PESCADERO -- Digital music pioneer Gerald Kearby, who once turned down an offer from Steve Jobs to buy his company, died Monday when his truck veered off a rural San Mateo County road and into a tree.
The crash on Pescadero Creek road ended a remarkable life and career that stretched from teaching award-winning drum line performers to designing custom equipment for the Grateful Dead as well as Jefferson Starship and finally cofounding online music company Liquid Audio.
The loss of the 65-year-old Pescadero resident has left the music world mourning one of its characters and innovators. A memorial website is overflowing with photos and remembrances for the man who once responded to a salesman's complaint over a broken office window by saying: "Pete, you're a sales guy; the only (expletive) window (you) should be looking out is one from a plane!"
According to the California Highway Patrol, Kearby lost control of his 2008 Ford pickup near Roy Gulch Road around 6:40 p.m. Monday. He apparently tried to straighten out the truck, after it drifted off the road for reasons that remain unclear, but overcompensated. The Ford went through the oncoming lane, hit a roadside tree and flipped. Kearby, who was wearing a seat belt, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Longtime business partner and friend Rob Modeste, 57, said Kearby was on his way home from Redwood City and was
Kearby was born in Oklahoma and spent his early years around the West, said Modeste. He ended up in the Bay Area and, a drummer himself, was teaching drum line performers. By the time he hit his 30s he realized he wanted to do something else, about the time the two met in 1979, Modeste said. In the 1980s they built custom audio equipment for Bay Area legends the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Starship.
In the mid-1980s the men saw the early potential of digital recording, jumped into the field and were bought out by a Swiss electronics firm. Then in the 1996 came the idea to sell music on the Internet.
Modeste and Kearby had been working on an idea for a website that would allow music fans to remix songs they loved. But a conversation with a venture capitalist gave them the idea to simply sell songs online. What followed was a rapid rise and then fall of their company Liquid Audio. After losing control of the company in a nasty tussle with investors, Kearby resigned in November 2002.
Before that occurred, Steve Jobs had offered to buy the music startup. The price, however, was less than the roughly $100 million the company had in the bank, Modeste said. In the end Kearby declined the offer, saying the board of directors would never accept to be bought for less cash then they had in hand.
In 2005 Modeste and Kearby launched another venture, this one was called Neurotone and which specializes in audio therapy aimed at helping people with damaged hearing, like the rocker's curse of ringing ears called tinnitus.
"We had spent our careers making people deaf," Modeste said. "It was time to fix all the damage we had done."
Kearby is a survived by his wife.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.