Every music scene needs people like Erich Herrmann—a staunch supporter of local bands and DJs whose generosity and loyalty go way beyond the call of duty. But individuals like Herrmann are rare, unfortunately. And with the shocking and devastating news of his death at age 55 in mid-September, a huge void has opened up in Seattle's musical ecosystem—particularly with the proprietors of Screwdriver Bar and Belltown Yacht Club, Herrmann's favorite haunts, and Maxwell Edison, his favorite DJ.

Herrmann was exceptionally tight with Screwdriver/BYC co-owner Chris Jones and Edison. They communicated by group text many times a day. So when Herrmann—who lived in a Belltown condo a couple of blocks from the bar—didn't text on September 17 or attend the Rave Up! dance party that Edison hosts every month at Screwdriver, they knew something was wrong. They learned the next day that Herrmann was found unresponsive on his kitchen floor. The coroner let Jones, Edison, and a small group of other friends and family into Herrmann's unit to see him on the gurney. They had no indication that he was in poor health.

“He did look very peaceful,” Jones says in an interview at BYC. “Speculation, it was a heart attack, but I haven't asked the family. We're close and we've talked a lot, but it doesn't matter.

“It's not just that a bar lost a regular. It is a catastrophic loss to the musical community, to the city, to everybody who interacted with him.”

Erich Herrmann at Screwdriver in September. Courtesy of Lauren Holm

Herrmann relocated to Seattle from Southern California close to when Screwdriver Bar was opening in 2016, because his daughter Madison, a hair stylist, had moved up here. Heavily into '80s SoCal punk, particularly Social Distortion, he played in bands, but only in informal, jamming situations. “Erich was an all-encompassing rock-and-roll fan, but especially that of the Northwest,” Jones says. “Punk rock, rock and roll, garage rock. Huge Nirvana guy. So it made sense for him to move to such a music-rich city.” 

Herrmann worked in the sales area of the construction field, selling containers in which workers keep their tools. Whenever I would see him, he was always dressed very casually, as if he'd just got back from the beach. Herrmann exhibited no obvious signs that he was making good money. It just proves yet again that you can't always judge people by appearances. 

“His smile and personality were the leading story—not his clothes,” Jones says. “He disarmed everybody. The first day I met him, he had a 'Spicoli grew up vibe' to him, totally affable. He was a super-nice guy and I immediately liked him—and everybody did. I knew immediately there was no agenda to him being friendly. I sensed that this was going to be his favorite bar and I was going to be seeing him a lot.

“He had a different relationship with everybody. He just had that ability to connect with people on whatever level it was. Everyone had a different reason why they loved him.”

Herrmann's Converse hang behind the bar at Screwdriver. Chris Jones

One trait that distinguished Herrmann from most music fans was his unstinting emotional and financial support of bands and DJs. Even though the staff at Screwdriver and Belltown Yacht Club had given him lifetime guest-list privileges to the venues, Herrmann would figure out wily ways to pay cover charges, and then invariably strike up conversations with bands and buy their merch. He would buy tickets online or send somebody with his card to buy three tickets. At Wig Out!, he would give somebody $20 for entry or he'd go through Venmo, because he knew Edison wouldn't take his money at the door.

One special beneficiary of Herrmann's largesse was the local rock group Spirit Award. Jones relates the story. “Spirit Award posted that their van had totally crapped out and touring took precedence over finishing their album, basically. Erich reached out and asked, 'What do you need to finish this album?' Whatever the monetary value was, he gave it to the band to finish the record. The only thing that he asked for in return was a record and he wanted them to play a show in Belltown Yacht Club, because he wanted to see these songs in his favorite venue. It wasn't like, 'I want a cut.' He just wanted to see them play in this place that he loves. It was that selflessness; he didn't do anything for acclaim. He didn't want a pat on the back for supporting MusiCares, because he knew what he did. He was almost embarrassed of any acclaim he received for his actions.”

