Robert “Rob” Buck: 10,000 Maniacs

Robert Buck, Covenant Mission Church Cemetery, Sugar Grove

The morning had been spent in Jamestown, New York as neither of my parents had been there before and this trip was spent touring the area with the highlight of the morning a visit to the grave of Lucille Ball. More about Lucille Ball can be found here: Lucille Ball.

“Where are we headed?” my father asked as we left town, headed in a direction from the way we arrived in town.

“Sugar Grove,” I replied. It had been a couple years since I had last made this trip, but I knew the roads by heart. Arriving in town, I took Route 61 – also known as Jackson Run Road – south towards Chandler’s Valley. The church and cemetery appeared on our right and I turned onto the Matthews Run Road and immediately onto the parking lot for the Sugar Grove Covenant Mission Church.

The Covenant Mission Church was founded in November 1883 as the Evangelical Free Church of Sugar Grove Township. When formed, the congregation was non-denominational and until 1926, still had services in Swedish.

“Which cemetery are you headed to?” my father asked as I got out of the vehicle. Across the road from the church and cemetery was another cemetery – the Hessel Valley Lutheran Cemetery.

“I’m staying in this one,” I replied, referring to the Mission Covenant Church Cemetery which sat in the shadow of the church building.

“You need help finding this one?”

“No, I got this,” I replied. The cemetery was small and I had been here a number of times in the past. Though it had been a couple years since my last visit, my feet instinctively knew the way to the grave I sought.

As I approached, I could see the name “Buck” at the top of the stone. The front had a picture of the guitar and next to it was the seal of the New York Music Awards. The back of the stone identifies him as “Rob” and as a guitarist and songwriter.

Rob Buck was a part of the band that had grabbed my attention in high school and continues to be a part of my normal music rotation. In this quiet corner of Warren County rests Rob Buck, the lead guitarist and songwriter for the band 10,000 Maniacs.

Robert Norman “Rob” Buck was born August 1, 1958 in Jamestown, New York. He began playing guitar at the age of six and at the age of sixteen, he decided he wanted to be a professional guitarist after seeing The Jimi Hendrix Story.

In 1981, Buck would form the band 10,000 Maniacs with the original line-up of Dennis Drew, Steven Gustafon, John Lombardo and Natalie Merchant. The group’s unique sound mixed progressive rock, folk, and jazz that was fronted by Merchant’s vocals. The following year they released their EP album Human Conflict Number Five and followed it with Secrets of the I Ching in 1983. In 1985 they released The Wishing Chair, but it would be the 1987 release of In My Tribe, that 10,000 Maniacs caught America’s attention. The featured single “What’s the Matter Here?” and the popular “Hey Jack Kerouac,” were both co-written by Buck.

Blind Man’s Zoo in 1989, had the single “You Happy Puppet,” which was co-written by Buck. Blind Man’s Zoo, while a good album, failed to garner attention. In 1992, the band released Our Time in Eden which would feature “These Are The Days,” written by Buck and Merchant. Despite the talented songwriters 10,000 Maniacs had, it was 1993’s single “Because the Night,” a cover of Patti Smith’s song that most people remember the band for.

In 1993 Merchant would leave to follow a solo career and 10,000 Maniacs continued with a new vocalist. Buck would continue to appear on the 10,000 Maniacs’ Love Among the Ruins, The Earth Pressed Flat, and Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure and Unknown Recordings.

Buck left 10,000 Maniacs in 1998 to work with the band League of Blind Women, an alternative rock group, but returned to 10,000 Maniacs in 1999. When Buck returned to 10,000 Maniacs, it was apparent he was sick, but he continued performing with them. The band’s final performance with Buck was November 6, 2000 and shortly after he was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Hospital, Pittsburgh. He passed of liver disease on December 19, 2000 – he was just forty-two years old.

As I stood paying my respects to Robert Buck, the words of “Lily Dale” flowed through my mind. “Come as we go far away / From the noise of the street / Walk a path so narrow / To a place where we feel at ease.” With those words echoing in my mind, I left Buck to rest in the peaceful shadow of the Covenant Mission Church.

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