Local Wire

Club Red Owner Kim Commons Passes Away

Members of the local music scene are in mourning today after the sudden death of the owner of a prominent Valley music venue.

Kim Commons, owner of Club Red in Mesa, passed away Tuesday night after suffering a major stroke over the weekend. He was 63.

Commons, who originally opened Club Red in Tempe in 2005, helped the venue become one of the hubs of the city's music scene as he shepherded it through a decade filled with ups and downs, personal and professional losses, and a tumultuous move to a new home in Mesa last year.

And according to many in the music scene who knew Commons, he did it with a calm and friendly demeanor. A statement released by Club Red Tuesday described him as someone who “gave it his all” to the venue.

“Anyone who met Kim or interacted with him knows that he was a very intelligent person. Always brimming with ideas and constantly tapping into peoples insight on how to make our old venue, as well as our new one, the best possible experience for everyone involved,” the statement read. “He enjoyed the venue's successes with a smile and always accepted any misfortune or loss with a calm demeanor, ready to just face it and fix it.”

As Club Red booking manager Mattx Bentley stated on Facebook, Commons was “a nice, selfless person that had his act together.”

“I have worked for many different types of people in the music biz, and I haven't met anyone as devoted to development and resourceful action,” Bentley said.

Commons was also one of a kind, he said, with a background that made him unique among local venue owners.

A native of Southern California, Commons was a teenage chess prodigy who earned worldwide fame in the 1970s when he defeated Russian grandmasters, dueled with Bobby Fischer, attained the status of international master, and may have even taught members of Jefferson Airplane and famed director Mel Brooks how to play the game (at least according to a couple of websites). He also earned a bachelor's degree in physics from UCLA.

Despite his fame, Commons eschewed chess in the 1980s to reportedly “become a grandmaster in real estate” and owned properties in both California and Arizona, including the Tempe strip mall at University Drive and Loop 101 where he eventually opened Club Red and its counterpart sports bar, the Red Owl.

Commons used his smarts to keep the Club Red and Red Owl afloat over the years by changing its focus from more of a sports bar and restaurant with occasional live gigs to a dedicated concert joint. When a messy out-of-state divorce in 2014 and other economic issues forced Commons to sell the strip mall, he and his staff quickly relocated Club Red to Mesa. And despite some major bumps involved with reopening the venue in its new home, its continued to flourish.

As a venue owner, Commons interacted with all manner of individuals from the local music scene, ranging from promoters to musicians, and allowed Club Red to function as a haven for rock, reggae, and hip-hop shows over the past decade. While he mainly handled more of the major logistics behind the scenes at the establishment and left day-to-day operations to his staff, Commons could frequently be spotted at the venue and speaking with musicians during shows.

Bentley told New Times that Commons enjoyed hanging out at Club Red whenever his busy schedule permitted.

“His mother just passed, and she lived in California, so he had to travel. A lot of his divorce stuff was there as well, so if he was as in town he would stop by for the shows. He liked reggae and the metal/rock [shows] where he would know people,” Bentley says. “Other than that, he was always up at the crack of dawn handling daytime affairs that didn't real fit in with a showbiz schedule.”

Bentley, like many of those who have been involved with Club Red over the years, cite him as an influence and friend.

“He was a smart guy [who] really valued the community and opinions of others,” Bentley says.

Zebulon Jessup, drummer for local metal band Sons of Providence, stated on Facebook that Commons helped spark his career after letting him perform at the venue.

“Playing Club Red for the first time [six] years ago is what made me decide to make a career out of music,” Jessup stated. “He opened the door for me and countless others to get started towards our goals.”

Local promoter and bartender Tyler King was also influenced by Commons and working at Club Red.

“Kim allowed me to do shows that pushed the envelope of what was the norm as well as sling drinks [and] do the door when my biz was slow,” King stated on his Facebook page. “He was a good man learning the curve of an ever-changing industry and surrounded himself with an amazing staff that he called family and I consider friends.”

Kimberly LaRowe of 13th Floor Entertainment, which has promoted hundreds of hard rock and metal shows at Club Red, was also saddened by Commons' death. In a post to her Facebook page yesterday, she wrote about how he was receptive to her input and the ideas of others.

"I could say that today the music died but it won't. Those that love him won't let it. However part of it definitely did and will be sorely missed,” LaRowe wrote. “Conversations about everything from paint to plumbing and everything in between will be remembered fondly. Rarely has an individual ever asked my opinion so many times about their business that it became commonplace.”

And the people that Commons relied on for their input plan on keeping Club Red going. According to the statement released by the venue, he made arrangements for the Club Red to continue running in the event of his death.

“The show must go on, and as far as Club Red goes, the torch is being passed down to us. Because Kim always asked us what we thought and made us part of every decision big or small, we are going to be able to complete his vision without any disruption. We are fulfilling every goal, checking off the things on our list and guaranteeing that his vision will be met, because it is our vision as well. He was smart enough to make sure that if anything were to happen to him, the policies and plans needed to keep Club Red going without someone else having to come in and take over were in place, as they are today.”

Bentley echoed these sentiments on his Facebook page, stating that “we will be working our asses off to make his vision happen” and keep the venue operating.

“Club Red lives on,” Bentley says.

UPDATE: Club Red posted on Facebook on Wednesday that Commons will be cremated and there will be a small family ceremony in his honor. owever, anyone wishing to provide a memory or tribute to the late venue owner can drop off a note, letter, or photo at Bookmaze, 1304 West University Drive in Mesa, and it will placed in his casket. (One contribution per person.) Memories can be left in the store's mail slot next door to Club Red and must be delivered by 6 a.m. on Thursday morning. 

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.