER. Thankfully, some Alley patrons were working at the hospital and got him to the front of the line."
Birmingham says Wincek's blood pressure was over 250 at the time he was admitted to the hospital and was "very lucky that a blood vessel didn't explode in his brain."
Like many others, Hinz was "shocked and saddened" by the news of Wincek's stroke.
"Because Ross is such a great guy and you never want to hear that about someone who's helped you out and played a big part in what you were trying to do as a musician and booked you on his stage," Hinz says.
Though Wincek, who spent several days in intensive care before being moved to a local rehabilitation facility, is expected to recover, the stroke reportedly has caused difficulties with his vision and speech capabilities. Since he doesn't have health insurance, he's also racked up a mountain of medical bills and other debts in excess of $10,000.
So it is fitting that after years of Wincek helping out local musicians and bands, artists have decided to give back.
Proceeds from last week's Cover the Crescent show, for instance, went to Wincek. And Reardon, who originally booked a gig this Saturday for his current group, The Father Figures, at Hollywood Alley, has organized Saturday's benefit, which will feature numerous Hollywood Alley regulars (Page the Village Idiot, Via Vengeance), old friends of the bar (Blanche Davidian, Grave Danger), and new favorites (French Girls, Unemployment Party). Reardon also will reunite with the members of his old band Hillbilly Devilspeak for the benefit.
"Ross has taken care of all these bands for longer than I can remember, whether he made sure they got food in their stomachs or got paid a lot better than a lot of people deserved," Reardon says. "So we're just returning the favor."