Music feature: Grafton and others pay tribute to Brad Liebling

Joel Oliphint
Lou Poster of Grafton

David Banbury met Brad Liebling in the fall of 1987. Both English majors at Ohio State, the two initially bonded over Banbury's Roger Waters T-shirt. The friendship blossomed from there, and they eventually became roommates.

Liebling faithfully attended Babel Fish shows when Banbury played in the Columbus band in the early '90s. “He just loved music so much,” Banbury said of Liebling, who went on to start local label Derailleur Records in the late '90s. “Maybe that's a cliche thing to say about people who start labels. They're not always able to be musicians, so they want to find some way to support it. That's totally the case with Brad. … Whenever he saw people make music he was kind of in awe, and he just wanted to be involved, so it was very natural that Derailleur happened the way it did.”

Through Derailleur, Liebling released albums from Columbus bands like Grafton, Pretty Mighty Mighty, Bigfoot, the Bygones, Bob City, the Jive Turkeys, the Velveteens and more in the span of just a few years in the late '90s and early 2000s.

“He ran a really inclusive label. It wasn't based on a sound. It was based on a quality,” said Drift Mouth's Lou Poster, who took over operation of the label in 2001 shortly after the self-titled Derailleur debut of his former band, Grafton. “It wasn't Americana music. It wasn't punk rock or hard rock. It was just, ‘It's good. I like it. Let's do it.' That was Brad's philosophy with getting music out.”

On Sept. 21, Liebling died after he got out of his car on I-70 and was struck by a vehicle in Clark County. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the driver fled the scene and the investigation into the incident is ongoing. Liebling was 51 and left behind three school-aged children.

Poster first met Liebling at a Bigfoot show. “I was a complete stranger when we started talking,” Poster said. “We spoke over a beer, and by the end of maybe a 20-minute conversation it was just a done thing that he was going to put out a Grafton record. … He was very supportive, very kind and just totally willing to go all in on somebody else and their ideas and their creative vision.”

“When he was in the right mood,” Poster continued, “Brad was just one of the best people to be around. He was super positive about everybody else. But smart people, I think, get really bored sometimes and just need to figure out a way to make things interesting.”

“He was very anxious, but he was a high-functioning person,” said Banbury, who recalled that Liebling graduated summa cum laude from Ohio State and would have had a 4.0 if not for one class. “He had a troubled life, but he was best when he was focusing on something outside of himself — not just the label, but when he had kids. His kids changed his life in such a positive way.”

To honor Liebling's musical legacy, and to raise money for the family left behind, Poster organized a benefit at Ace of Cups on Friday, Jan. 4, which also serves as the 2019 kickoff for Poster's “Franklin County First,” a quarterly event the Drift Mouth frontman and former Cafe Bourbon St./Summit owner books with all-local talent, alternating between full bands on the main stage and solo/duo performances on Ace's side stage.

For the first time in four years, Poster will reunite unhinged punk-rock act Grafton alongside former Derailleur bands like Bigfoot and the Bygones. Banbury's band, Reverbalines, will perform as a duo on the side stage. “A couple songs will be ones I wrote during the Babel Fish days when I was living with Brad,” Banbury said. “He was one of the first people to hear completed versions of those songs.”

Even before Liebling's death, Poster had been carrying on part of the former label owner's legacy. Toward the end of 2001, Liebling was ready to move on from Derailleur, and he approached Poster with an offer. “He was like, ‘Do you want a record label?' I said, ‘I can't afford to buy a record label.' So he literally gave me Derailleur,” Poster said. “He gave me all his contacts, all the back stock, everything that goes along with running a label, and just handed it over to me.”

Later, Poster brought on a partner and re-branded Derailleur as Dead Canary Records. “The first pressing of the vinyl for [Drift Mouth album]Little Patch of Sky is on Dead Canary Records,” Poster said. “That label started out as Derailleur. It still has a presence, even now.”

Ace of Cups

9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 4

2619 N. High St., Old North

ALSO PLAYING: Grafton, Bigfoot, the Bygones, Reverbalines Duo

"Franklin County First"