William Brian Kelleher

HOLIDAY, Fla. – William Brian “Guitar Bill” Kelleher, of Holiday, Fla., one of the kindest souls ever to walk this planet, and the best rock and roll bass player that you never heard of, passed away on March 2, 2024 after a long battle with cancer. Guitar Bill, known as “Buck” to family and childhood friends, was born in New York City, N.Y. on Jan. 9, 1956, the son of William and Nora Kelleher.

He was a sweet, gentle person. None of his legion of friends ever heard him badmouth anyone, nor did they ever encounter a person who disliked Guitar Bill. Raised in the Bronx, he loved the New York Yankees, especially Mickey Mantle, and he also loved to mountain bike, but first and foremost, GB was the most deeply committed musician most of his friends ever knew. He never took a music lesson but, at 16, borrowed his brother’s bass and amp for his debut performance.

The first song he ever played in public was “Babyface”, as in, “Babyface, you’ve got the cutest little babyface…” The band, called Salt Water, included his brother, Sam. After Salt Water, as GB lived in Colorado, Oregon, Florida and Maine, innumerable bands followed. These include, but were by not limited to, Strange Nature, The Renfields, The Appetizers, Rick Wormwood & the Rumbling Proletariat, the Jeesum Crows, Circuit Breaker, Terry Stepka & Friends, Carson Rock, the Hoot Dogs, The Hancock County R&B Revue, The Phase, Stop The Presses, Organized Confusion, Deja Blue, and many, many more.

He loved to spin vinyl and talk for hours, sharing his deep rock and roll scholarship. He loved the Coasters, and chances are, after talking about songs with him for a while, you would love the Coasters, too. He would also convince you that, yes, Elvis will always be the King, but Chuck Berry (too dark-skinned, too criminal, too creepy…look it up), despite being the genre’s first great lyricist and instrumentalist, is the Man-Who-Should-Be-King. GB would also say, in his wonderfully-thick Bronx accent, “I love rock music, but I love rock and roll more. Most of the music now rocks, but it doesn’t really roll. Hasn’t since the Who.” And he was correct about all that.

Mention must be made of Guitar Bill’s extreme love for and dedication to the Rolling Stones. He knew everything about the Stones. Every song, chord, lyric, and all the stories behind them. He saw the Stones five times, and was such a fan of Hot Tuna that he saw them perform “at least 65” times. If anyone knows Jorma or Jack from Hot Tuna, could you let them know about GB? They will probably worry when they don’t see him in the front row.

William Brian Kelleher was predeceased by his parents.

He is survived by his brother, Sean “Sam” Kelleher, and his wife, Barbara, of New Port Richie, Fla. He is also survived by his brother, and sister-in-law’s children, John Kelleher, Charles Kelleher, William Kelleher, and Jessica Karleski; as well as by his close friend and neighbor, Jack LuBee, and his oft-times musical partner, Susie Hughes. Bill’s family and friends are very grateful to both for the role they played in helping GB make this ultimate transition with as much comfort and grace as was possible.

GB is also survived by his musical family, each of them bereft and crushed by his loss. These include (but again, are by no means limited to) Steve Knowles, Tommy Corcoran, Mike and Susie Fay, Douglas Leach, Kevin and Tammy Cooper, Bruce Merson, Sara Poulin, Josh “Little Buddha” Caron, Rych Neuville, Chris “Metro” Dow, Jack Barrett, Shaun Reehl, Jeff Shaw, Amy Ray, Rick Wormwood, Dave DeBree, Rob Carlson, Eric “Mad Dog” Lawson, Daemian Allen, Harris Cooley, and Jud Caswell.

Guitar Bill was predeceased by two of his rock and roll compatriots: Mike Ralston and Joe Giampino. Many more people deserve to be on this list, and they are extended apologies, because their names were not available at the time of composition.

A memorial jam session, celebrating the life of Guitar Bill Kelleher, will occur on April 21, 4 to 8 p.m., at Lenny’s Pub, in Westbrook. His family will also hold a memorial service in Florida, to be announced.

To summarize: we loved him. One of the brightest lights, a gentle, open-hearted, rock and roll soul, has departed us forever. If you knew GB, celebrate the fact that we had him for as long as we did, by cranking the Rolling Stones. The most solid choice would probably be “Live With Me” off of Let It Bleed. That song features the band’s most dope bassline.

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