A tragic loss, a proud dad
The Brookfield native 'died doing what he loved,' his father said.
& lt;a href=mailto:email@example.com & gt;By HAROLD GWIN & lt;/a & gt;
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
HARTFORD -- Ty Longley didn't always want to be a guitar player.
"He wanted to play drums," his father, Pat, recalled Thursday as he reflected on the life of his gifted son who died in a nightclub fire in Rhode Island a week ago.
Ty Longley, 31, was a guitarist with the hard-rock band Great White.
Longley said he discouraged his son's interest in the drums and steered him to the guitar, something he, himself, played.
"Would you want a little kid banging drums in your house all day?" he asked.
It turned out the guitar was Ty's ticket to the big leagues of rock music.
He became so obsessed with the instrument he would practice hours each day and the family had to soundproof his room so everyone else could get some sleep, Longley said.
Ty knew that he wanted to be a rock musician and, like many parents whose children become deeply interested in a career in the performing arts, Longley cautioned Ty to get an education first.
"If Ty had his way, he would have quit school. I told him to at least finish high school. I think he thanked me for that," Longley said.
Pursuing a dream
Ty, a graduate of Brookfield High School and Trumbull County Vo-Tech School, left home in 1991 to pursue his dream.
"I drove him out to Saginaw, Michigan," Longley said, recalling that his son was joining a hotel-circuit band there.
"I was worried to death about that," he said. "He turned 21 on the road about a month after that and never looked back."
Ty spent some time playing in a band in Boulder, Colo., but quit that job and moved to California, first linking up with Great White in 1999.
He hadn't always been able to make a living playing guitar and worked at different times as a telemarketer, an assistant marketing manager and even taught guitar in several music stores in Los Angeles.
He was also a representative for Bad Cat amplifiers and was using one on his last tour.
He liked all kinds of music, from Jewel and Billy Joel, to Devo and Great White.
He was an avid runner, a habit he picked up from his father, and a prolific writer, keeping extensive journals of his life.
Learned of fire
Longley said he was sound asleep when his daughter, Audrey Dinger of Sharon, called him early last Friday and told him to turn on his television. The club where Great White was playing was on fire and there were initial reports that a member of the band was missing.
Longley said he tried several times to call Ty's cell phone.
Audrey called him back a short time later to tell him it was Ty who was missing.
Longley and his daughter flew to Rhode Island on Friday afternoon, but it wasn't until about noon Sunday that authorities were able to confirm they had identified his body.
Ty was one of 96 who died in the blaze.
Longley said he hasn't spoken with anyone who was in the club, other than Great White members, but he did hear how someone saved the manager of the band that opened for Great White that night.
The manager and Ty were going one way off the stage and the manager collapsed, thinking he was about to die. Someone threw him through a window to safety, he told authorities.
"I would like to think that was Ty," Longley said, explaining that his son was a people person. "The only consolation is, he died doing what he loved."
A big heart
If he was unable to get home at Christmas or Thanksgiving, Ty would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in his apartment and hand them out to homeless people on Venice Beach, Longley said.
He had a kind heart, Longley said. "His mother [Mary Pat Fredericksen of Valdosta, Ga.,] said it best, 'His heart was as big as his hair,'" a reference to Ty's naturally curly hair that he wore in long, springy ringlets.
"He was a softy. He cried at movies," Longley said.
"He was very anti-drug," Longley said, adding that his son was only an "occasional" drinker who didn't care for beer or whiskey.
His first job was as a carrier for The Vindicator.
"He loved it," Longley said, noting his son had often said that was one of his favorite jobs. He just loved talking to the customers on his route. One customer even had an old guitar that Ty would stop and play while making his collections.
Ty and his sister were very close, Longley said, noting that Ty walked his sister down the aisle at her wedding in Las Vegas in January and doted on Audrey's 17-month-old daughter, Macie Kae.
"She was the apple of Ty's eye," Longley said, explaining that when Macie Kae had to be hospitalized, Ty made sure he was back home.
He would soon have been a father himself.
His girlfriend, Heidi Peralta, is about four months pregnant.
Setting up foundations
Longley said the family is working on putting two foundations together in Ty's memory.
One, the Ty Longley Foundation, will be used to set up a trust for his unborn child and perhaps for fine-arts scholarships. The second will be a fine-arts scholarship program set up through the Shenango Valley Foundation in Sharon.
Longley said he last saw his son at a show in Detroit in mid-January. If Ty was playing anywhere within a six-hour drive of the Shenango Valley, Longley tried to get there.
His son was last home to participate in his father's surprise birthday party Jan. 7.
"We always talked two nights a week," Longley said, adding he last spoke to Ty around Feb. 18 when the band was snowed in in New York City.
Longley, who works in construction, doesn't blame the band for the fire that killed his son. The club bears most of that responsibility, he said, noting the soundproofing material it used was highly toxic and highly flammable.
By law, the band and its management will have to accept some responsibility, he said.
Ty began playing guitar at 12, taking lessons from local musician Max Schang, one of his father's friends.
Schang said they became close and Ty would sit in with the Max Schang band when he was in town.
Schang called Ty "the kid I never had."
"Ty was a really good kid. Everybody loved him. He had a winning smile and big, long ringlets of curly hair. When he came home, he was just a kid that everybody wanted to see," Schang said.
Ty bought his first guitar, a used instrument, when he was about 12 and his father bought him a Kramer guitar when he was 14.
His playing really took off then, Longley said, noting that he had thought his son was going to be a four-year letterman in wrestling, having won a letter in the sport during his freshman year at Brookfield.
However, a change in coaches and his interest in the guitar pushed sports out of the picture.
"I had all the hope in the world in him and he proved he could do it. It was just snuffed out too soon," Longley said.