The Greatest Devastation: Remembering Jeff “Wookie” Ziolo
Written by: Matt Drummond
Photo courtesy Kaloyan Marinov
A little ways back, a close friend of mine called me and asked if I’d be able to write a little tribute article for a guy there are no words to describe. Agreeing to write it, I felt an immense honor. What i hadn’t prepared for was just how extraordinarily tough writing it would be. In addition to my words, I knew that I wanted direct quotes from other people who were close to him. Of course, because of emotions, writer’s block hit everyone with full force as Patrick Chidley described his feelings getting started.
“Looking at this blank page is killing me. I feel like there are so many memories. I have no idea how to condense 23 years of memories into a few paragraphs. I feel like I could fill a book with his friendship, and love,” says Chidley of his friendship with Ziolo
Longtime friend Johnny Nuzzo also chimed in on those feelings of having a loss for words:
“Word’s can’t even describe how much I miss Wook, and if I tried, I still wouldn’t do it any justice.”
I guess a proper way to start things off is with a person who shared a bed with Jeff from time to time. I shared sleeping space with Jeff on occasion as well, but that was only because we passed out near each other. This person got an inside look at Jeff that nobody else had and her input seemed crucial defining such a great person lost so early. The following is from Misia K. Lawless:
“I’m not gonna bullshit anyone, Jeff would have never wanted me to. He was a light in all of our eyes, even when he was upset and acting like an asshole. There are no words to properly convey all the memories that we all have and hold of him. That smirk is something I will never forget! He gave so much, and some days, I didn’t feel like I gave enough, but at least I cooked! One great memory I have of Jeff is giggling with him and our friend Steve Linker. He would yell at us and say we sounded like schoolgirls laughing. (Yes, Steven, it was mostly about you) We all have our faults, but Jeff loved us, no matter what. He just loved the fuck out of ALL OF US, and that was something which was never a question in any of our minds. I remember the candy, sour patch kids, the constant music, and the support no matter what. That was Jeff.”
When I hear the name Ziolo, the first thing that comes to mind is generosity. Most people just leisurely passed the unassuming house on Gregory Street not noticing anything remarkable about it. What appeared to be a run of the mill house from the outside transformed into something quite different upon entry.
Opening the door and entering into the Ziolo home impacted decades of “misfits.” This wasn’t just entering another home, you were entering a family. Again, lifelong friend Patrick Chidley tried to explain what exactly this meant:
“I had for sure fallen on some hard times. I had just been through a terrible break up and that left me devastated. While trying to stomach that, my dad had kicked me out of the house. In no better terms, I was literally out on the street. Jeff did what he could to pick me up and drive me around or bring me food. One day, he told me Mama Z wanted to talk to me. I thought I had upset her or had done something wrong. I sat down on her bed with my head head hung extremely low. She asked me, ‘Is what Jeff says about you sleeping on the streets true?’ I replied, ‘yes ma’am.’ She told me, ‘I have heard enough. You go get your stuff and put it upstairs. Jeff never sleeps up there anymore and you’re family. I will not have my family sleeping on any park bench.’”
There’s a poem on the Statue of Liberty, that reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to become free.” As beautiful as that poem is, there’s one enormous flaw in it. The flaw is that it’s in the wrong place. Someone needs to uproot Lady Liberty and move her to the Ziolo’s front yard.
Being one of the people in the “huddled masses,” what I was able to take out of that house isn’t anything that can ever be repaid. Patrick Chidley put it best with “Mama Z saved my life.” Feeling like you have nobody to turn to is a scary place to be; the good news for people like me, Patrick Chidley, and Jimmy Genenz was the days of feeling all alone were over. All we could see now was open arms.
Diane L. “Lori” Ziolo was a woman who walked a path of love and that love was unconditional. On October 27, 2016, we lost “our” mom and fathoming a greater devastation seemed impossible. Who could we look to, to show us the rest of the way? Our guide was gone, but her heart and values weren’t. Possessing an imprint of Mama Z’s values, daughter Lori “Barbie” Wolff, and son Jeffrey “Wookie” Ziolo would continue with their traditional open arms.
As the harrowing pain from losing Mama Z began to relent, we had no idea what was just around the corner.
In early June, 2017, my phone rang. The impact this phone call would have on me, would affect the rest of my life. As my friend Samantha fought through tears, the words came out: “Wookie’s gone.”
I heard her and understood the words fine, but comprehending them wasn’t as easy. Hanging up, I stared at the wall in utter confusion. About an hour later, an avalanche of emotion careened out of me and it was unlike anything I had experienced before.
Another Ziolo was gone, and this time it was Jeff, a brother to us all. This loss was felt all over the world. Jeff hadn’t left an impression on just his close friends and family, he left an impression on everyone he met.
This next memory is from Johnny Nuzzo:
“You know you’re about to hear an outrageous or entertaining story when it starts with ‘I remember this time at YOTI.’ More times, than not, the name Jeff ‘Wookie’ Ziolo came up. Jeff worked as the sound engineer at Ye Ole Town Inn (YOTI), in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, for over a decade. All aspects of music were passions for him, and this was the place where he honed his live sound production skills. Throughout the years at YOTI, Jeff made many amazing relationships and friendships with bands, fans, bar regulars, and other employees. Everyone loved and respected him and he gave that back to each and every one of us! I had the privilege of working the door there for many years and without a doubt they were some of the best times of my life. I have a hard time calling it work, because when I went into YOTI I knew I’d be hanging out all night with a lot of great people and some of my closest friends. We were the ‘YOTI family’. Some things were just a given, and what we knew was this: We were going to have the most fun that we possibly could, get a little stupid here and there, and make some memories that we would all cherish for the rest of our lives!”
