Remembering Jeff Pettit

The late Jeff Pettit.
The late Jeff Pettit. Noelle Simpson
The Phoenix community, especially many people whose relationships were cemented by a love of rock 'n' roll, suffered a tremendous loss this past week. Former Arizona resident Jeff Pettit was found unresponsive at Fond Object, the Nashville record store he co-owned. Many found out through an article published in Nashville Scene.

Originally from Wisconsin, the 46-year-old Pettit, whom his pals lovingly called “El Jefe,” was a tireless supporter of the Valley music scene and a former Zia records employee. His love for music was fuel for his activities, like going to shows and collecting records, as well as in his bonds with others, from gabbing about music to going to shows to ultimately joining forces with a few more music fanatics to open the aforementioned record store in Nashville. Fond Object is highly regarded — not just a place to buy music, but a homey spot to see live music, have fun, and develop bonds with new people, with music as the main thread.

When word spread, many friends — a lot of musicians — shared pictures along with stories about what made Pettit so magnetic. Sure, there was the obsession with music, but on top of that foundation are endless tales of kindness, generosity, laughter, and his being a stand-up guy that his friends could count on.

That sadness certainly wasn’t contained to our region; his Nashville friends are devastated. Just as I was getting the news here in Arizona, I heard from a friend and former fellow bandmate from my time in NYC. Tommy Furar, currently of the band American Dream, made Nashville his home a few years ago. “Jeff was my best friend in Nashville,” Furar says, adding that he's still in a state of shock. He had DJ’d at Pettit’s spot just nights before, and the two were having a blast.

Bay Area musician Kepi Ghoulie posted a heartfelt tribute to Jeff on his own Facebook page. All of these notes emphasize how many lives were touched by Pettit, worldwide. Kevin Daly of Grave Danger has helped to organize a memorial show called Viva Jefe at the Time Out Lounge in Tempe on September 9. Friends will gather and celebrate Pettit’s life, with a live musical soundtrack from bands including Grave Danger, Deadbolt, Flathead, and the Pisteleros.

We collected some memories and words from just a handful of the folks hit hard by this unexpected tragedy.

Kevin Daly
Singer & guitarist, Grave Danger, Kevin Daly’s Chicken & Waffles & numerous bands over the years

Our friend is gone. Jeff accompanied me on a brief tour of the Midwest around 2000. I played in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison, Wisconsin. We were delighted to discover Pabst on tap, which was then unavailable in Arizona, and cheese curds. Neither I, nor the backing band had ever encountered the curds before, and they certainly lived up to Jeff’s description as the perfect accompaniment to a few cold beers. The guys never forgot and neither did Jeff. When he received the occasional care package from back home in Wisconsin, he would always alert us and offer to share them! Who does that? Jeff did. R.I.P.

Mike and Jodi Maas
Visual artists

Jeff Pettit, my wife, Jodi, and I all worked at Zia records in their corporate office. Jodi was asked if she’d mind sharing her office with Jeff for a few months. She said she didn’t mind, but that he would have to put up with the fact that she only played Top 40 country and western music in her office. All day. No exceptions.

So, as if put there by some mad scientist, Jeff sat in a small room, eight hours a day listening to the current hits by John Schneider, Mark Collie, Garth Brooks, and countless others. In typical Jeff Pettit fashion, he made the best of it, listening to the music, mocking the lyrics, and eventually he started requesting songs. I would ask Jodi how poor Jeff was holding up, and she told me that he really liked a song by one-hit wonder David Ball. Of course, the song Jeff liked wasn’t the one hit, “Thinkin’ Problem,” it was a maudlin deep cut about the ghost of a Vietnam soldier called “Riding with Private Malone.” Every time she’d play it, he’d listen closely to the words and burst out laughing in his trademark cackle.

