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A Life: John Sigafoos ‘playing lead, like a rock star’

  • John Sigafoos, seated, plays with Gully Boys bandmate Peter Meijer at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center's Hayloft in South Pomfret, Vt., in an undated photograph. (Courtesy photograph)

  • John Sigafoos holds a fish he caught in upstate New York in an undated photograph. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/23/2020 10:07:27 PM
Modified: 2/23/2020 10:15:57 PM

QUECHEE — The wedding reception already was running on raucous, as so many do with The Gully Boys setting the rockin’ rhythm.

Then singer-guitarist John Sigafoos raised the roof, late on an early-autumn night in Hartland.

“He was killing it,” bandmate Bill Temple recalled last week. “He was so in his element, so on fire. He took the vocal mic, hung it over the guitar amp, turned it up and walked out into the crowd, playing lead, like a rock star.”

Two days later, on Oct. 7, the 64-year-old Sigafoos died in his sleep, at his home in Quechee.

And 12 days after that, at least 300 admirers packed the Barnard Town Hall to sing the praises and peccadilloes of the man most of them knew as “Sigger” or “Sig.”

“They were from every walk of life you could imagine,” bandmate and Hartland resident Peter Meijer said recently. “It ranged from billionaire types to the biggest redneck in the Valley.”

During his 34 years in the Upper Valley, Sigafoos won over pretty much everyone who crossed his path while he worked as a prep cook, played and sang classic-rock covers — as well as the occasional novelty song about life in these parts — at nightspots and private parties and, between those obligations, fished, hunted and otherwise embraced the great outdoors.

Andrew Schain tumbled into his orbit at Bentley’s restaurant in Woodstock, after moving to the Upper Valley from Florida in 2005.

By then, Sigafoos had been living in greater Woodstock and toiling in the Bentley’s kitchen for 20 years, preparing food in the predawn and early morning hours for later meals.

“He was a working machine, a really hard worker,” said Schain, who now runs The Public House Pub in Quechee. “He showed up at 3 or 4 a.m. and just got down to it. He had that worker’s mentality.”

And the Philadelphia native played as hard as he worked.

“Work was a job to him,” said Temple, who lives in Post Mills. “Life was about playing music and fishing and climbing mountains — about adventure.”

After growing up in western Massachusetts, Sigafoos sought adventure both in competitive sports and in the wild.

He spent the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., as an alternate on the U.S. nordic ski team, spelunked the purgatory pit in Danby, Vt., climbed Mount Washington 10 times in winter and scaled the Pacific Northwest’s iconic peaks, including Mount Rainier six times, and Mount St. Helens before and after the 1980 eruption.

Not long after meeting Sigafoos — at one of the many after-hours parties at the homes of Bentley’s staff — Peter Meijer, then in his late teens, started joining him on adventures in the Upper Valley, particularly bird-hunting.

“We mostly hunted partridge in those days,” said Meijer, whose day job is running the Vermont Fly Fishing School in Quechee. “I think our best season we took, like, 48 or 50. We traipsed all around these incredible woods we have around here.”

Sigafoos did much of his traipsing around Chateauguay, the wild area straddling the Bridgewater and Barnard town line.

The camp he built “way up in there was his baby,” Temple recalls. “He was just getting ready to stay there year-round. Every season, he’d hold a hunter’s brunch, cooking up big pots of chili and clam chowder, and usually they would have a haunch of venison roasting. And pretty soon people were getting out their guitars, trying to outdo each other.”

The rest of the time, Sigafoos preferred collaboration over competition.

“The music was the other catalyst for him, aside from the outdoors,” Meijer said. “He had his own sound, his own style. He had a tenor voice that really lent itself to three-part harmonies, and I think he knew about 70 Grateful Dead tunes, had them down cold.”

Sigafoos fine-tuned his sound and his style at Bentley’s open-mic sessions and on Gully Road, where he and a number of friends lived on the Woodstock side of the ridgeline from the Suicide Six ski area in South Pomfret.

In 1996, the Gully Boys, as Sigafoos had dubbed them, debuted as a band at, of course, Bentley’s, and over the years, regular players revolved in and out.

When they needed someone to fill in, they occasionally turned to veteran Woodstock troubadour Jim Yeager to play drums or guitar.

Whatever instrument he brought, Yeager always warmed to the Gully Boys’ soul man.

“He was loud, in a good way,” Yeager recalled a few days after the celebration of life for Sigafoos. “He was jolly. He was excitable. I don’t think I ever saw him too serious. Just laughing, laid back, fun, and super tasty on the gee-tar licks.”

Tasty enough for Andrew Schain to invite the Gully Boys to play for diners at the Public House Pub in Quechee, which Schain co-established in 2015.

“I knew from the Bentley’s days that he was as big a fan of the Grateful Dead as I was,” Schain said. “When I heard him not long after I’d moved up here, I thought I was in heaven. So at the Public House we had them in regularly.”

Shortly after Bentley’s closed last April, Schain invited Sigafoos in to do prep work three or four mornings a week.

“I felt very fortunate that I was able to have him around again,” Schain said. “It was very refreshing to have someone like that, with his experience and his personality and work ethic, on my team.”

Which is why, on the morning of Oct. 7, Schain “knew something wasn’t right when I got here at 7, and he wasn’t here.”

The news of Sigafoos’ death, first in a text from a mutual friend, then a phone call from Meijer, came “all within minutes,” Schain recalled.

For much of the rest of the day, Temple recalls, Meijer “called dozens of people so they would hear it from a friend, and he helped them deal with this huge blow. All while his own heart was shattered.”

Meijer also helped Sigafoos’ fiancee, Kim Lycett, by handling his friend’s legal affairs, crafting his obituary, and beating the drums for the celebration of Sig’s life on Oct. 19.

“It had to be done,” Meijer said, “as a tribute to him.”

At the Barnard tribute, Temple said, “Pete and I both played songs we’d written about him, but we haven’t been able to play them at gigs yet. Maybe it’s still too painful. Mine goes:

I want to live the way I want
Just like my friend John
And my boys will sing me home
When I’m gone, when I’m gone.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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