Erik "Hi Fi" Kish, frontman of Chicago rockabilly band Hi Fi and the Roadburners and founder of North Side custom motorcycle shop Fear City Choppers, died Thursday night from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident the night before.
Formed in 1984, Hi Fi and the Roadburners rotated through a series of band members, with Kish and his brother Hans Kish as the only constant members, according to the Chicago Reader. They signed with Victory Records in 1993.
"Hi Fi set out to create a band that played the music flowing through his veins: the hard driving, swinging R&B of the ‘50's," reads their description on the Victory Records website. "They were unlike anything the audiences had ever seen! Big suits, big hair and a passion for rocking like nobody's business."
The group was rockabilly, roots-rock and R&B with a multi-piece brass section and acoustic pianos at a time when electronic instruments were on the rise. Kish wrote over 200 songs, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, including “Riot in Cell Block #9,” “Minister’s Daughter,” and “Chicago Greasers on a Rampage.” One of their songs, “Hellride,” was featured in a McDonald's commercial.
Kish's passion for music was matched by his passion for motorcycles. Kish, his brother and Billy Fatava founded Fear City Choppers, where they customized motorcycles using period parts. One of their proudest moments was winning their first customized-bike contest against high-rolling competitors with a chopper they rebuilt for $2,000, the Sun-Times reports.
“There were guys there with bikes for like $100,000,” Hans Kish told the Sun-Times. “Somebody said, ‘who let these hillbillies in?’’’
Police say Kish lost control of his Harley Wednesday night near Division and Elston, hitting a guardrail and injuring his head, the Sun-Times reports. He died Thursday night at age 51. Kish is also survived by his life partner of nearly three decades, Dorel Dittman, his father, Frank, and his mother and stepfather, Britta and Keith Mulligan.
A party is being held in his honor Saturday at the Fear City Choppers workshop, which doubled as the band's rehearsal space, at North Ave. and Elston in Chicago.
Watch Hi Fi and the Roadburners' "Get Up and Go":
Flickr photo by the_rabman.