Pete Droge has suffered the “one-hit wonder” tag since his 1994 alternative-radio hit, “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself).” The song helped make his debut, Necktie Second, a commercial success, but his record label was undergoing financial distress by the time his 1996 follow-up was released, and Finds Door predictably went nowhere with no marketing effort to help it. Yet singer/songwriter Droge, an interesting by product of the Northwest grunge scene who has sometimes been compared to Tom Petty, is fortunate to possess well-connected friends who have great faith in his talents.
Droge was born in the late 1960s and grew up in Seattle, Washington. His mother was a music teacher, and his father, also a music-lover, taught Droge to play his first instrument, the ukulele, at the age of four. As a young adult, Droge worked in a pizza place and befriended Mike McCready, who would later go on to fame as the lead guitarist for Pearl Jam. By the time the Seattle-based group achieved massive success in the early 1990s—second only to Nirvana—Droge had his own roots-rock outfit called Ramadillo. “We didn’t have the attitude,‘Let’s get it perfect, ’ so it was ‘alternative, ’” Droge told Rolling Stone’s Kim Ahearn, and said Ramadillo was just part of a “subscene” at the time that “the Artist and Repretoire (A&R) people who were flocking [to Seattle] didn’t pick up on.”
Droge next spent time living and playing around the Oregon city of Portland, which boasted its own thriving, though less legendary music scene. McCready, still pals with Droge, gave one of his demo tapes to Pearl Jam producer Brendan O’Brien, who liked Droge’s sound so much he engineered a deal for the relative unknown with American Recordings, the label owned by rap impresario Rick Rubin. O’Brien would produce all three of Droge’s releases, in between helping out artists like Neil Young and Soundgarden in the studio.
Droge’s debut, Necktie Second, was released in 1994, and its first single, “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself),” quickly climbed the Modern Rock charts. A somewhat insouciant, “stalker-with-a-sense-of-irony” tune, Droge had written it in the summer of 1993 in his Portland home. He would later have to endure criticism for the lightheartedness of its lyrics, which were part of its commercial success in the first place; some critics termed its lines downright absurd. Droge, who toured for a year and a half in support of Necktie Second, soon tired of the hassles from those who seized upon this part of the song’s character. “At the time of writing a tune like that… you don’t think that somebody’s going to be calling you up and asking, ‘So what exactly is an Eskimo freeze?’” Droge complained to Billboard’s Eric Boehlert in late 1994. The rest of the record offered a more diverse range of fare, and it would sell over sixty thousand copies. “The sense of quiet longing in most of his music has little in common—barring the universal subject of heartache—with the blatant goofiness of You Don’t Love Me,’” wrote Ahearn.
With his second effort, Find a Door, Droge ran into some bad luck when his label, American, underwent internal difficulties. The 1996 record was given little promotion, and accordingly did not do well. Yet Droge had, by this time, assembled a permanent backing band that grounded him and certainly lent support during some rough times. The band, which was first called the Sinners, included Peter Stroud, Dave Hull, Dan McCarroll, and vocalist Elaine Summers (who would later release a solo album that Droge produced in 1997). He had also invited session musicians from the world of gospel to round it out musically. On Find a Door, Droge credited the band with helping him focus his talents into a specific style. “A lot of the reasons this album will work, if it indeed does work, is due to the strengths of all five of us,” Droge told Douglas Reece in Billboard.
By this time, Droge’s clear roots-rock style was earning him comparisons to up-and-comers Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews band, but Droge was simply sticking to what he had always done, especially in his former musical incarnation of Ramadillo. “Having
Born c. 1969.
Droge had an early 1990s band called Ramadillo; Self-released independent Ramadillo LP, 1991; signed with American Recordings, c. 1993; released debut Necktie Second, 1994; released Find a Door, 1996; signed to Fiftyseven Records, c. 1997; released Spacey and Shaking 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Fiftyseven Records, 1770 Century Blvd., Suite B, Atlanta, GA 30345.
cut my teeth in the Seattle club scene when just about every band in town got a record deal but me, I’m not all that swayed by what’s popular, and I have a hard time putting anybody in a category,” Droge told Reece in the Billboard interview. “But, yeah, I see a lot more music that isn’t hard rock beginning to reach people.”
True to form, Droge ventured into new territory with his third record, the 1998 Spacey and Shakin’. By then, Droge had spent months opening for acts such as Tom Petty, Neil Young, and his friends in Pearl Jam, and the experience had led him away from his acoustic sound. Spacey and Shakin’, released on producer O’Brien’s Fiftyseven Records label, put forth a much heavier electric guitar sound, which Droge explained as a natural progression for any guitarist after playing so many large venues. “You have so much adrenaline running when you hit the stage,” he told Guitar World’s Alan Paul, “and you just want to get the audience’s interest right away and keep it, especially if you’re an opening act.”
Despite the title, Spacey and Shakin’was not that far-out a record, though there was some clear nods to ‘60s psychedelic bands and evidence of Droge’s love of the Troggs (“Wild Thing”) and Bob Dylan. He recorded it with the same assemblage of musicians, now renamed the Millionaires. The alternative paper Boston Phoenix gave Spacey and Shakin’a positive review, and noted that Droge’s “voice splits the difference between Jim-mie Dale Gilmore and Tom Petty.” Chicago Sun-Times writer Jim DeRogatis called it Droge’s “most ambitious album” to date, and termed it one of the most outstanding examples of the year in its overcrowded “guitar-rock” category.
McCready remains one of Droge’s biggest fans, and even penned a homage to him in Guitar Player. He praised Droge’s songwriting abilities, and confessed that Droge’s lyrics and plaintiff acoustic guitar riffs could easily reduce him to tears. He termed several songs from Necktie Second as “crucial in this generation’s landscape of ideas…. Pete paints auditory pictures of every day life in its pleasures and struggles.”
Necktie Second, American, 1994.
Find a Door, American, 1996.
Spacey and Shakin’, Fiftyseven/Epic, 1998.
Billboard, December 17, 1994, p. 73; May 18, 1996, pp. 14, 21.
Boston Phoenix, April 24, 1998.
Chicago Sun-Times, April 5, 1998.
Guitar Player, February 1995, p. 16.
Guitar World, July 1998.
Rolling Stone, March 9, 1995, p. 32.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Epic Records publicity materials, 1998.