Paul Triff, one of New York’s most distinctive and sought-after drummers, died this past October 5 of a heart attack. He was 54. He is survived by his father, Ralph Triff of West Palm Beach, Florida; sister Tina Sheetz, of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania and Alexandria, Virginia; a niece, Samantha Sheetz of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and nephew, Adam Sheetz of State College, Pennsylvania; and his longtime partner, Jodi Miller, of Charlotte, North Carolina as well as many friends and bandmates.
Triff’s earliest inspirations were his grandfather, a vaudeville musician, as well as his jazz-loving father and his sister, who introduced him to the Beatles at age four. Trained at Berklee College of Music, Triff was the rare rock drummer who could swing, hard. His Charlie Watts-informed groove and flair for a wryly placed flurry or flourish took the four-on-the-floor rock that he was best known for to a higher level.
Triff chose his spots. He was more interested in adding color with a rattle or a roll, building a suspenseful intro, or throwing a tongue-in-cheek riff at one of his bandmates, than he was in taking centerstage. His attention to detail and sense for a song’s inner content earned him a long list of tours and club gigs. If there were musicians in the crowd when he played, they always wanted to know if he was available – and Triff ended up turning down many more gigs than he took. His touring and recording credits covered a wide range of styles, from the Shirelles, to high-voltage dark rockers Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons, popular festival band Mike Rocket & the Stars, parlor pop pianist Julian Velard, reggae-rock pioneers Pacific Orchestra, Americana bands Chris Berardo & the Desberardos and Ten Ton Man.
When not on the road or in the studio, Triff was a homebody who loved cats, a sharp-witted raconteur and a man whose businesslike public persona couldn’t hide a warmhearted and compassionate soul. A talented cook and devotee of classic American diner food, his photos of entrees from every spot on the menu were a constant source of amusement for his many friends. A proficient athlete and tennis player, he was a fan of Roger Federer, and followed hometown teams the Yankees, Giants and Rangers. As a longtime resident of City Island, he devoured the culture and history of his beloved New York City.
A private memorial service will be held on October 29. His family has created Paulie’s Pets, a charity in his honor to benefit animals at the New Rochelle Animal Shelter. Deepest condolences to everyone who was lucky enough to know this talented and soulful player.