Craig Lieske, 48: ‘Merch man’ for Drive-By Truckers

Fans and followers of the Drive-By Truckers may have never met members of the band, but most of them knew their “merch man,” Craig Lieske.

The gray-haired man, affectionately called “Graytoven” by band members, was the guy everybody knew, said Patterson Hood, of the Drive-By Truckers.

“What he did, and what he did on paper were two different things,” Hood explained. “On paper, he took care of our merchandise. But what he really was, be our ambassador.”

Craig Wayne Lieske, of Athens, died suddenly Jan. 18 following a heart attack at home. He was 48. His body was cremated by Bernstein Funeral Home and Cremation Services, Athens, and a memorial service is scheduled from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday at the Fabulous 40 Watt Club, Athens, where he was once a manager.

Lieske’s parents said they had no idea their son would grow up to be a well-known musician. They’re not even quite sure when he learned to play the guitar.

“We bought him his first guitar in 8th or 9th grade,” said his dad, Dale Lieske of Athens. “We never thought he’d play the thing, because he never had lessons.”

“But when we lived in Tennessee we had a neighbor who played, and he listened to him a lot,” added his mom, Elaine Lieske.

The Lieskes said their son took a few classes at the University of Georgia, but really wanted to concentrate on music.

“He got pretty bored with school, but not with music,” his dad said.

Hood said he thought Lieske was one of the better guitarists around Athens. When he wasn’t traveling with the Truckers, he played in a number of bands, including Garbage Island and Echo Canyon.

“I loved Craig’s playing,” he said. “I looked forward to hearing him.”

Sometimes at the end of a Truckers show, when the band ended with a cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” Lieske would join the band on stage.

“We’d turn it into a very raucous, kind of primal, loud, destructive thing,” Hood said, of the final song. “And on nights where there was a house merch person, he could get away from the table and we’d very often get him to sit in with us, because we all loved what he did with that song. He was the perfect person to take that song where it needed to go, and he always did.”

Lieske started traveling with the band around 2006, shortly after his wife, Janet Bond, died in 2005. He was devastated by her death, his parents said.

“He needed a little of a life change and we needed something different, and it was a perfect fit,” Hood said.

In the meantime, one of Lieske’s good friends lost her husband, and the two bonded over their grief.

“He understood what I was going through, what I felt,” said Melinda Cook, of Athens, his live-in companion for the last two and a half years. “But at some point in time, Craig saved all of us from various loss and crises. He was always there for everybody.”

In addition to his parents, Lieske is survived by his sister, Gretchen Lieske Hill of Statham.

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