I first heard of Eric when he was teaching at the Musicians Institute, when it was above the Bass Centre in Wapping. I’d seen his name on their literature, and had various people come up to me to tell me about this amazing guitarist they’d heard. Not long after that (late 90s, I guess?) I heard him play at a trade show, doing his arrangement of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (bassline, chords, melody ‘n’ everything on acoustic guitar, and managing to not make it sound like a gimmick) – it was obvious from that that he was an amazing musician, but trade shows back then for me were a blur of running from one Bassist mag event to another, demoing gear (like Eric) or doing on-stage interviews with the various celeb bassists that had been booked (without any thought for what they might do when they got there).
It was quite a few years before I got to meet Eric properly – he turned up at a gig of mine in California, with our mutual friend Thomas Leeb – I’d met Thomas through Ashdown and he’d been telling me loads about Eric as well. We chatted briefly at the gig. We met up again a couple of months later at another music trade show in London, where Eric was feeling pretty rough, but we spent more time talking. We pretty much instantly hit it off, as we were in a similar place – solo players who taught and wrote for magazines. About a week later I found out that Eric had be diagnosed with Cancer for the first time. No wonder he was feeling rough at the show.
Very soon after that, Muriel Anderson was coming over for some gigs, and she knew Eric from booking him for her All-star guitar night at NAMM, so the two of us went up to see him. The conversation at Eric’s house that day was the one that showed me what a strong character he was – he talked with great honesty about his hopes and fears following the diagnosis, his concern for his family (his partner, Candy, was pregnant with their second child when the first diagnosis came through) and the way it had made him focus on what was important in life.
We swapped CDs, and it was clear from listening to his latest album, With These Hands, that that depth of thought was already there when making the record. It’s a beautiful record, moving in parts, funny in others – the guitar playing is outstanding, but the music and Eric soul shine through. (later on he told me that he had me in mind for one of the tracks on the record – Deep Deep Down – but producer Martin Taylor wanted to keep it all solo. Listening to the end result, I agree with Martin, though it will be a source of eternal regret that Eric and I never recorded together).
After that we kept in touch via email, text and phone calls as his treatment progressed, through the hell of radiotherapy to the joyous news of his first ‘all clear’. After that came plans for a tour together, recordings, all the usual muso stuff – none of it felt urgent, Eric was well again, and we had plenty of time for that.
Met up again at the birmingham music show in November – Eric was not long out of radiotherapy but was playing so well (the version of Bushwhacker – an anti-GWB track – was incredible). After the gig we were chatting and mucking around while Eric signed things, and one guy came up and said ‘what would you say if I asked you to sign this?’ to which Eric replied in his dry caustic way ‘I’d tell you to fuck off’. The reply from the guy (clearly phased by this) was ‘I’ve been praying for you’ – Eric then recognised the guy, who he’d met before, and was mortally embarassed that he’d offended the guy, even in a joke. He’d commented before about how moving it had been for him when people who knew he was ill came to pray for him after gigs. Eric was a Buddhist, and a seeker after truth – that was another connection we had, music with a spiritual meaning.
He came to see me play in Colchester with Michael Manring a couple of weeks after the Music Show. I was so pleased to be able to tell the crowd they should buy his CDs, to put him in touch with the guys running CAMM – a local college where he could have started teaching again (he’d been head of guitar at the ACM in Guildford, but living in Cambridgeshire, the drive was beyond him now), to introduce him to the venue for a possible gig.
NAMM in Anaheim this last January was the last time I saw Eric, and it’s another huge regret of mine that I didn’t spend enough time with him there. I spent AGES dragging everyone I knew to come and see him play – he was on a punishing demo schedule for Avalon guitars, playing on the hour every hour, and I must’ve watched him play 20 times over the weekend, but we spent nowhere near enough time talking. I introduced him to friends, made everyone I knew stop by the stand to hear him. He was playing well, though as usual at tradeshows, he was amplified and cranking the top end just to cut through the hubbub of the hall.
When I heard that Eric’s cancer was back, and was inoperable, I couldn’t believe it – Eric, strong, spiritual, clean-living, had beaten it. Surely that was it? The conversation where he told me about it, where it had spread to, what the docs had said was one of the saddest phone conversations I’ve ever had. But he was still so positive. Scared, worried for his family, desperate to keep playing and meet his gig commitments.
Our jam never happened, nor the gigs, nor the recording. I’ll forever be thinking what it would’ve sounded like. We had very similar ideas about the purpose of music, about why we did what we did.
All in, I didn’t spend that much time with Eric. Nowhere near enough. His impact on me was huge, due to his beautiful music and his inner strength when facing his illness. He was an inspiration, and I was really pleased to be able to play my tune for him each night at the Edinburgh festival, pointing people to his website and recommending his music. It made me even more pleased that it was most people’s favourite tune on the gig. He never got to hear it.
I’ll miss him, I’ll miss the possibility of him and I’ll regret that we didn’t know eachother better. He left behind three CDs and a live DVD (I need to get the DVD) – the first two CDs are really good, but it’s With These Hands that is his masterpiece. It’s beautiful. Deep Deep Down is one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard. That he thought of having me play on it is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever been paid as a musician.
Go and buy his CDs. Please. You’ll get some amazing music, his family will get the money. I can’t imagine what his family are going through now. My thoughts are with them – no matter how much the sense of loss that one has for a friend and musical inspiration, it’s not even close to the pain of losing a husband/dad/brother/son.
Rest in Peace, Eric. Thanks for the inspiration.
Soundtrack – Eric Roche, ‘Spin’.
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