"There are only a few places I am sure to take family and friends when they come to town," wrote Johnny Goodtimes. "They are, in no particular order: Jim's Steaks, the Italian Market, and Bob and Barbara's. "And while B and B's is a great bar in its own right, there was something more than the smoky ambience and PBR specials that I wanted to be sure my family experienced in the limited time we had together in the city. That was the sounds, energy, and feeling brought to the room by the house band, Nate Wiley and the Crowd Pleasers."
Nate Wiley, Philadelphia sax player and crowd pleaser, died yesterday at his North Philadelphia home. He was 83. He wasn't one of Philadelphia's most famous tenor players. Just one of the hardest working.
"I don't know how to play jazz," he explained in a 1998 City Paper cover story. "I play liquor-drinking music."
But, as Johnny Goodtimes wrote, "Whatever the genre, Nate was as smooth as they come."
The man who served up more than 20 years of greasy, Hammond B-3 tinged sets of house rock at Bob & Barbara's died around lunchtime Monday with his wife, Henrietta Shands, by his side, said her daughter Clarissa this morning. A viewing will be held between 9 and 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29 at the Len E. Ellis Funeral Home, 529 Rising Sun Avenue, Philadelphia. Service to follow.
Jack Prince, owner of the juke joint at 15th & South, said that after a gig four or five weeks ago, it was apparent that Wiley wasn't feeling well. "At the end of the night, everyone saw that he didn't seem like himself. I guess he drove himself home, and two days later he went into the hospital."
At Hahnemann doctors determined he'd had a stroke, Prince said. He also had heart problems.
This morning, Prince recalled the man:
"He was probably the most dependable, reliable person I ever worked with. In the 13 years I've been here, he never missed a Friday or Saturday night, whether it was rain or snow or the Rodney King verdict. At the end of the night I'd say, 'Nate, I'll see you tomorrow. And he'd say, 'You can depend on it.' That was his thing. When you saw him, and asked how he was doing, it was 'Poor, but proud' or 'Weak, but willing.' "
Over at Philebrity, Joey Sweeney called Wiley one Philadelphia's "greatest ambassadors and ties to our collective musical legacy:"
Nate Wiley held it down on South Street — mostly at Bob & Barbara's in the last few decades—for over 60 years. For anyone who ever popped in for a drink and wound up staying for, well, longer, Nate and his band, The Crowd Pleasers, provided a soundtrack that was witty, urbane, romantic and thanks to the combo of that big heapin' Hammond sound and Wiley's horn, quintessentially Philadelphian. Nate Wiley, you are survived by all of us. God bless and hopefully, we'll see you again one day at that great big watering hole in the sky. Thank you."
(The above photo comes courtesy of Jay Matsueda, who shot Nate Wiley and the Crowd Pleasers in 1998.)