Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

06/10/2019

Band leader, singer, guitarist, harmonicist, and songwriter Pete Vercellotti passed away May 21, 2019. A remembrance.

By JOEL BOUTWELL and MICHELE HEILE // Pete Vercellotti, a true Portland rocker, was a unique soul, genuine, funny, talented, an exceptional musician and artist. He is remembered here by his friends.

Glad To Meet You - Written and sung by Pete Vercellotti, performed by Pale Blue Sky.

The city of Portland has lost a true rocker. Band leader, singer, guitarist, harmonicist, and songwriter Pete Vercellotti passed away May 21, 2019. Pete’s Portland acts included The Big'uns, Pale Blue Sky, Panhandle Pete and Cookie, and WaveSauce.

Pete had a slight addiction to buying and trading guitars and frequented Portland area music stores, especially Centaur Guitar on Sandy Blvd. He’d cycle through newly obtained guitars often applying aesthetic and practical modifications; however, he always returned to his trusty blonde Fender Telecaster.

Playing guitar was not about shredding for Pete, it was about the dynamics. He could bring the level down with a simple melody, then slap the audience silly with a sonic explosion of reverb, distortion, and feedback. At times he’d look at the band after a solo with a shrug, as if to ask, “where did that come from?” Truth is he knew, he was always gunning to realize the tone and sound he heard in his head. Pete had guitar tone like no other.

His tenor voice was reminiscent of Neil Young, a comparison he often heard and enjoyed. Lonesome and distant, it counteracted with the heavy rhythm section of his various acts. A friend’s son was once heard to say, “Neil Young? Isn’t that the guy that sounds like Pete?”

Pete’s amp was covered with a fabric pattern of black and white diamonds, sometimes adorned with mannequin head wearing shades and other apparel. His various guitar effects came from a mixed bag of analog and digital pedals, often covered with images suitable for a pulp novel. Beyond simple decorations, he once admitted an alternative reason of the pedal decorations was to “hide the sauce of effects he employed”.

Pete loved shopping vintage clothing stores in town, such as Hollywood Vintage, and built a strong rapport with many of the owners. Pete’s style meshed mod arrows, stripes, and the anarchy of punk pins and patches and his love and admiration of 70s daredevil icon Evel Knievel reflected his own understanding of how showmanship and presentation is an important enhancement to the performer, himself. His outfits and clothes were not a just persona for live performances but rather a lifestyle and a joy. Camping in the outdoors with Pete could include him sporting his knee-high Herman Munster combat boots, buckles and all.

Pete also expected his fellow bandmates to represent the spirit of rock. Sneakers were acceptable if they were Chuck Taylors and sporting shorts for a gig was an inconsideration equivalent to wearing denim and a tank top to Sunday Mass.

When Pete wasn’t playing music, he was a machinist and a Certified Journeyman Tool and Die Maker. Throughout his career, Pete was employed in the automotive and aerospace industries. He loved his current job at Roadmaster, Inc. and took pride in his workmanship every day and created long-lasting friends at work.

He loved to travel with his love and partner, Michele, along with friends and family. Pete enjoyed working on their retirement, fixer upper home in the desert. He had an uncanny ability to repair almost anything mechanical. He was an avid collector of music and military memorabilia, vintage gear, British rock icons, and all things Evel Knievel. Most of all, Pete collected music and his album collection was immense, spanning the ages and genres. On any given day you could catch Pete playing and album, or two, or thirty.

Pete’s commitment to rock was unwavering. He lived and played by a code of honesty, loyalty, and integrity. Years ago, his passion caused one of his bands to be 86’d by an unnamed club. Some young kids brought their band from Seattle to play a show along with Pete’s band, and a couple others. Money was less than the verbal agreement. None of the bands got paid, but it really got to Pete that they stiffed the kids, not even giving them enough pay for gas to get home. The excuse was not enough people showed. This was explained while the doorman was counting a huge wad of currency. Pete stuck up for the kids, challenged the club, then proceeded to tear posters off the hallway wall. In the end, Pete paid the kids out of his own pocket, was marched out by security, and swore never to play there again.

Pete played hundreds of great shows at the various clubs and venues that support live music. Before a show, he was excited to see friends of old and new and his charisma and kindness were all inclusive. He’d share a story. He’d grab you by the shoulder and laugh. He’d ask you about your job, your life, and your family.  Then he’d get on the stage and some internal switch would flip, and he’d go into full rocker mode. He’d shout out a “Here we go!”. Strike a chord, and rock would happen. It was so much fun to see.

Pete had a huge following of friends and fans. He made long lasting friendships wherever he was, throughout his life. Pete was a unique soul, genuine, funny, talented, an exceptional musician and artist. Pete is loved by many and will truly be missed.

 

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Comments

Rainman Rocketman

R.I.P. Pete, a truly authentic rocker in every way. Pete was the king of TONE, and he innately understood the nuances of performance. I think this was because he didn't just affect it, he lived it, 24/7. I particularly enjoyed his playing in Pale Blue Sky and Wavesauce, and the magic he had with Cookie, which was abundant. Here was a guy that was thoroughly immersed, and you could feel both the power and the sheer joy of it all Pete was also a good guy, and a personal friend, and he will be missed.

Kathy Tolonen

RIP Pete. You truly were a gentleman and a scholar. Loved hearing you play but hadn't for quite a while. I am sorry for that as I won't be able to come listen to your wonderful sound anymore. Glad I had the chance to meet and hear you over the years. Condolences to Cookie and all who loved you.

Jim Kler

I love you Pete. Rest in peace brother. You truly did fly without wings.

Carlos Severe Marcelin

Pete you were a beacon of rock in a time where there are so many sounds and styles that our ears can get lost. I'll miss your smile and your friendship. Your style and sound were truly unique.

Mary Richadson

Exceptional write up of an extraordinary musician. We lost a great one. Thanks for including the music link. Wave Sauce, Pale Blue Sky, and Panhandle Pete and Cookie were my top favorite bands in Portland. Especially enjoyed their Golden, Colorado performances as well. I hope their music is still available for purchase. “Rock on” as Pete would say.

Mike Vercellotti

What a nice tribute to my little brother. He was fun to grow up with getting his musical roots at Kent State and in Cleveland Ohio. This has been a tough time for me. Love you Joel and Cookie!

Rod Flint

One word to describe Pete is "Cool". I had the pleasure of working with Pete for six years. I never saw him get angry with anyone or anything. He always worked hard to solve problems. Pete is missed. Pete was a very good hands-on, old-school machinist. I enjoyed visiting with him daily. He especially enjoyed taking about any type of music. He always went out of his way to discuss our shared personal interests. I had the pleasure of going to a couple antique collectors shows with Pete. I very much enjoyed the time we spent together. Pete always had a positive attitude even to the last day. In his own words: We will always be friends. Rest in peace my friend.

Rod Flint

One word to describe Pete is "Cool". I had the pleasure of working with Pete for six years. I never saw him get angry with anyone or anything. He always worked hard to solve problems. Pete is missed. Pete was a very good hands-on, old-school machinist. I enjoyed visiting with him daily. He especially enjoyed taking about any type of music. He always went out of his way to discuss our shared personal interests. I had the pleasure of going to a couple antique collectors shows with Pete. I very much enjoyed the time we spent together. Pete always had a positive attitude even to the last day. In his own words: We will always be friends. Rest in peace my friend.

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