RIP: Ralph Spillenger (1951 – 2022)

The world isn’t waiting for Ralph Spillenger’s memorial service; it’s already in progress, on Facebook:

“Ralph Michael Spillenger used to stalk me with his camera at shows. We would always talk or text, just to stay in touch. He was an accomplished musician, owned multiple clubs over the years, and was just a great guy, whose friendship I truly valued.”

 – Vito Ciccarelli

“Anyone who knew him knew he could be the biggest pain in the neck but he had one of the biggest hearts out there. Ralph was truly a legend in the Albany music scene and beyond. I am proud to have been able to call consider Ralph as one of my friends and mentors.”

 – Keith McLean

“This world is a little less fun today with your absence.”

 – Pete Bardunias

“He was one of the smartest, funniest and warmest old barnacles still clinging fiercely to the mothership.”

 – Steve Hopkins

“He had more empathy than most I know and worked his butt off to help those he loved succeed. It was an absolute privilege to have known him, to have had long conversations from music to politics with him, and to have learned from him.”

 – Liam Benjamin

“[When we met] He was a gangly 14-year-old kid with the energy of a Mexican jumping bean. I liked him immediately. How could I not. He was the only person I’d ever met who was completely without guile. Everything about him was right out front. Many decades later, he was still sharp as a tack.”

 – Peter Levey

“Ralph was and always will be huge in my history. I’ll never look at a discarded couch the same way again and I’ll never forget Ralph.”

 – Kevin Bartlett

“We went way back to those early days . There were three of us: Ralph, Frank Milgo and me. We were the roadies and light show for The Gray Things. So many venues. Ralph, I will miss you. Sorry I never got to sit in with you in the later years; I’m playing my harps tonight just for you: Night Owl Blues.”

 – Joe Lounello

“Ralph was a personality unmatched (I don’t think the world could’ve handled two of him), and his love and support of live music was central to the Albany scene for many, many years.  I always enjoyed our conversations about the ins and outs of the world, politics, and the rest.  Ralph wasn’t light on opinions, and I’ll miss that.  Rest in peace, and thanks for all you did for this community.”

 – Christine Kirk

“Thanks for the laughter, music, and love you brought us all, ya old curmudgeon!


 – Marc Bachrach

“He was one of the first people to help me get established as a drummer when I first moved here over 10 years ago. He introduced me to so many people out here. Mannnnnnnn imma mis ya crazy self. Thanks for always being a stand up guy.”

 – Chris Little

“Ralph was fierce in his beliefs and in his passions.  It always brightened my day when he would appear out of nowhere with one of his trademark hats on…he’d yell out my nickname and I’d run over to hug him.  He took chances on bands, he took chances in general.  I’m sure he’s building a kickass soundstage in heaven right now!”

 – Jeff Mo’rad

“I knew the man for almost 30 years. A great father and friend to many, not to mention the definition of a wildcard. I spent many hours debating politics, talking music, and having fun at his establishments. Thank you for sharing your son Shane with me and all the good times we shared.”

 – John L. Tattersall

“RIP to a local legend. Many of us miss you changing the music, standing on the bar in front of guests, and ALWAYS disagreeing on politics and causing a scene. You will be missed.”

 – Mackenzie Geuss

“Ralph, you were there for all of us when nobody else was. Thank you. Rest easy my friend!”

 – Ken Drumm

“So many wizened things Ralph shared. He was one of the coolest people I ever met.”

 – Charlie Brennan

“I cannot say how much I appreciate all of the jobs Ralph gave us over the years. We performed some amazing shows in his venues and although sometimes he would drive us crazy, he was indeed great to work with.  Ralph always wanted the best for his venues and I loved that about him. He always spoke his mind and we loved it!”

 – Michael Bruce

“Such a terrible loss to the music community and to his loved ones. He had a huge heart and even if you disagreed with him at times, it didn’t matter because he was Ralph! It will never be the same at The Blues Jam without you! Rock on in heaven!”

 – Melissa Rock

“So many amazing memories bartending the Bayou 20 years ago, all the late Jaeger night over the years, all of your crazy life stories, the way you played and sang, you made the world special.”

 – Helen Vega

“He was such a huge supporter of live music and as I played at more venues, it only made me appreciate Ralph more. His places were based around his love of music. It led musicians to have a bond with him that you didn’t get with most other venue owners.”

 – Jason Ellenbogen

“Ralph was one of a kind, a sweetheart with a totally fake outer hard crust. He was supportive to so many causes and a great, talented musician, a hardworking businessman and family man. He will be missed.”

 – Patti Quade

“There’s a very big hole in the universe today.”

 – Bert Pagano

“Thanks for yelling at me and making sure I was always on my game.  Thanks for bringing amazing music and joy to so many people in the Capital Region. Now it’s your time to jam again, forever and always !”

 – Matthew Thomas

“The Albany music scene would have been drastically different, and worse in my opinion, without his contributions. Playing at the Bayou or Jillian’s was always a great time, even with him running sound and messing with us from time to time and Benny growling at everyone.  Even in the last few years, he’d randomly turn up at a show somewhere and kibitz.  He was a really thoughtful and kind guy underneath the sometimes rough exterior.”

 – Mike Grosshandler

“Under the facade, a rare breed of magnificently decent human. Challenged by Ralph, more than once, up in his over-the-dance-floor office at the Bijou, about what the hell I was doing with my life. Ralph was a truth teller and was fucking alright. I always loved getting to play with him, spontaneously, over the years. Memories I will cherish forever.”

 – Charlie Brennan

This isn’t the place to document Ralph Spillenger’s amazing life story; the Times-Union published a reverent and wonderfully detailed piece about him. I will, however, add my two cents:

I knew Ralph for the better part of 50 years. He wore many hats: facilitator, cheerleader, jokester, family man, impresario, showman, pundit, yenta, musical sherpa. He made it a point to know everyone, and pretty much succeeded; by now there aren’t many people who don’t have a Ralph story. He was a “presence,” in the best sense of the word.

Photo by Al Quaglieri

Ralph’s heart was always in the music, up to and including his final days. Despite a series of medical setbacks, and at an age where most of us geezers are on the couch flipping through the channels, he was still plugged into who, what, and where. And still performing, too. 

Ralph’s heart was also on his sleeve, no matter how far out of his way he went to hide it. He expressed his friendship with pokes and jabs and sometimes breathtakingly inappropriate comments, but you never for a moment doubted his affection and respect.

So, let us say farewell and thank you to the acerbic, charismatic Godfather of our area’s music scene. A life well-lived. It’s been an honor and a great pleasure, Ralph.

 – Al Quaglieri

  1. Robert Millis says

    I didn’t really know him yet, but when I was helping book the shows at Putnam Den, he’d just walk up to me with comments like “they’re not bad” or “your sound guy must be deaf” or “great: another band that thinks they’re the next coming of the Dead” or “you must have hired this one because of the girl out front and center”. But it was always done in a helpful way! From there, the slow-night / off-night war stories chats were great. I’ll sure miss that.

  2. Patti Quade says

    Truely one of a kind. I hope he gets his just reward for what he has meant to so many, in heaven!

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