R.I.P. Jeff "Leppard" Davis, Beloved Bay Area Metal Musician and Recording Engineer
Nikki and Jeff Davis
By ALEE KARIM
Heavy hearts weigh down the Bay Area music community this week as it reels from the tragic loss of Jeff Davis (known to his community and friends as Jef Leppard) in a fatal motorcycle accident last Sunday, June 10. At 6:41 p.m., Davis and his wife, Nikki, were struck by a grey Audi at the intersection of 30th Avenue and Fulton St. in San Francisco. Mr. Davis was pinned under the Audi, and his wife, the passenger on the motorcycle, was ejected from her seat. Jef Leppard was pronounced dead on arrival at San Francisco General Hospital. He was 39. Nikki sustained critical injuries and remains in ICU as of this writing.
Jeff Davis was an alum of Bay Area metal bands Voetsek and STFU, among others. From his beginnings as a musician, he evolved into the role of an accomplished audio engineer, helping to realize sonic visions for local bands including Aerial Ruin, whose Erik Moggridge had this to say on Davis' behalf:
"It was in the backroom of his S.F. apartment where most of the tracking and all of the mixing for the Aerial Ruin album Valleys of the Earth was done. This happened slowly, over a three-year period, during countless hours where Jef would indulge my need to re-record the same song 10 times or spend an evening experimenting with some weird vocal soundscape while drinking weird obscure European cheap vodka and grape juice. Jef was so utterly willing to tolerate my esoteric madness and lend his talents and objectivity to the process."
Davis clearly did not take his role as a facilitator of others' creativity lightly, though he was a technically talented engineer who basically worked in exchange for goodwill. Friend and colleague Shelby Cobras had this to say about Jeff and Nikki at his blog, Illogical Contraption:
Through the countless hours that me and my bands sat in his back room, incessantly looping through eons of top-volume double bass rolls, Nikki never showed any hint of annoyance at our general rowdiness and thuggery -- on the contrary, she has always been the picture of generosity and kindness, offering us home-cooked meals, beverages, and support. Their marriage was by all accounts a happy and fulfilling one, and these events have put an end to something that has always inspired and impressed me.
Speaking with Davis' friends, the image that emerges is of the prototypical Bay Area artist's existence, working a full-time day job and, in every available crack of his off-hours, fitting in more than a full-time-day-job's worth of work on an unpaid passion. Whole communities are forged on the backs of gracious men like Leppard. That is also why they leave such a yawning gap in their absence. This state of being is exemplified by another anecdote of Cobras':
In a recent recording session, me and Jeff were left alone in his studio to track guitar for an hour or two, but rather than getting any "real" work done, we ended up quickly shirking duty and falling into a lengthy discussion about relationships, motivation, positivity, and life in general. At the time, I was going through a difficult break-up, and that extended trip into Jeff's mind will always stay with me as an ultimate moment of revelation and meaning. It put me on a permanent path to becoming a better person and sorting out my own life, yet to Jeff I'm sure it was just another passing conversation with a friend. He radiated intelligence and caring in a way that was wholly unquestioned and instinctual -- he was just a great fucking guy, and he never asked for credit or acknowledgment. People like Jeff simply don't exist in this world, and it is an extremely painful undertaking to let him go.
In what has become de rigueur for the injured and uninsured in the 21st Century, a donations portal has been set up to defray the costs of Nikki Davis' substantial medical expenses. A memorial/benefit/concert will be held this Saturday, June 16, at Lennon Studios in San Francisco. It is open to the public, and will feature a charity auction of one-of-a-kind Bay Area memorabilia from the underground metal scene Davis helped forge. Four bands will perform: Vastum, Blown To Bits, SMD, and Proudflesh. According to the Facebook event page, a staggering 400+ attendees have RSVP'd, with another benefit planned for July 1 at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland to meet the overwhelming demand. All proceeds will go towards Nikki Davis' medical bills and the cost of Jeff's cremation.
Davis' legacy includes not only the wife and friends whose hearts he touched, but the recordings of bands like Vastum, Acephalix, and Aerial Ruin, whose talents he graced. The Davis Family is currently accepting donations in two forms. To make a contribution via Chase Bank, Nikki Davis' account number is 3034797323. Contributions via PayPal may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Special thanks to Erik Moggridge, Ami Lawless, Shelby Cobras, and Cory Sklar for their input on this piece]