The Original Alley Pianist
Pianist and singer Rod Dibble is, and will always be, The Alley's original pianist. Raised in Berkeley, Dibble started playing piano in 1938 when he was six years of age and performed at The Alley starting in 1960. For 50 years, Dibble performed nightly at the bar from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Knowing more than 4,000 songs by heart, he would accompany singers through key changes and rhythm variations based on the participating singer. When the microphone made its full circle around the piano and back to him, he would take his turn, singing anything from “Deep Purple” to “Blue Light Boogie” to “Hard Hearted Hannah” in his signature voice, which San Francisco Chronicle writer Peter Hartlaub described as a mix of "Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits on the raspy spectrum."
Over the decades, Rod Dibble helped thousands of people who didn’t even think they could carry a tune become joyful, full-voiced singers. To make new singers feel comfortable and valued, he would ring a small bell in honor of the “Alley virgin’s” first song, regardless of whether the singer performed it well. For returning singers, he would have his ears open for their progress, and ring a large cowbell when someone dispatched a “personal best.” He would move the key of a song up or down as someone’s voice improved with practice, helping them show off their new chops. Rod’s approval of your singing could send an Alley patron floating down Grand Avenue, feeling loved and accomplished.
When asked if he would ever retire, Dibble said, "I'll never retire, I'll be very happy to die right behind this piano here." He didn’t quite get his wish--the floorboards of The Alley were too difficult for him to navigate nightly in his final months. But he continued to play and sing in his home as his health declined, accompanying his wife Linda and having friends over for singing salons.
Rodney Dibble passed away December 18th, 2017. We will always remember Rod as the pianist who kept the spirit of The Alley going for 50+ years. Thank you, Rod, for encouraging thousands of people to sing, and making The Alley a place that changed lives.