By Jenny Neyman
Whitey wasn’t able to make an appearance at the party held in his honor at the Kenai Elks Club on Sunday night, but he was there in spirit, in carrying on the tradition he lived his life by — people young and old, aspiring and accomplished, getting together to hang out, swap stories and make music.
By one count more than 300 people cycled through the memorial gathering for Timothy “Whitey” Dyment, of Sterling, who died Feb. 16. More than 30 bands took to the stage to “say hello to Whitey,” as one performer put it.
“There’s really nothing else to do that would do him justice,” said his daughter, Elizabeth Dyment, of Sterling. “It’s good to see so many different people and different age ranges. There are three generations of people here who love Whitey and want to remember him.”
The crowd resembled a roll call of the central Kenai Peninsula’s music scene. From the gathering evolved a set that felt more organic than organized — just like Whitey would have liked. The scenario was a larger version of the one that played out most days in his store, Whitey’s Music Shoppe on Kalifornsky Beach Road. People stopped by, hung out, shared food and laughs, and struck up whatever songs they were moved to play, whether it was country or classic rock, folk, swing or blues, covers or originals — including some of Whitey’s songs.
“This is what Whitey was about, bringing people together and celebrating life and celebrating music,” said Angela Jamieson, his fiancee.
The nickname came from childhood, when it referred to his white-blond hair. The name stuck and he carried it across the country on a BMW motorcycle from Maine to Alaska in 1980. At age 56 when he died, the blond was fading out of his beard and hair, which was often topped with a leather cap and matched with a quick smile that ruined his attempts at a gruff exterior.
“He managed to be kind of a curmudgeon, yet he never pissed anybody off,” said Scot Q. Merry, a musician and music producer. “That’s a good balancing act. It makes you a character but made people still like him.”
Whitey, primarily a guitarist and harmonica player, started working with Bill Zumwalt at Zumwalt’s Music. He bought the place in the early 2000s, renaming it Whitey’s Music Shoppe, Dyment said.
The store was a haven for musicians, especially young ones.
“That was the only guitar shop in town where you could hang out and grab anything you wanted and play it,” said Lowell Granath, who started going to the shop with his dad when he was 10. “That was the only dude I knew guaranteed he’d show up to every show I did.”
Granath bought his first guitar there when he was 13, and was in the store at least five times a week from then on, he said. He worked for Whitey occasionally repairing guitars, but mostly time was spent just hanging out, talking to Whitey or the revolving cast of other visitors.
“All kinds of kids hung out there,” including some who might have been out getting into trouble if they hadn’t had the shop and Whitey to rely on, said Daryl Bowers, a piano player and friend of Whitey’s.
Bowers lost track of how many times he heard off-tune, muffed-note renditions of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and the opening riff to The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” in the shop from aspiring young guitarists. But Whitey never minded.
“I’d take it for about a half hour,” Bowers said. “But Whitey just loved those kids to sit in there and play. They’d come hang out and he was a positive influence on their lives.”
Katie Evans credits that inclusive atmosphere with her finding a place in the community. She came to the central peninsula from Ohio one summer, and didn’t know anybody. She wandered into Whitey’s and ended up hanging out there five days a week, making music and meeting other people who stopped by.
“Whitey would order us pizza, and we’d hang out all day. That’s how we met everyone,” Evans said. “Somehow between then and now we all became family.”
That was just Whitey, said Bob Costley, a drummer who “pretends to be a musician,” he said. Whitey would encourage anyone, especially youth, in following whatever dream they had.
“I would go in his store not wanting anything most of the time except his company, because no matter what kind of day you had, you came out smiling,” Costley said.
His support wasn’t just for youth searching for their path in life, music or the community. He also gave direction — and the occasional swift kick in the rear — to adults who had lost their way.
Bob Sather said he came in to Whitey’s about five years ago after playing music on the road to announce he was done.
“I told him, ‘The bus is parked and it’s over for me. I’ve got a monkey on my back and a hollow leg full of alcohol,’” Sather said. “He told me, ‘You owe it to the music,’ and he called me a bunch of names and said, ‘You owe it to me.’ So I sobered up and did it. I paid my debt.”
Most of the people at the memorial service probably had a similar story of a time when Whitey was there for them, Jamieson said.
“Look at all these people. He helped everyone here be more what their potential was,” she said.
Jamieson met Whitey about three years ago at a music performance at Kaladi Brothers in Soldotna. He was funny, interesting and listened to what she had to say, Jamieson said.
Jamieson wanted to get to know him better, so she visited him at his store, after first checking to see if he had a criminal record — she’s an assistant district attorney, after all. She’s a romantic, but still a realist.
Suitably vetted, Whitey soon proved to be venerable in other areas, as well. He had a bachelor’s degree in social work “and he continued practicing social work through his shop,” Jamieson said.
“I never met a man who had more respect for a woman, someone who saw women as real equals and would allow me to blossom and be who I was,” she said.
Whitey didn’t let things stand in the way of his development, either. In the last 10 years or so he started working earnestly on being a songwriter. Merry worked with him on producing Whitey’s CD. Merry spent 15 years as a musician and producer in Nashville, and has also produced albums for Hobo Jim. He said Whitey was open-minded about his music. He’d write a song and they’d decide what style it best fit in, whether it was country, reggae or whatever.
“The more I listened to his music the more I got into his skill as a songwriter and got to be very enthusiastic about his music,” Merry said.
They performed together occasionally, and always intended to play more frequently. On Sunday, Merry played a set of Whitey’s songs with Bowers, Sather and others, and called up Evans to help with vocals, and Dyment joined them to sing one of her dad’s songs.
Merry said he had expected Whitey at his studio on the day he died. He still had songs to record, and it was a shock for the music community to lose such a prominent part of its melody when there still seemed to be so much left to play.
But in retrospect, Merry thinks that’s not such a bad way to go. Whitey left on a crescendo, not the slow fade.
“Somebody said to me, ‘It’s so sad, he wanted to do this and that and this other thing,’” Merry said. “I turned around and said, ‘Hey, he had big plans and he was moving forward and getting better every day until the last day.’ I think he did it the right way.”