DEATH OF A DETROIT MANTRA-ROCK KING

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We were saddened to hear of the death of local musician Bob Sterner. His friend and former bandmate, MT’s Hobey Echlin, remembers him below.

Bob Sterner, 1964-2008

Bob Sterner, theatrical frontman and singer for late ‘80s Detroit mantra-rockers Spahn Ranch, has died. He was 44.

The charismatic Sterner first came on the Detroit scene as the singer for Downriver band Grief Factory. Recalls Bradley Horowitz, Spahn Ranch founding guitar player and most lately Chief Technical Officer of Yahoo!, “When we [he an Ranch drummer Odell Nails III] first saw Grief Factory, the impression was that they were on a whole other level than most local bands, in terms of the theatricality and the quality of the music. It was like seeing Echo & the Bunnymen.”

The three went on to form Spahn Ranch, concocting a moody, post-punk take on the tribal and ethereal, a sound built on Horowitz’s drone-prone tunings, Nails’ kneeling drum work, and Sterner’s soaring voice. They recorded their landmark 1986 album Thickly Settled for San Francisco’s Insight Records, which drew glowing comparisons to everything from Nick Drake to Dead Can Dance. Live, Ranch was as capable of prayerful chant-harmonies as encoring with Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

Spahn Ranch’s flair for the ominous drone as a stage for tantric drama made the band an anomaly amid the Detroit goth/glam scene, inspiring even staunch local scene skeptics as Motorbooty magazine to dub them “new age music for people with black leather jackets.”

After the recording of that debut album, I joined the band as a bassist; Rob Rude also played bass on for various shows and sessions.

Sterner’s mercurial enthusiasm carried beyond being a footnote to Detroit’s alt-rock scene. He became a devotee of Gurumayi and the Siddha Yoga Foundation, traveled to India where he lived and worked on ashrams and in hospitals. After stints in Boston and Cape Cod, he returned to Detroit to become a nurse. He became a fixture in Detroit’s Bikram Yoga community and spent the summer of ’02 playing in the band Florida Room.

At the time of his death, Sterner was living and working as a proud resident of Downtown Detroit, studying to become an anesthesiologist, working in the ER of Detroit Receiving. There, his omnipresent iPod and passion for music made many a stressful situation that much more enjoyable. He is survived by his family and friends, former bandmates and yogis and the Siddha Yoga community. As Bob sang on the Spahn Ranch’s “Dissipation,” as beautifully as he did prophetically: “You can’t be used/Until you’re conquered

Rebuke me, rebuke me/ Oh so gently, lay me down.” --Hobey Echlin

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