Michael Elwood Gochenour, best known for opening Elwood's Dixie Bar-B-Q in Delray Beach in the early '90s, has died just shy of his 60th birthday. Many friends and supporters have posted tributes to his memory at the live haunt's Facebook page remembering the Delray Beach music and barbecue pioneer.
Gochenour's body was found at his home by Delray Beach police on Memorial Day afternoon. Although he had health and substance abuse problems in the past, his cause of death is unknown.
Between 1993 and 2009, his venue and eatery's original location was located inside a vacant gas station on Atlantic Avenue near the railroad tracks dividing Delray's emergent downtown. The spot regularly hosted raw, rockabilly acts like the Dillengers, Slip & the Spinouts, and Elvis impersonator Scott Ringersen and "raised a little more hell than Delray was used to," according to TheHoneyComb.com's Steve Rullman, who booked a series of shows there in the late '90s.
"He was really kind, and kind of like a perfectionist," says Greg Lovell, frontman for Lake Worth roots-rock act Black Finger, which performed at the original Elwood's for a couple of years. "Everything was carefully arranged to be perfectly not perfect. He wanted original music at Elwood's. He stuck to his guns and hired bands and never caved in."
Back in March, Black Finger celebrated the release of its latest album, Tokyo, at Elwood's Dixie Bar-B-Q's new location a few blocks away, on NE Third Avenue, which opened earlier this year. (The original location on Atlantic is now home to another barbecue joint, Johnnie Brown's.) "He was looking really good when he opened this place," Lovell adds.
Recently, Slip & the Spinouts frontman Slip Mahoney had been maintaining the Elwood's website and Facebook page in exchange for two free rib dinners a month. He touted the restaurant's barbecue sauce, which Gochenour developed himself. Back in the mid-'90s, before his band began playing there regularly, Mahoney was a regular who loved hanging out and stealing licks from the Dillengers' Rick Rossano.
"It was a fun, fun place," Mahoney says of the old biker hangout, which frequently had motorcycles lining the alley. "I used to jump on the table, and Elwood didn't care."
Mahoney fondly recalls how the original Elwood's location began the revitalization of downtown Delray Beach, which was something of which its namesake was particularly proud. "He's a character if you don't know him," he says. "He wasn't as crazy as people thought, but had some crazy moments." One memorable incident involved Elwood's removing a disorderly drunk from the premises and placing him directly into the back of a pickup truck that was passing by.
"He had his dreams; he was excited about the new stage and excited to see where it was going," Rullman says of Gochenour. "His wish list of performers would've been Dave Mason, Leon Russell, Stephen Stills, people like that."
Unfortunately, the new Elwood's Dixie Bar-B-Q is now closed for good, according to Mahoney. Repeated calls to the restaurant and the venue's general manager, Shawn Metz, were not returned at presstime.
"For all who loved Michael we just wanted you to know, that yes, Michael has left us," his brother David Gochenour posted on Facebook. "We'll all miss his fun and his antics. With his loss our hearts are broken. We'll let you know about a memorial service as soon as a decision has been made."