Elliot Hill, best known locally as the drummer for the Softrocks, passed away on Monday, July 25, at the age of 26. Hill was diagnosed with colon cancer last September, and the cancer advanced to an untreatable stage and was diagnosed as terminal in April.
In addition to drumming with the Softrocks and earlier, with Ennui, Hill worked as a roadie for Pink Mink and played in a comedy band with his friend and roommate Christy Hunt.
Hunt says that Hill lived with her for many years and was a constant as she worked on her musical projects. "Elliot was there for the birth of [Pink Mink]," she says. "He would be sitting upstairs watching Curb Your Enthusiasm when Arzu [Gokcen] and I would come up from writing songs. He was so complimentary about our songs. It was exciting and an ego boost to have him there in the larval stages."
"We would have a Monday night movie night and one time we watched the movie Roadie with Meatloaf. Meatloaf was a roadie named Redfish, which we would nick name Elliot [after] our first Pink Mink show. Elliot was always helping us do the load in and outs. He was so strong he would pick up a Marshall half stack by himself. We would dedicate our album to him and name our record label after his daughter, Veronica."
Hill had just started a family with his wife Ashlee Fanning and the two welcomed their daughter, Veronica Hill, this past May.
"Just recently, right after his first surgery to remove cancer from his stomach, and right after he found out he was going to be a father, I remember him telling me that every morning he would get up early and sit at his kitchen table and think about how he was going to take care of his daughter," remembers Softrocks bandleader Michael Sapiro. "It was then that I realized I had actually seen him grow into a man before my eyes. This was a far cry from the fun-loving Elliot who would have late nights and then scramble to catch his bus. He was now a reflective, caring, mature man."
Sapiro met Hill eight years ago, when Hill was drumming with his first band Ennui and the two shared a gig by chance. "He was actually one of our biggest fans, who, after graduating from McNallySmith with a degree in recording, offered to record our album for free," Sapiro remembers. "Shortly after its release, we had a falling out with our drummer at the time, and Elliot was only supposed to be a fill-in until we found a replacement. He remained with for about five years before we went on hiatus as I pursued graduate school in Europe and our bass player left to do humanitarian work in South America. We were hoping to reform again upon both our returns."
"We even did a practice together about two months ago," Sapiro continues. "Elliot was skeleton thin and had to put his feeding tube on a brick next to him as he played. Miraculously, he hit every fill like he never missed a beat. Afterwards, he shuffled up the stairs, hunched over, his eyes sinking back in his head. Almost like being behind his drumset allowed him to return to a healthier state. It was absolutely astonishing and stands as a testament to his will power."
The Softrocks rose to prominence in the late-aughts, around the time that they recorded their album Summer Apocalypse with Robert Pollard/Guided By Voices producer Todd Tobias, becoming especially popular near Pollard's hometown of Dayton, Ohio. "We always seemed to do much better in Ohio than anywhere else (including, it often seemed, Minneapolis)," Sapiro says. "Youngstown, Ohio in particular was a place that Elliot was very fond of. As a matter of fact, I know that tributes to Elliot (I believe on a local radio program there) are going on as I write this. The owners and staff of the Cedars Lounge in Youngstown formed a really special relationship with all of us, but especially with Elliot."
"In all, Elliot was an amazing and gentle human being," says Hunt. "He was extraordinarily adventurous, intelligent and talented. He played drums and guitar really well. He loved Joan of Arc, Pantera, Beyonce, Flameburger, Curb Your Enthusiasm and was quite the movie buff. He almost made me -- and I say 'almost' -- get Pantera. That speaks volumes."