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Chadwick “Buddy” Habig, 1971-2008 

click to enlarge KINDRED SPIRITS: Habig (center), with his rhythm section, drummer Jason McHughes (left) and bassist Ivan Yarborough (right).
  • KINDRED SPIRITS: Habig (center), with his rhythm section, drummer Jason McHughes (left) and bassist Ivan Yarborough (right).

Those of us fortunate enough to have known or shared a stage or collaborated with Chadwick “Buddy” Habig were left with heavy hearts and spirits following his death on Dec. 23, 2008. A creative visionary and true inspiration, Buddy displayed an unconditional love for friends and music. 

A 37-year-old Little Rock native with a contagious trademark grin and gift for conversation (ours routinely centered around a mutual affection for our black cats), Buddy was always one of the most generous musicians to sit in with. His professional endeavors crossed four time zones, touching lives from Boston to Los Angeles. He worked in cabaret, choral accompaniment, film and television scoring, musical theater and improv comedy musical direction and performance. In addition to serving as cast composer for Red Octopus Theatre, music director for Community Theatre of Little Rock, the former Easy Street Piano Bar and its soon-to-open reincarnation, Off Center, Buddy worked as the music and voice instructor at the Arkansas Arts Center Summer Theatre Academy for children. Children from the program sang “Someday” from Disney's “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” at Buddy's memorial service on Dec. 30.

The memorial program gave these other accomplishments: “Chad has performed with the Improv Asylum, the Alarm Clock Theatre and Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. He performed in San Francisco with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus as the principal keyboardist with the orchestra, written original scores for the Zoo District theatre troupe in Los Angeles and the theatre department of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He was nominated for a Garvin award in Los Angeles, for his score of ‘The Defenders' and won best original score for ‘Scraps' at Little Rock's 2008 48-Hour Film Festival.”

“Super-cool and laid back,” says bassist Ivan Yarborough about his friend. As half of Buddy's bulletproof rhythm section, the two worked together since meeting at the steady Thursday gig at Easy Street Piano Bar years ago, cementing a partnership that lasted through their final rehearsal together mere hours before Habig's untimely passing. “From Buddy, I learned to pay attention,” Yarborough said, “especially when we were accompanying another performer. He knew what they were going to do before they did. He had magnificent insight, and could always point you in the right direction. That's why the improv comedy gig was a lot of fun.”

Drummer Jason McHughes, Buddy's friend and musical accomplice of nearly two decades, and Yarborough's longtime rhythmic co-pilot, credits his departed mate for his own musical evolution, from a diehard thoroughbred rocker to a stylistically crafted drummer. In reference to Buddy's extremely broad network of friends, he said, “It's a big loss to everyone who leaned on him and learned from him. And there were a lot of folks who did. It'll be interesting to see how everyone Chad affected takes what they've learned from him and builds from it in their own lives, myself included.”

The months before his passing were committed to devoted preparation for the Jan. 14 opening celebration of Off Center. Buddy's objective was to recreate a realm to hold musical court, among and between artists and audience. All who knew Buddy echo a shared optimism that Off Center will indeed reclaim the vibe and momentum he helped establish there years ago.  

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