It’s often been said of larger than life characters that if they didn’t exist someone would have had to invent them. Thankfully we had Michael Riley, because it’s difficult to imagine the twisted cosmic novelist that would have been necessary to come up with him.
Riley was the personification of dichotomy. He was a fixture as an employee in Clifton music stores, but he embraced only very specific kinds of music (my friend Kirk remembers a sticker on a Damned album at Mole’s written in Riley’s Punk draftsman printing: “It ain’t Sham 69 but it ain’t bad.”).
He helped resurrect the career of Jump Blues master H-Bomb Ferguson and was so skilled at the Hand Jive that he scored a featured role in George Thorogood’s “Willie and the Hand Jive” video when it was shot at Cory’s (a résumé bullet point that Michael dismissed: “That guy doesn’t play the Blues.”). He saw The Rolling Stones more times than any human being I’ve ever met, but he was every bit as obsessed with Bette Midler and Carole King.
Riley was such a profound and constant presence within the Cincinnati music scene that it seemed as though he’d always be a part of it. On June 18, a fatal stroke ended his reign as the unofficial Mayor of Clifton Music, a role that, by all rights, should earn him a first ballot skate into the Cincinnati Hall of Fame.
i worked at Buzz Coffee Chop and CD-o-Rama with this crotchety old man for 6 years, and i miss him a lot. i guess maybe a couple of you cinci folks might have known him, maybe not.
we fell out of touch gradually after i stopped working at the cd shop, which is something that happens with people, i suppose. at the shop, we used to write little notes to slip in the cd cases to pimp them out, and he did quite a few of them; i'll bet i have 100-200 of those notes scattered throughout my cds. it's good to know that i'll be reminded of him randomly any time i grab a disc to listen to and there's one of his notes.
i have a decade of random memories of him that will likely stay with me forever.
once i was eating wendy's chicken nuggets, and he told me their weird shape made it look like i was eating alien food.
once i was heading from the cd shop to bogart's to catch pigface, and on my way out the door maichael said, say hi to Martin for me. i was confused, but when i did actually run into martin atkins, i passed along michael's greeting. to my surprise, martin perked up: "is michael coming?" sadly, i had to tell him no.
he also knew (and received christmas cards from) chris and cosey, and was close friends with John Langford and the Mekons. michael took me to a Waco Bros show and introduced me to the Wacos' steel guitarist mark durante, who'd played for a while in one of my fave bands, KMFDM.