Family, Friends, and Fans Pay Tribute to Rod Dibble, Oakland's Pianist


  • Rick Paulas
  • RIP
A memorial was held at The Alley over the weekend for Rod Dibble, the dive bar’s resident pianist since 1960, who died on Dec. 18 at the age of 85.

Scattered through the business card-heavy detritus stapled to the walls of the Grand Avenue's beloved bar were old photographs of Dibble: There was a shot of him in 2010, celebrating 50 years behind the piano with a neon green krazy straw shaped like a music note. And there he was, waving with a joyous smile from his perch as he held mass to his karaoke congregants. And in the bar’s rarely visited afternoon hours, it was even light enough to see some of the usually obscured wall junk — including that banner on the back wall celebrating Dibble’s 66th birthday with the self-evident claim that “He’s incred-DIBBLE!”

For someone who once said he’d “be very happy to die right behind this piano here,” it was a fitting presentation, almost as if Dibble had merged with the bar itself in his afterlife.

On Saturday afternoon, the first day of the weekend-long send-off, there was a long spread of finger sandwiches, “piping-hot” wings, and snacks gracing the ancient bar, as Bryan Seet, one of Dibble’s two replacements, tickled the ivories. Friends, family, and fans of the iconic Oakland musician gathered around the piano, trading songs from the Great American Songbook and stories of the great man himself.

“Singing here around this piano was the first time I ever sang in public,” said one reveler, before launching into an old standard, then bringing in his saxophone for accompaniment.

Among the memorials on display were pages and pages of printed memorials from The Alley's Facebook page; it seemed like everyone in the city of Oakland had been touched, in one way or another, by this scene that Dibble created. There was also the hefty tome of laminated press that might as well double as a memorial to papers and writers long gone.

There was no shortage of ink spilled on Dibble’s unique place in Oakland culture over the years, including a '71 Oakland Tribune piece by Perry Phillips for his “Night Sounds” column, calling Dibble one of the only “pianobar artists still around from my early days on this beat.” And there was a pull-quote from an old profile by local writer Pat Craig, with Dibble stressing: “I'm not the piano man. God, if somebody calls me piano man, I tell them I'm the pianist, my name is Rod Dibble.”

But the most dominant element of the afternoons in The Alley were those songs, constant and pure as they ever were, even if the notes behind them felt a little heavier than before.