Edison remembers another telling anecdote about Herrmann. One night hanging out in front of Screwdriver, Herrmann encountered a group of women from New York City. “They wanted pizza so he walked them over to the nearby pizza place. It was closed, so he walked them to the falafel place [Al Basha], got them food, and brought them back to the bar. They all hung out. I exchanged information with one of the women and she found out about Erich's death from [Screwdriver's] Instagram postings. One woman reached out to me and said, 'Oh my god, we hung out for about two hours and I felt like I knew him. I can't believe this!' She was devastated. She said, 'You guys were amazing. We're definitely going to come back,' and she sent us pictures of them in the falafel place. She was touched by him in less than two hours.

“It was literally Erich representing Screwdriver,” Edison continues. “He saw them outside of Screwdriver and they were maybe going to go into the establishment next door. He said, 'No, no, no. This is where you want to go. This is the best spot.' He took them down and showed them what the business was about, the atmosphere, and how cool it was.”

“That happened like every day,” Jones says.

As a huge fan of the Foo Fighters and as friends with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, Herrmann was naturally shell-shocked when the latter passed away on March 25. That night Herrmann went to Jupiter Bar to see Edison DJ (full disclosure: I DJ with Edison at the Instant Party monthly there). Distraught, Herrmann was wearing his autographed Taylor Hawkins T-shirt.

On the bright side, though, Herrmann's daughter, Madison, was getting married in July, and Jones designed the suit he'd wear. Herrmann decided the father-daughter dance would be to the Foo Fighters' “Times Like These.” Jones said that dance was the happiest he'd ever seen Herrmann. “It was maybe the happiest I've ever been, too,” Jones says. “Looking at how proud he was, I was proud by extension.”

Herrmann on his daughter's wedding day. Dean Meinert

Herrmann and Jones were planning to attend the Taylor Hawkins tribute show in Los Angeles on September 27, but Jones had to go solo. “The outpouring of universal love for Taylor Hawkins was the same sort of thing that we were talking about Erich,” Jones says. “Some people are just magic and they change people's lives in big and small degrees. But when things like this happen, it brings people together. Going to the Taylor Hawkins show, I felt like they could've been talking about Erich. So it helped me a lot.”

On September 28, Screwdriver threw a memorial party for Herrmann, and the bar was packed with people whose lives he'd enhanced. Jones flew in from LA and made a beeline for his establishment and noticed parallels with the Hawkins show. “You can have one interaction with Erich and like, that fucking guy... He represented the good in humanity. He made everybody feel good. He changed lives like that. Of course, Hawkins and Erich were friendly; they were cut from the same cloth. Some people have such a humongous reach, instantly. Erich could've come down for one touring band, bought merch, had a conversation with the band and they'll always remember him.”

Jones prides Screwdriver and BYC as safe spaces where everybody's welcome, and he had the best ambassador for them in Herrmann. “We're proud of our bar, but we're also proud of our city. From day one, we had this philosophy that lives in Screwdriver, but we had the physical embodiment of it in Erich. Every day he would walk, talk, and breathe what we wanted to do with the bar.

“We lost 10 percent of who we are just by Erich being gone. Because he was the physical representation of everything that we wanted to do and everything that makes Screwdriver a special bar. We intentionally tried to do these things; he just did them. That's why he was our mascot. We never had a conversation about this, but he and the bar were like the same fucking thing.

“We need to go forward. That 10 percent is gone. We as a bar and a community need to figure out ways to get that back. We need to put Erich's lessons into practice. You need to talk to strangers. You need to maybe buy a stranger a drink if you talk to them. Ask what brings them to Seattle, how can you make their experience better.”

“Erich lifted you up if you were feeling down, he championed you if you were doing well,” Edison says. “I was going through a hard time and he would be there for you, like an older brother.”

Herrmann's passing spurred Jones, Edison, and Screwdriver co-owner Dave Flatman to get matching tattoos that say “#thankserich.” The words of gratitude now accompany many social-media posts by these gentlemen, as it had become a catchphrase that they found themselves saying several times a day.

“[Herrmann's] was an all-encompassing, good-times generosity,” Jones says. “It ended up being so applicable to so many situations. It's been this running thing for so many months now. He was the connective tissue for so many things. It's taken on a life of its own. We want to carry it forward. It's a philosophy, it's a lifestyle. We probably would've got these [tattoos] anyway. And I hope more people get them, because he touched so many people's lives.”

A #thankserich banner hangs on the outside of Screwdriver Bar on First Avenue. Isaac Price

This story has been updated since its original publication.