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Remembering the “unquenchable” and “uncompromising” Dan Dieterich

The longtime Madison-based musician died in 2021.

The longtime Madison-based musician died in 2021.

Photo: Dan Dieterich in 1991 on a trip to Lollapalooza with his brother and a group of friends. Dieterich is shown sitting in the open trunk of a hatchback-type car and playing an acoustic guitar. Photo courtesy of John Dieterich.

Dan Dieterich, who played in a variety of bands around the Madison area and Central Wisconsin for more than 30 years, died on New Year’s Day, 2021 at the age of 51. In projects that included Brainerd, Clip The Daisies, Mad Trucker Gone Mad, Fuzzdolly (which reunited in the wake of his death), Dieterich was especially noted for his gifts as a bass player. 

We’ve gathered a few remembrances from members of the Madison music community on whom Dieterich made a lasting impression, and a remembrance from Dieterich’s younger brother, guitarist John Dieterich of Deerhoof, initially shared via Deerhoof’s Instagram account. 

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My apologies that these are so late and so few—if you’ve got something you’d like to share and haven’t heard from me yet, please feel welcome to reach out at [email protected] and I can update this piece.

In an obituary published in 2021, Dieterich’s family asked that people donate in his memory to the Suzuki Education Enhancement Fund at UW-Stevens Point (https://give.uwsp.edu/give-now and designate Suzuki Fund #4853) or to MusiCares

Sal Serio, WORT-FM DJ

When I think of Dan Dieterich I am reminded of a couple of those famous quotes by Kerouac: “The only people for me are the mad ones… desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who… burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles,” and also “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”

Dan didn’t have a middle switch, it was either GO or NO. If he was committed to a project, it was 110 percent and that’s why in the wake of his passing we are left with such a vast and compelling amount of his music and art. When I heard the sad news, I immediately knew I had to do something on my WORT-FM program to honor Dan’s contributions to the Wisconsin music scene, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the dizzying enlightenment to ALL of the different musical projects he was involved in. Even in a 70 minute WORT segment, I ultimately felt I was only barely scratching the surface.

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s I was doing a fair amount of show bookings and local music journalism, and that’s where I first got acquainted with Dan. Initially via his Stevens Point punk band TED, and then with the funky quirky indie Madison trio Clip The Daisies. Right away I knew this was a guy that had both an unquenchable creative drive but also an uncompromising personality. We didn’t always totally see eye-to-eye on things, and he let me know that… without question! You know, when people pass on, there always seems to be this tendency to embellish the memories, and I want anyone reading this to know that when I mention my awe of Dan’s creativity, I am not romanticizing anything. He was really truly driven to create, and… like most artists, that compulsion can lead to some good/bad behavior. The whole angel/devil thing. It comes with the territory.

At the end of the day though, my memories of Dan leave me inspired and I feel a hard kick in the pants to return to my own art/music rather than just documenting the creative output of others. And I thank him for giving me that kick. I’ll always remember that goofy grin he’d give me whenever our paths crossed, and the roar that came out of the P.A. speakers every time he stepped up to the microphone. Dan will be one of those guys that we will all reminisce about for a long long time with a sly smile and a clenched fist raised in the air whenever the memories are provoked. I think a lot of us feel that he set the bar incredibly high as far as leaving behind such an amazingly broad, beautifully diverse, and expansive body of work. So now, let’s get back to work, right?

John Dieterich, younger brother and member of Deerhoof

My brother Dan passed away on New Years Day [2021]. He was four years older than me and was the best older brother a person could ever ask for. Our parents rented our first instruments for us on the same day (for him a bass, for me a guitar). His bands practiced in our basement, and he and his friends always let me hang around and see what being in a band was like (I didn’t start playing with other people until after high school). When he moved out of the house, he left me with a cassette 4-track, 3 guitar pedals and a drum set. There is no way I would have become a musician if it wasn’t for his endless enthusiasm and encouragement. Stories have been pouring in from friends new and old, all reminding me of the outsize impact his huge heart had on peoples’ lives. If you knew him, you know what I’m talking about. He lived and loved large and completely, and it’s clear that his lust for life will live on through all the people he touched. Dan made the impossible seem inevitable on a regular basis and with more style and fire than just about anybody, and it was often done with that big beautiful smile on his face. He will not be forgotten. Rest in peace, brother.

Steve Coombs, member of Solid Freex, Trin Tran, Xerobot

I played in the band Clip The Daisies with Dan and Randy Seals back in 1991-2. Dan was a phenomenal bass player, just a naturally great musician. He could sing harmonies too, so we did three part stuff pretty easily. His brother John talked about his big heart—a great example of that was when I bought a piano from Goodwill and Dan volunteered to haul it with me. Somehow we ended up with me driving the rented U-Haul truck, and Dan was in the back of the windowless truck, by himself, trying to keep the piano from rolling around (it had wheels, and we forgot rope) in the windowless back of the truck. I would be driving down East Wash as carefully as possible, and then I would hear this rolling and a crash and Dan yelling obscenities….then he, Bill Susky, and Randy helped move that beast up three flights of stairs into the attic room of our shared house. I bought a case of beer to try to make amends. Dan was always willing to help people out. I only ran into him a few times since the band broke up but I was so sorry to hear about him passing, and find that I’ve been thinking about him a lot since I heard the news. I finally dug up these pics from our 1992 tour—I think the one is a radio show in Missouri, and a pic of Dan and Bill. Those are the only pics I have of the band, sadly. Rest easy my heterochromia scorpion friend.

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