10,000 Maniacs Guitarist Robert Buck Dead at 42

December 20, 2000 -- Robert Buck, lead guitarist for the 10,000 Maniacs, died Tuesday in Pittsburgh of multiple organ failure caused by liver disease. Buck, 42, who co-wrote some of the band's biggest hits, including "What's the Matter Here?" and "Hey Jack Kerouac," was being treated at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Presbyterian Hospital transplant unit, but his health had declined too rapidly to allow a liver transplant, according to band manager Blair Woods.

"Rob had been told many years ago that he had a susceptible liver," Woods told Wall of Sound today. "Members of the band expressed some concern over his physical condition in the past few months, as he looked like he had aged quite a bit over a short period of time. He assured everybody that he was fine and under medical consultation.

"His liver failure was sudden. … He had been in the hospital for 17 or so days, and physicians and nurses worked valiantly on him. In the end, he was simply in too poor a condition for any treatments to work."

Born Aug. 1, 1958, in Jamestown, N.Y., Buck began his love affair with the guitar at age 6, and decided at age 16 to become a professional player after seeing The Jimi Hendrix Story in a Florida movie theater.

After studying archeology at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, he returned to Jamestown, where he formed 10,000 Maniacs with Dennis Drew, Steven Gustafson, John Lombardo, and Natalie Merchant in 1981. Drummer Jerome Augustyniak joined two years later. Merchant left in 1993, but the band has carried on with vocalist Mary Ramsey and Lombardo, who had originally departed in 1986.

A statement from the band's label, Bar None Records, noted that Buck's "unique and sophisticated" playing on the band's independently released 1983 album, Secrets of the I-Ching, helped attract the major label attention that earned them a deal with Elektra Records.

The Associated Press quoted Drew's comment to the Buffalo News: "Rob was a great guitarist and very underrated. He had a big influence on other bands. This is a very sad time for all of us."

According to Woods, Buck was someone who was active and full of life. "Rob was, in all respects, a 14-year-old kid," he said. "He bought a Razor Scooter when I was with him on a trip to Utah in early September. He rode bikes and skateboards. He hated conflict and making decisions. He was pure and full of joy. He was an integral part of the band's sound — some say his guitar playing was the sound of 10,000 Maniacs. Nobody anywhere played guitar like Rob Buck."

In a separate statement, Woods said, "The band's thoughts and prayers are with Rob's family. They have not addressed what Rob's death may mean for the future of 10,000 Maniacs." The band played its last gig of 2000 on Nov. 3, accompanied by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Today, the band's Web site featured a green-tinted image of Buck next to the lyrics of "These Are Days," which he co-wrote with Merchant. Fans began filling up a message board as word of his death spread, and an address for the Robert Buck Family Medical Fund was posted. Though he had no children — he married Terri Newhouse in 1979; they divorced in 1981 — Buck is survived by his mother, Carol Ciper; father, Kenneth Buck; stepfather, Ray Ciper; and three half-brothers.

Martin Augustyniak, drummer Jerry's brother, posted the following statement on the band's Web site: "I grew up watching him play; he was a great talent and a wonderful person."

Another fan wrote, "I'll miss your magnificent musical skills and the bemused look on your face when you perform live. What a wonderful gift you gave to the world."

Funeral arrangements are pending at Lind Funeral Home in Jamestown.