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Pierre Kezdy, bass player for influential punk rockers Naked Raygun, other Chicago bands, dead at 58

Naked Raygun ‘just turned my world upside-down,’ says Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters.

Naked Raygun band members (from left) Eric Spicer, Jeff Pezzati, Bill Stephens and Pierre Kezdy.
Naked Raygun band members (from left) Eric Spicer, Jeff Pezzati, Bill Stephens and Pierre Kezdy.
Sun-Times file

Pierre Kezdy, bass guitarist for Naked Raygun, one of Chicago’s most influential and best loved punk rock bands, died Friday at 58 at a hospice in Glenview. The longtime Evanston resident had cancer.

He talked his way into his first group, Strike Under, around when he was in high school, according to his friend Lou Lombardo, Naked Raygun’s manager.

“He didn’t even know how to play an instrument,” Lombardo said. “He basically lied and said he knew how to play and taught himself to play.”

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters said he was about 13 when Naked Raygun “changed everything I knew about music.” He saw the band at an all-ages show at the Cubby Bear while in the Midwest visiting relatives.

About 30 years later, Grohl asked Naked Raygun to open for Foo Fighters — with Urge Overkill and Cheap Trick — at Wrigley Field in 2015.

Two years earlier, Fall Out Boy paid tribute at Riot Fest by inviting Raygun frontman Jeff Pezzati onstage for the Naked Raygun song “New Dreams.”

Recording engineer Steve Albini called them “by far my favorite band” in Chicago’s 1980s music scene in “Sonic Highways,” an HBO mini-documentary Grohl directed about the city’s musical influences.

“Naked Raygun,” Albini said, “was the first band that I saw where they were totally content to just be the freaks and weirdos that they were naturally.”

Bassist Pierre Kezdy is far right.
Bassist Pierre Kezdy is far right.

In a 2015 article in the Chicago Ambassador, Mr. Kezdy told writer Bob Chiarito, “We can look back and say, ‘We were the guys out there with machetes, blazing a path through the jungle, while other people were able to follow and bring their weapons through easily.’

“And what did we get out of it?” he joked. “Sore arms.”

He grew up a comic-book and music-loving kid. His brother John would become a member of the punk band The Effigies.

In 1985, about two years after Naked Raygun formed, young Pierre joined the group, whose name was a riff on the Sex Pistols.

Naked Raygun played on bills with punk and alternative headliners including Black Flag, the Germs, the Ramones and Soul Asylum. Green Day once opened for them.

When Grohl saw Naked Raygun as a boy, “My stomach was up against the stage, and the singer was, like, on top of my head, people diving all over the place. It was loud as f---, and it was out of tune, and it was spit,” he said in “Sonic Highways.” “It just turned my world upside-down. . . For me, that night changed everything I knew about music.”

Mr. Kezdy wrote popular Naked Raygun songs including “Home” and “Vanilla Blue.”

Writing in 1999, then-Chicago Sun-Times rock critic Jim DeRogatis called “Vanilla Blue” “the perfect merger of tunefulness and aggression” and described the band’s sound as “arty but accessible; big, broad, and dramatic; full of testosterone and braggadocio but always smart and occasionally downright romantic.”

The band’s members kept their day jobs. For decades, Mr. Kezdy was a plumber.

Matt Skiba of Blink-182 and Alkaline Trio admired the band, telling WBEZ Naked Raygun shows were “a cross between Christmas and walking to the electric chair.”

Cynthia Plaster Caster wore a Naked Raygun T-shirt in the 2007 documentary on Chicago punk “You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977 to 1984.”

After Naked Raygun broke up around 1992 — it got back together in 2009 — Mr. Kezdy joined Pegboy with his old band’s John Haggerty.

At different points, he also played in Arsenal and Trial by Fire.

Mr. Kezdy’s bass-playing was affected by lingering paralysis from a long-ago stroke. Though he couldn’t always perform at recent gigs, he went to many of Naked Raygun’s shows and joined in on some songs. His friends created a smaller bass guitar for him so he could play.

Fritz Doreza, a former member of The Tarts who took on some bass-playing duties with encouragement from Mr. Kezdy, says “Vanilla Blue” is one of his favorite songs and demonstrates his influence on other bands.

The song “showed me, as a songwriter, that you don’t have to be a virtuoso to write and play good music,” Doreza said. “You don’t have to play a lot of notes to play good music.”

John P. Strohm, who played with the Lemonheads, tweeted condolences, saying: “Naked Raygun were some of the first real supporters of The Lemonheads back in the 80s, and they were great to us. Such a powerful, influential band.”

In addition to his brother John, Mr. Kezdy is survived by his wife Heather, children Nicole, Mary, Peter and Delphine and brother Andre.

“His family and his kids — that’s all he pretty much talked about,” Lombardo said.