By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT
Verne K. Smith, dubbed “Rockford’s #1 Music Fan”, was born May 8, 1946, in Muskegon, Michigan to parents Julia and Stanley Domkowski. Finding himself in Rockford he quickly became a fixture of the local live music scene. He was a client of the ARC of Winnebago, Boone and Ogle Counties who helped him with housing and basic day-to-day living. After receiving his weekly budget he would immediately purchase a Rockford Register Star newspaper solely for the GO entertainment section so he could find out where all the live music action was happening. Not knowing how to read or write, he would take the paper to his good friend Dave Giamalva, who would map out a route that would eventually get him back closer to home.
Verne would tell stories about seeing Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock and talk about his record collection that he said, tallied into the thousands. In 2001, the Rockford Area Music Industry named Verne “The Biggest Music Fan of All Time” and he was presented with a RAMI award. Whether or not you believed the stories about Hendrix, the record collection, or the other things he talked about didn’t matter much to the people that knew him. Some folks would tell you that your band really hadn’t made it in the local scene until Verne was spotted at one of your shows.
This week we asked people to share their memories of Verne.
Janet Licari – “We gave Verne a ride home from gigs twice. Each time he asked if we could stop at Uncle Nick’s and of course we did. How can you refuse such a polite guy? Of course, we offered to pay for it and he would say, ‘Can I get some fries too?'”
Lou Rios – “Verne ‘Dance Machine’ Smith, what can you say? Missed. First one at a show, last one to leave always drove him home after every gig. He hardly missed a Big Daddy Woo Woo show, his favorite song was The Bird by Time. He will always be our number one fan. RIP Verne, thank you for just your presence at our shows.”
Pat Fenelon – “Gave Verne a ride home from Sherwood Lodge in 1970. He lived in the same house on the river for many years. We used to call him ‘Detroit’ back then.”
Dwayne Barker – “I ran sound for his funeral at Heartland. He had attended lots of concerts when I was a guitarist with the Pitney’s. He was a sweetheart! I loved it when he showed up. We all need to be as free-spirited as he was.”
Dave Hopkins – “Verne was one of the good ones and earned the right to be called Rockford’s #1 live music fan. I played in Skyway Blue in the late ’80s-early ’90s and Verne was easily at 50 percent of all our gigs and was probably at every Rockford show we played. Every video seems to have him bopping around somewhere.”
John Huckelberry – “Verne would stop by the laundromat and shoot the words after a night out. One night at 3 a.m. I heard a big boom on Broadway under the tracks by Toad Hall. A car had flipped over and Verne was laying on the road! He said the driver had made a pass at him! That man was rock ‘n’ roll.”
Russ Kutak – “I remember Verne always wore his tasseled jacket everywhere. I remember one night he asked my friend for a ride home after a show but demanded they stop at Uncle Nick’s!”
Jeep Capone – “Jamtrak worked at the Off Broadway for several years as the house band six days a week. He didn’t miss many shows. We played many dates at Maggie’s Pub and I think he was at all of them. We would give him a ride home before he got his Chrysler New Yorker. Verne just loved that ride.”
Ron Ross Sr. – “I thought I got around, but I saw Verne everywhere! And he always got there first. I looked up Music Fan in the dictionary, and there was a picture of him!”
R Scott Gentz – “I saw Verne at a lot of local shows for Zanthus, Mysterix, and others. He was always happy, dancing, and full of life. Sometimes I would see him out walking and knew right away who he was. He was just a nice guy who loved live music.”
Michael Hysmith – “I remember him always eating dinner at the front table of Endless Nights upstairs at the Rock River Cafe long before the shows would start. He would go with his sister-in-law most of the time. He told me on several occasions ‘I was at Woodstock baby, I’ve seen it all.’ I believed him.”
Jim Verkuilen – “I remember seeing Verne at a lot of live music venues but mostly at Ript shows. It was at a Ript show in Beloit where we actually met. There were a couple jerks who just couldn’t leave him alone, but he handled his business. What a great spirit that man had, he just went back to dancing like nothing happened!”
Daniel Magner – “Verne used to see just about every band I was in. He would bring in this plastic grocery bag and pull out his shiny leather zippered boots. I asked him once what he was doing, and he told me that he was putting on his dancing shoes! The Rockford music scene isn’t the same without Verne.”