Editor's note: Jesse Baker is a local concert promoter and sound guy who learned much of what he knows from Brad Baker. The two aren't related.
For over a decade, if you cruised down Elliston Place — past about 9 p.m., that is — you could pick out not only the classic storefronts and live-music staples that identify the Rock Block, but also a large truck with an even larger presence inside. It was extremely difficult to pass by The End without hearing one of about a thousand trademark catchphrases, equal parts barked orders to a band that didn't show up to load in and genuinely enthusiastic praise of anyone out having a good time.
On Aug. 31, after long struggling with health issues, the man with the big voice and the big presence passed away at the age of 58. Brad Baker's ashes are being given to his immediate family to be scattered across their family gravesite in Illinois. A few of us who were close to Brad are currently planning a memorial service to take place at The End in the coming weeks, plus a bigger celebration at Exit/In further down the road.
Brad was an incredibly well-respected touring technician for a list of bands too long to name. Known affectionately in those circles as "Porque" (pronounced Porky), Brad traveled the world with the likes of REO Speedwagon, Journey, Loverboy, Prince and more. From a mixture of his road tales and the anecdotes I've heard from some of those who knew him in his former life, I can confidently say he had a predilection for partying harder than any of us are probably even capable of. During these decades, Baker wrote the song "Wasted Rock Ranger," which had a significant amount of commercial success for Great White. Rumors have long abounded that he also wrote Guns N' Roses' "Night Train," receiving a flat upfront payment and no formal credit — though most of us are highly skeptical about that one.
Flash forward about 15 years. I spent the better part of three years hanging around The End, booking my friends' bands and trying to get The End folks to hire me somehow. I can't recall exactly how many times Brad turned me down when I'd ask to work sound under him, but it was enough that I probably should have gotten the hint and stopped. I didn't, though, and eventually he caved. Instead of letting me work for free while I learned, he insisted on paying me. He even did insanely generous things like buying my groceries and helping with car trouble costs on a consistent basis. There are a couple years there that I definitely owe my comfort and sanity to Brad's generosity.
And it wasn't just me. He had taken many others on in a similar capacity, and almost every day he was giving some down-on-their-luck kid a ride to or from their 9-to-5. Many people I know who went through various crises would not have made it through if it weren't for his tenacious desire to make everything OK for those close to him. Brad was all about everyone having fun and not taking much of anything seriously, made blatantly apparent by his general demeanor and boisterous endorsement of rock 'n' roll.
All while being a friend and brother to many, a father figure to myself and several others, Brad was an unforgettable character to thousands. Bands across the country have anecdotes about his abrasive exterior and militant directions on staging and microphone placement. The lucky ones also have stories about breaking through the abrasiveness and seeing him for the guy he was. It's difficult to properly pay tribute to such a larger-than-life character — all I can say is that Brad Baker was one of those irreplaceable individuals who will be missed more than he would've known. Elliston Place definitely got a little quieter. Rest in peace, Brad. Time of your life, kid.