There’s no denying that YOTI was a special place for countless people. Jeff extended his giving spirit there, as he did at his own home. In a way, YOTI was Jeff’s second home and he welcomed everyone. Not everyone is familiar how the “YOTI experiment” started, or how Jeff became some knowledgeable about sound. To explain that aspect of things, I turned to the very man who coined the nickname “Wookie”, lifelong friend, Mick Morgan:
“I introduced him to engineering. I was fresh out of audio engineering school and I was talking about it at work (we worked together at this time). I told him that I knew I wasn’t going to be a rockstar, so I could do the next best thing to still be in the game, which was recording. That really clicked with him. Next thing I know, he’s asking me to run the shitty six channel PA at YOTI for his buddy’s band, Slampede. He watched me like a hawk. I explained the basics to him, introduced him to a few engineer buddies that worked at Guitar Center, and he was off and running. He got obsessed with it, buying tons of gear very quickly. I asked him if he wanted to go to school like I did and he said ‘fuck that, I’ll spend the same amount of money on gear, as you did on your shitty education, but I’ll get the hands-on experience.’ I hate to admit this, but the prick was right. Years later, I’m doing something completely different, and he was living the dream, still bangin’ the board.”
That was the way Jeff lived his life. He believed in himself and everyone around him. For me to try convey the person Jeff was through writing, would be insulting. There are literally no words to communicate the caliber of person he was. The only thing I will say is losing Jeff was the greatest devastation of all of our lives.
The only possible way of surviving this was to show love to each other. Fortunately, Mama Z, and son Jeff had shown us how to love and our skills were now getting the test of their life. As good as it felt being welcomed by the Ziolo’s, the pain of losing some of them kicked us in the ass tenfold.
With scores of friends hanging on by a thread, things would never be the same. I’m not alone when I say a piece of me died with Jeff. He constantly did so much for everyone and didn’t even realize he was doing anything out of the ordinary. For Jeff, love and generosity were just standard operating procedures. All he ever wanted is for everyone around him to be smiling, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t achieve that goal on a daily basis.
Jeff’s sister Lori said something that has branded itself on my brain. She said, “I lost a brother, but I gained an army.” Lori, you couldn’t have been more correct when you said that. The Ziolo house was basically like a heavy metal barracks; housing broken people and turning them into completely different people.
“On holidays like Thanksgiving, she would invite anyone who didn’t have a table to share with family. There were so many holidays where me, and the author of this article, had turkey and stuffing with a warm, welcoming seat with Jeff’s family. From that point forward, there was nothing I wouldn’t do for Jeff, MamaZ, and the entire Ziolo family.”
I’m proud to be a part of that army, the Ziolo Army. There’s nothing to ease the pain for his friends and, even more so, his family. All Jeff’s family should know is you carried us through the trenches and now it’s time for us to return the favor. We will always be the Ziolo Army and our backs will never turn.
“In this life, we meet so many people and they mostly just float out of your life just as fast as they come. From the time I met Jeff Ziolo I knew someday we would be two old guys sitting at a bar, talking about all the amazing stories of the life we had led. NEVER did I even question whether he would be in my life forever until June 1st, 2017. I don’t think life will ever be the same, Jeff’s kindness and open arms are things I’ll never forget.”
“Jeff made this world a better place and I will always be honored to have been a part of it. You will live in our hearts, and minds forever, I PROMISE THAT!”
There’s absolutely nothing I wouldn’t give to have a little more time with Jeff. I’m sure if he walked in right now I’d just freeze and stare blankly at him, so I called a few more of Jeff’s friends to ask them “what would you say to Jeff right now, if you had 30 seconds?”
“I’d tell him, that I just fuckin’ miss him. I’d tell him how much I appreciated him going out of his way for me, on multiple occasions. I’d tell him I love him.”
Like A-Tone, and everyone else has shown, we love you, Jeff. It’s with great honor that we mention your name. Nothing can ever show how much you meant to us, and with that, I’m gonna end with one last quote, that sums it all up.
“I’d just look at him, and say “I love you so much”, and give him the biggest hug ever.”
-Clay “Skunk” Deilstein
RIP Jeffrey L. Ziolo
April 9, 1982 – June 1, 2017
Editor’s Note – I’ll be honest, I didn’t know Jeff like the rest of these guys did, but on the few occasions that I met him in passing, oftentimes without even realizing it, he was a shining example of what being a brother-in-metal is all about. When Matt asked me to join him at the funeral home I was thought I was prepared to absorb pain and sorrow, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. There were so many people mourning this man; it was beautiful in a morbid sort of way. He clearly touched a lot of lives and made a difference too. There’s not a lot of people in this world that can do that. It’s a damn shame he couldn’t carry on like this for decades to come. At any rate, here’s to you, Wookie. You’re rocking with the gods now.
-Brett Kihlmire – Editor-in-Chief