The mid-December death of Nate Strayer was a late-in-the-calendar blow to the local music scene. The composer and guitarist was just 34 years old, and while it's been a full decade since he helped put Winter Haven rock band Anberlin on the national map, Strayer leaves behind a scene (and a family that includes a son, daughter and wife) which won’t soon heal from the loss of a friend, father and free-thinking musical mind gone too soon.
In a message, Strayer’s childhood friend Michael Aragon told CL that Strayer was an animal of a composer who collected mountains of riffs and sonic ideas on the computer. The pair played together in a post-high school band called the Mosaic which amassed a loyal following good enough to get them a show at St. Pete’s State Theatre. It’s there that Anberlin — which was called Sagoh 24/7 at the time — took notice of Strayer and eventually asked him to join the band.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad that he was going to be taking a step back from the Mosaic, but I was stoked for him,” Aragon wrote, “because I knew it was his calling.”
Aragon said Strayer was stoked when he finally ended up making significant contributions to Anberlin’s albums, and the band — which amicably parted ways with Strayer in 2007 — felt the loss as well.
“We are so incredibly devastated at the news of our longtime friend and bandmate Nate Strayer, has passed away,” it wrote on Facebook. “The weight of any words that we could possibly say feel insufficient. Our hearts break along side of his wife, children, friends, and family. We loved Strayer and are so thankful we had the opportunity to share so many memories together.”
“He was such a dreamer and I think that is what really drove people to him. I know this was one of the reasons I loved him,” Aragon added. “He was much more than a best friend. He was my brother and I will forever miss him.”
A FORCE OF LOVE AND NATURE
Remembering Ray Villadonga, a linchpin of the Tampa Bay music scene
The loss is reminiscent of the one Bay area lifers felt when Ray Villadonga — aka Rayzilla, a true force of love and nature — succumbed to pancreatic cancer in July. The 62-year-old monster bass player and lover of all things Tampa was supposed to be a grandpa, and Gabriel R.J. Francois (born in October) is going to live a life surrounded by friends and family whose lives would not be the same had Villadonga not been in it.
Have a look a a short list of some other shitty losses we endured in 2017.
Charles Bradley I’ve been embraced by Charles Bradley twice, and I can still smell the sweet scent of a man who brought a lifetime’s worth of graciousness and an arsenal of raw soul power to the stage every time he hit it. Bradley, a Gainesville native who was 68 when he died, was courageous in his fight against stomach cancer. The heartache and kindness he put to tape for Daptone Records will live on, thanks to the many musicians he played with and the countless fans whose lives were truly changed after just one ride on the wings of the Screaming Eagle of Soul.
Nafa Fa’alogo On paper, he was Gafataitua Fa’alogo. Most everyone called him Nafa (or Bible Stud, Rockabilly Samoan), and on February 4 the Newport Beach born guitarist lost his life way too soon. Nafa got to Tampa in 1981 and eventually landed a job at the USF library. He was the firepower behind some of the Bay area’s most energetic rock outfits, and Nafa’s boundless energy created an opportunity for the community to collect funds that will be donated to his family then eventually used to start a USF scholarship in his name.
Tom Petty Confirmation of Petty’s death was fumbled by the Los Angeles Police Department, which made for an awkward few hours when the former Gainesville boy was either dead or still in a hospital bed suffering from complications after being found in his Malibu home under cardiac arrest. Generations of music fans will undoubtedly find Petty’s music in the years to come, however, and there may not be another Florida songwriter who will change the landscape of rock and roll the way the 66-year-old legend did.
Paul O’Neill In April, the famously generous Trans-Siberian Orchestra co-founder (who recorded so many great albums at Tampa’s own Morrisound Recording) was found dead in a hotel near the University of South Florida. An autopsy would later confirm that O’Neill — who was just 61 — died of intoxication from a mixture of methadone, codeine, Valium and an antihistamine, but a loyal fanbase will always remember him for his whimsical, headbanging holiday shows and his little-known contributions to albums by Bay area metal giants like Savatage.
John Blackwell Complications created by a pair of brain tumors eventually took the life of drummer John Blackwell, who, in July, passed away in Tampa at age of 43. The Berklee College of Music grad was recruited by Prince in 2000 as timekeeper for his New Power Generation band, and Blackwell also contributed to records by P. Diddy, Bootsy Collins and Patti LaBelle.
Route 91 Harvest In October, Las Vegas fell victim to a mass shooter who opened fire on a country music festival, injuring more than 500 people and killing 59 including himself. A 64-year-old millionaire retired real estate investor named Stephen Paddock was eventually ID’d as the shooter, and concertgoers across the country flocked to shows in defiance in the weeks following the largest modern mass-shooting in U.S. history.