In Memory of Pete Soukas

I got some sad news last week when I learned that my friend and musical inspiration Pete Soukas passed away on Nov 13th after a long battle with cancer. Pete was a significant musician (born 8.19.1933), performing with the best regional bands in New England as well as a host of national acts including JD Crowe, Tony Rice, Vassar Clements and Opry Member Boxcar Willie. But more importantly to me, he was a significant person. I learned a ton in the short time that I was lucky enough to work with him–subtle lessons you don’t get in music school, things that are hard to articulate, things I will never forget.

I first met Pete in 1998, during my freshman year in college. I had just started playing banjo and was lucky enough to fall in with a local bluegrass scene in NH through my first banjo teacher, Chuck Honsinger. Pete was among a great group of folks I would occasionally jam with as I was just learning banjo. Four years later I got the call to join the New England Bluegrass Band. Soukas was a founding member. We played together for about 2 years along with Cecil Abels, Lincoln Meyers and Roger Williams, touring and recording one full length album, ‘Things in Life.’

It was an amazing time and I learned so much from them all, but Pete was definitely the elder statesman. I remember his subtle encouragement, always perched in back on his stool paying attention to the sounds around him, anchoring the music without ever overpowering. He had amazing tone/authority and I loved his music, but I was even more inspired by his presence. Pete never stole the attention. He was the quintessential team player, on and off the stage. I was young and totally inexperienced but he treated me with respect and kindness always, consistently reassuring me that he was listening to me at shows, encouraging me to do my own thing, most of the time with very few words, if any. They all treated me that way, and in retrospect that confidence was huge, a much needed element of any young music career. I remember looking forward to the 3 hour round trip drive for rehearsal just because I was so excited to be in band with them. It was a joyous and deeply educational experience, and Pete was a big part of that. It never felt like work, and the idea that great relationships lead to great music has always stayed with me.

I will miss you Pete. We will all miss you. Thanks for your time, your music and all the amazing things you showed us along the way.

8 comments

  1. David Lewis · November 21, 2011

    I didn’t know Pete, but did hear the NEBGB several times when you a member – always loved it. I am sorry for the loss of someone so special to you and many others.

  2. Cecil3 · November 21, 2011

    Beuatiful words Chris, spot on description of what made Pete such a great guy.

  3. Cecil Abels II · November 21, 2011

    I remember the night you first rehearsed with us. After you left, we discussed whether we should ask you to join us regularly. (ha ha) We ran through the pro’s and cons. You weren’t skilled in the trad licks (as yet) you were young (on banjo and otherwise) and likely to leave us after some short time. Pete Soukas was the first to say “I think he’d be a great addition, he’ll pick that traditional sound up quickly!” or words to that effect. “Suitcase” was all about having you play with us and personally liked you from the beginning, your desire, motivation and fearlessness. He was right. Of course, Roger, Lincoln and I were right on board. Those were some fun times back in the New England Bluegrass Band days. Thanks for posting this, we talked and got together back in September and he spoke of how proud he was of you and the Dusters, great band, great guys. RIP Pete. Carry on Chris.

  4. Susan Marsden · November 21, 2011

    Yes, Cecil, those “New England Bluegrass Band days” were some really fun times, and I’m so glad they are part of special memories of mine getting to know and hear you all. Loved Pete’s smile and warmth with people… Sue

    • Cecil Abels II · November 21, 2011

      Thanks Sue, the period Chris played with us was quite exciting for everyone. With Chris, it developed into its’ own sound which I liken to what I see Chris us the term “Trad +” The band is still working and developing our sound as we continue to grow. Those times with Pete Soukas were marked by his steady, yet open minded sensibility regardless of the lineup. Chris was an exciting edition for us and it’s been kinda exciting for all of us to watch him and all the Infamous Stringdusters develop into one of America’s new pioneering “bluegrass+” bands! Thanks Chris for honoring Pete with your remembrance.

  5. Cathy King · November 21, 2011

    Your description of Pete is perfect, Chris. I started playing bass not too long after you started banjo and had the good fortune to get to know Pete at local jams and to experience his gentle guidance and encouragement. What a gift for a fifty year old beginner to be treated with ‘respect and kindness’.

  6. Rich Heepe · November 21, 2011

    Words sometime are never enough for a friend like Pete….a musician to some but a friend to all. I sent a bio to BU, feel free to add to it, Love from Terri & me

  7. Lincoln Meyers · November 21, 2011

    Thanks for posting this Chris. Pete was the “man” in so many ways, i will miss him so, we all will….