Friday, November 28, 2003

Daughter invites dad to share love of music



By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

On a Saturday night at Rudder's Sports Grille & Pub in Harrison, the crowd has come for 12-ounce longnecks and the high-energy music of Randy Peak and Miss Heather.

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Heather Peak of Cleeves performs with her father John Hoffman at the Kiatta Saloon.
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
They start playing after 9 and go non-stop for almost five hours. (It's the don't-take-a-break-and-the-audience-won't-leave philosophy.) Their repertoire includes the likes of Jim Croce, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones and Stray Cats, as well as original music.

Singer/guitarist Randy Peak, 37, is a Ted Nugent look-alike whose hair is at least as long as 27-year-old vocalist Heather Peak's brunette tresses, which reach the middle of her back. The couple seems to be enjoying themselves, bantering with bar patrons between songs.

But it's the balding 50-year-old percussionist behind them who might just be having the most fun. That's "Conga John" Hoffman. He's Heather's father. It's his story - the efforts to connect with his daughter, and the joy when it finally happened - that we're here tell.

John Hoffman first picked up drum sticks in grade school. He played in garage bands with friends, then graduated to teen clubs, and later, bars. He toured the Holiday Inn circuit awhile, eventually landing at Bobby Mackey's Music World in Wilder, where he worked weekends for 11 years.

As a youngster, Heather sometimes joined him there, rubbing elbows with country stars such as Lee Greenwood.

Heather was 9 when her father and mother divorced. "I don't even remember them arguing," she says.

John never lost touch with his only child. But emotionally, she slowly drifted away from him. He would see her every other Sunday. He would call. He'd take her shopping for school clothes. But throughout her teenage years, especially, he could feel the gap between them widen.

"I would try to talk to her," John says, "and I couldn't get anything out of her.

"I was never a candidate for father of the year," he says, "but I never put her out of my head. She was always there. There just wasn't that open line of communication."

Says Heather: "It wasn't like he never did anything for me. (But) looking back, we weren't in the kind of father-daughter relationship I would have preferred, because of the divorce. I didn't realize how far apart we were."

Karaoke singer

As a young adult, she worked as a bookkeeper by day, and sang karaoke at night with friends. She never considered singing for a living until four years ago when she met Randy Peak, who was playing with the Dallas Moore Band.

Heather surprised her father when she announced that she and Randy were going to team up and perform together.

A year later, John surprised Heather by coming to hear them.

"The first time he heard me sing with Randy, I was terrified," Heather says. "I just thought he was going to be ... I don't know."

Critical?

"Yes, very critical."

After the show, I said something like, 'You were better than I thought you'd be,' " John says. "And she got mad at me."

Ulterior motive

She didn't stay mad. She talked to her dad each time he came to a show, which was often. Then one night, he told the couple he was planning to buy some conga drums. Later, he raised the possibility of playing with them.

"I did have an angle, but I didn't force myself (on them)," says John, who lives in Newport.

Heather and Randy, who like to have fun on stage, invited John to perform with them at the Farm in Ross Township on a winter night two years ago. "Conga John," as they called him, fit right in. He found some goofy hats backstage and passed them out.

Afterward, John told them, "If I'm in one little way getting in the way of what you're doing, let me know, and I won't come back."

He's been back often.

"It's not like he's the father-in-law at all," says Randy, who married Heather in June 2002. "It's like he's a drummer I've played with for years."

But this isn't just about music. It's about a father and daughter who finally found a way to connect.

"It's like we've got a common thread now," Heather says.

"Which we probably always had, just didn't know it," her father says. "Now, we talk about anything."

Heather and Randy, who live in Cleves, perform three to six nights a week, mostly on the west side. "Conga John," a painting contractor by day, almost always joins them for weekend shows.

"It's the best thing in my life right now," he says.

If you go

For a list of show dates and locations, visit http://randypeakandmissheather.com/

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E-mail jjohnston@enquirer.com

• Everybody has a story worth telling. That's the theory, anyway. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear weekly.




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