When we heard Jeff had moved to Nashville, Jodi was convinced it was due in part to the slow brainwashing he received in her country-music torture chamber. Hey Jeff, if you ever get a chance to ride with Private Malone, make sure you’re in charge of the stereo.

click to enlarge Kevin Daly and Jeff Pettit throw metal horns - KEVIN DALY
Kevin Daly and Jeff Pettit throw metal horns
Kevin Daly
Katherine George, friend
I have many memories of Jeff, and it’s difficult to pick one that really sums him up — road trips to see bands, record shopping, Friday nights at Long Wong’s after work, late-night pinball and beers at Six East, Sunday summer bike rides to a movie at Harkins. But probably my favorite memories of Jeff are just hanging out at the house we shared on 10th and Farmer, listening to records, and hanging with the cats Buddy and Bob, and at one point, a pet potbelly pig named Mojo. Jeff was a great hang. He had an amazing laugh, he was funny as hell, and a knowledge of art and music that rivals most.

Before I met Jeff, I was a music lover; after I met him, and especially after we lived together, I morphed into a complete audiophile and vinyl aficionado. Not to rival El Jefe, but I can hold my own. I was taught by the best. Jeff had an infectious adoration for rock 'n' roll and anyone who knew him appreciated it, even if they may not have understood it. I’ve been told by many that I have a ridiculous memory for music knowledge and trivia, but much of it I owe to Jeffrey. There are shows and records that we went to and listened to that are imprinted in my memory and I will always connect them to him. To this day, I can’t listen to the Ramones, Supersuckers, Dwarves, or Urge Overkill without seeing him singing along. Now those memories are going to be more bittersweet.

I know that many people use the phrase "died doing what they loved." I wonder sometimes how often that is really true. Jeff died among objects that he loved, in a store that he had dreamed about owning for more than 20 years, probably listening to a rocking track. I can say with certainty that although taken way too soon, he did die doing what he loved. And I guess in the end that’s all any of us can really hope for.

click to enlarge Scott A. Moore and Pettit goofin' around - NOELLE SIMPSON
Scott A. Moore and Pettit goofin' around
Noelle Simpson
Scott A. Moore
Bassist, The Piersons

Just as the day goes and goes, everyone has to tool around their town. Fortunately, Jeff was always surrounded by cool; it wasn’t merely a pose! Found his niche in life! This sounds precisely like him! Each one of his quirks was a way of him remaking cool. This lack of coolness will make things grow a bit dim. Totally bummed; this seems more than cruel, it is even grim. Tactless additionally, but he always kept it old school.

click to enlarge Pettit and pals - NOELLE SIMPSON
Pettit and pals
Noelle Simpson
Noelle Simpson, friend
Tempe in the ‘90s was such an incredible place. We were so lucky to be there in our 20s. Jeff was one of my best friends. He was always there. No matter what. His laugh, his T-shirts, and his Converse. So many happy hours at bars like Long Wong’s and Six East. Road trips to Tucson. One time, he and Katherine [George] set up a full bar in the back seat complete with sliced limes. So many rock shows. Supersuckers and X remain two of my favorites to this day. We saw The Piersons at least once a week. There were after-hours parties, Deadbolt parties, ‘80s parties — way before they were trendy. I can still see him waiting for us to get off work at Buffalo Exchange, his ace and hands pressed against the glass door. My favorite memory though, was the day I found out one of my other friends had decided to move back east. I was devastated. I ditched work, and rode my bike to Long Wong’s to cry on Jeff’s shoulder. He was working, and he was busy, but he had time to give me a hug. Always. Jeff being gone leaves a void in my heart. He will be missed so much, but never be forgotten.

Chela Mischke
Singer, bassist French Girls, Sturdy Ladies, The Peeps, Hell on Hells

Just a couple of days before learning of Jeff’s death, I was having coffee with friends and happened to be wearing red pants, which made me think of a funny Jeff story that I shared with them. The pants reminded me of a time years back when I stopped into Zia to see Jeff and he made a big deal about telling me that someone very important had called looking for me earlier that day. The more I tried to find out who it was, the more he made it into a bigger production; taunting me. Finally, he couldn’t contain himself any longer and told me: “Huey Lewis called! He wants his pants back!” It was pretty hilarious, which is a big part of Jeff’s personality. Very funny and very sweet.

(Editor's note: The author of this piece is Mischke's bandmate.)

Viva Jefe takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. at Time Out Lounge, 3129 South Mill Avenue, in Tempe. Admission is free. For details, see Facebook.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young