Bill Diesbach spent almost his entire life, from the time he was six years old, immersed in music.
And he owes it all to a man who died 14 years before he was born, but who left a scrapbook that sparked his imagination.
His grandfather and namesake, William Otto Diesbach, came to the United States from Germany over 100 years ago with his brothers and parents, but they almost immediately sent him back to Weinheim to study violin for three more years.
Most of what he knows about his grandfather came from his great uncles, who included Fritz Diesbach, a diamond merchant in Hamilton who was known as “Foxy” because he and his brother Al owned a fox farm in Springdale, on the site that is now occupied by a Hooter’s restaurant and a condominium development.
When Otto came back from Germany, he went into vaudeville, where he not only played violin but was an actor and performed on high step ladders, riding them to the ground, “stupid stuff like that.”
“My grandfather was apparently a nut,” he said. “They said he was quite a character.”
And much of that is supported by the photos in the album, which include photos of a young Otto practicing his stunts while an adoring young woman smiles at him in the background. And there are photos of his travels throughout the United States and the world, including the trip back from Germany in 1912, and one of him on a galloping horse with the caption: “Me riding on Seabiscuit.”
It’s impossible to tell if he meant the famous Triple Crown-winning Seabiscuit, but both Otto and the horse spent out their last years in California. Pictures of Diesbach’s grandfather also show him riding around in a clunky golf cart.
Diesbach is in possession of his grandfather’s violin, which he took to have appraised a few years ago. The appraiser, he said, told him that his grandfather apparently knew what he was doing because the violin didn’t have the original neck, but had been customized, and the bow was made from a rare South American wood that, if fixed up some, would be worth a lot more than the violin itself.
“He died of polio in California in 1944, 14 years before I was born,” Diesbach said, “but I believe that’s where I got my musical ability from because it totally skipped my dad,” who had no interest in playing music.
“But when I was 6 years old I kept telling him that I wanted to play guitar but he kept telling me things like, ‘What do you want to do that for? Your arms are too short. You’d try it for two weeks and then you’d quit.”
“I said, ‘Try me.’ So he went out and bought me a Stella Harmony guitar that had strings like aircraft cables,” he said. “Talk about playing until my fingers bled. That thing hurt but that’s what I learned to play, and I played my whole life in working bands.
“My last one was the most successful, and I attribute it all to my grandfather.”
That last band began with the name Unspoken Dream but was better known for over a decade as Relentless.
“We played throughout Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Indiana for about 10 years, doing a lot of country clubs and private parties,” he said. “We did high teas in Indian Hill.”
Diesbach said his health has forced him into retirement, but he still has some of his equipment to noodle around on, and the scrapbooks of his grandfather to keep him company.
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