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Renowned Franklin Lakes Musician Dies After Long Cancer Fight

Keyes's “ever-present smile was a beacon of light and courage in a crazy world."
Keyes's “ever-present smile was a beacon of light and courage in a crazy world." Photo Credit: PHOTOS COURTESY: Bob Konig, Steve Conte, Endless Vine

When people say renowned bass player and singer David J. Keyes of Franklin Lakes battled cancer, they mean it.

Keyes, who succumbed to the disease earlier this week – 12 years after being diagnosed – fought valiantly, never allowing it to darken a shining smile, those who knew him said.

“His mantra was one of grace, humility, passion and strength -- the glass was always half full no matter how much pain he was in,” wrote singer-songwriter and keyboardist Dave Keyes (no relation) of Sloatsburg. “He was always upbeat, always looking for the light.”

Keyes, 64, had an impressive musical resume, playing with a variety of acts, from symphonic prog-rock pioneers Renaissance to the late New York City-cum-New Orleans American roots music singer-songwriter Willy DeVille.

He was a familiar fixture in clubs in New York City, as well as in Bergen and Rockland counties, among other places.

His fortes were blues and folk.

Keyes was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in 2007 and steadily underwent biweekly chemo treatments. Yet he never blinked onstage, those who knew him said.

“Probably the most positive person I’ve ever met, even through his long battle,” wrote guitarist Mark Newman.

“Dave was a true gentleman, great musician and ALWAYS a bright spirit in spite of the burden he carried the last 10 years,” added drummer Bill Tesar. “I'll miss him terribly.”

He also was a tremendous influence.

New York City guitarist Steve Conte met Keyes in 1984 at a Fifth Avenue club called 240 West – which later became the now-defunct Lone Star Roadhouse – when the bands they played in were on the same bill.

“We hit it off and kept in touch over the years,” he said, adding that Keyes pushed him to learn to play mandolin, open-tuned dobro & Tex/Mex-style nylon string.

“Knowing what a big Willy [DeVille] fan I was, he approached me to do a tour once, which I had to turn down,” Conte recalled. “But the next time, I took him up on the offer and it was life-changing, to say the least.

“I had no idea what to expect replacing the great Freddy Koella in Willy's band, but Dave went the extra mile to make me feel at ease in a situation where I was ‘the new guy.’

“Dave & I traveled in style with Willy; playing the greatest cities of Europe in the summer of 2003, staying in 5-star hotels, dining on the finest cuisine, drinking the best wines and playing some of the most soulful music I've ever had the pleasure of performing on a tour.

“Dave & I spent many nights on tour talking about life & music till the sun came up,” Conte added. “He was a true friend, a sweetheart who really cared about people.

“I am comforted to know that he is finished with suffering.”

The “other” Dave Keyes noted that his friend’s “ever-present smile was a beacon of light and courage in a crazy world, an inspiration for anyone who has ever been sick or dealing with major health issues.”

He called Keyes “an incredible person whose spirit and soul will live on for me thru the memories I have of hanging with him, our conversations, our golf games and the music we made together.

“Big hugs, prayers and gratitude to his wife Marilyn S. Keyes, who has always been by his side. RIP brother....There is none other like you.”

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