Peter Buck, the former guitarist and co-founder of the rock band R.E.M., the founders of the sandwich chain Subway and an advocate for family-oriented music, died Monday at his home in the Berkshires. He was 90.
The cause was kidney failure, according to his friend Roybao Pheng.
A magnetic presence onstage, Buck had a quiet intensity about him as a songwriter and music man. The riskier songs, with pointed lyrics and a dreamy groove, often came from him. “Stand Up,” a song he wrote about his desire to stand up to a bully, was the 1982 single released from the album “Murmur.”
In a memoir, he wrote that he had to teach himself guitar — “I didn’t have the right attitude toward it.” He then went on to write songs for artists such as Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Joe Cocker.
But he was a fan of the rock band Kraftwerk. He joined R.E.M. as a guitarist in 1966, becoming its band’s primary voice. In the 1983 memoir “Murmur,” he wrote about an initial meeting with the other members of the band. “On the way to the studio, we stopped off at the dog park next to his parents’ house,” he recalled. “At first Mike [Stipe] was suspicious that I’d signed up for the dirty hippie band.
“But when we got to the studio, he told me that he felt as if I had matured beyond childhood. It was a compliment that had my own mother rolling over in her grave.”
After the band broke up in 2011, he had remarried (late-stage cancer killed his wife, Liv Boyd), and continued performing and recording until he retired from music in 2014. He collaborated with Martin Sheen in 2016 on the recording of the children’s book “This Is Jane.”
He was born on Feb. 22, 1929, in Winchester, Massachusetts, and raised by his maternal grandparents, Winifred and Walter Darling. His grandfather, a minister, was influenced by folk-music influences, and Buck wanted to be a pastor. He studied pastoral theology at Eastern Nazarene Seminary in New York City before briefly working as a radio disc jockey at WWRL in Manhattan.
In 1952, at 21, he was inspired by a trucking company that stopped at a stoplight and asked patrons whether they wanted a cup of coffee. Buck thought it sounded ideal for music. He and a friend formed a band, Huxley, who briefly played in church basements before winning over audiences at open-mic nights and jam sessions.
After developing a prototype for a guitar, he gave it to Dave Clark Five, a dance band that became famous after releasing a hit, “Going Up,” in 1963. Buck said the group had not expected the public to like what they were doing so much.
He was offered a recording contract with Atlantic Records. After two sessions with the forerunner of R.E.M., Buck and Michael Stipe became the first members of R.E.M. The band, formed with drummer Bill Berry and bassist Mike Mills, toured by van and sometimes performed wherever musicians happened to be.
“We recorded in one city for a few days, and then moved on,” Buck said in his memoir. “It was an integral part of the process, a lot of creative energy was constantly going on in that van.”
— With Adrian Lowe, Courtney Rubin and Emmett Interlocker