Fans Say: 'Rod, We’re for You'

The Alley’s Rod Dibble is expected back on the piano bench soon after a fall took him out of commission.


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Rod Dibble, something of a human karaoke machine, is the piano man The Alley and never seems to mind if you sing out of tune.

Oakland Wiki-Creative Commons

Rod Dibble has sung with Oaklanders through 56 years of joy and heartbreak and celebrations and milestones. He has put up with off-key warbling, endless Cole Porter requests, full-volume attempts at “Stormy Weather” after too many vodka tonics. And when singers didn’t know the words, he gently filled in the blanks.

Now it’s time to sing to him. Dibble, the pianist at the Alley bar for more than a half-century, is at home recovering after a recent fall. After decades of rarely missing a shift at Grand Avenue’s most beloved watering hole, Dibble, 84, expects to be back by the end of the year.

“He’s coming back. He’s definitely coming back,” said Jennifer, the late-shift bartender at the Alley. “This place is not the same without him.”

Dibble has been a fixture of Oakland’s nightlife since 1960, when he took over as pianist at the Alley. Opened in 1933, the Alley is best known for its dark, wood-shingle interior décor, and thousands of business cards—some so old they have the old alphabetic telephone exchanges—stapled to the walls.

Dibble’s grand piano is ringed by bar stools and microphones, and bar patrons are invited to sing along. Often the whole bar joins in. His repertoire includes more than 4,000 songs, mostly old standards, and he’s constantly working to learn more, friends said.

“Rod Dibble is a human karaoke,” said David Walsh of Oakland, a longtime Alley patron. “The Alley is the quintessential neighborhood bar, quirky and friendly and fascinating, and Rod Dibble holds court. He’s incredibly talented but more importantly, he’s just a nice guy.”

One of the songs for which he, and the Alley, incidentally, are most famous is “Oakland,” a 1965 tune penned by the Goodtime Washboard. As a heartfelt get-well gift to Dibble, (i.e., saving him from having to remind us of the words yet again), here are the lyrics:

 

I am sure that you’re aware of famous cities everywhere,

The ones they write about in song and verse.

There are songs about Chicago, London, Paris and St. Paul, Buffalo, Miami, and for God’s sake Beaver Falls. Beaver Falls!

But Tin Pan Alley did us wrong, they never wrote a song

About the greatest city of them all.

Now don’t go ’way; I hope you’ll stay

And hear this song I wrote today:

Oakland’s got the Tribune Tower

Oakland’s got Lake Merritt too; she’s got Jack London Square

The Alley Cat is there! The Kaiser Center sticks up everywhere

Where did all the people go when ’Frisco burned?

They all went to Oakland and they never returned.

Right outside the city limits scoots a freeway called the Nimitz.

Of all the pretty cities she’s the leader. And don’t forget the tube to Alameda!

Well, she’s got pride (PRIDE!), hope (HOPE!)

Oh what a view: Oakland we’re for you

 (DON’T MEAN MILPITAS!) Oakland we’re for you

 

Published online on Dec. 6, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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