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Nobody Rides for Free: Remembering Henrik Ostergaard
January 28, 2011 - Jim Price
One of Pennsylvania’s most prominent band frontmen of the past three decades is gone.
Henrik Ostergaard, the lead singer and guitarist for the internationally acclaimed rock band Dirty Looks, died in Erie on Thursday morning, January 27, at the age of 47. An autopsy to determine the cause of death was being performed. Erie County’s coroner said that Ostergaard died while in hospice care.
Born in Denmark but raised in Erie, Ostergaard relocated to San Francisco to form Dirty Looks with members of local Erie bands. They soon relocated to Harrisburg and released three independent albums and an EP, before signing a recording deal with Atlantic Records in 1987. The group issued their Atlantic debut album, Cool From the Wire, the following year. The video for the song “Oh Ruby” from that album achieved substantial airplay on MTV. The group released a second album for Atlantic, 1989’s Turn of the Screw (which featured the song "Nobody Rides for Free," the title of this story), before moving to the Sony/Columbia label to release two albums, 1992’s Five Easy Pieces and 1994’s Chewing on the Bit. The advent of grunge sent Dirty Looks back to indie label status, and the group went on the back burner in 1996 as Ostergaard and other band members explored other projects.
Ostergaard brought some of those other metal- and grunge-geared projects to Altoona area stages in the late ‘90s, playing at City Limits (now 30 Something) with Rumbledog, Taar and Burning Orange.
Ostergaard reformed Dirty Looks in 2007, and the group performed at 30 Something on November 15, 2008. Opening that show were local Altoona favorites Half Tempted. Half Tempted singer/guitarist Ron Dalansky first met Ostergaard and Dirty Looks in 1987, when Dalansky fronted Tommi-Gunn, who opened for Dirty Looks at the Scorpion in State College. During the 2008 show, Ostergaard invited Dalansky on stage to sing lead on a rendition of AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock.”
I only ever saw Ostergaard with Dirty Looks once, during that 2008 show. I did see Ostergaard with his other projects when they came through Altoona in the late ‘90s.
But my most vivid personal memory of Ostergaard wasn’t from the stage, but from a radio interview and “prank” he played on me in 1986. I was co-hosting WFBG’s All Night Album Rock program with Jay Randyll, and Dirty Looks had contacted us about doing an interview on the program. We booked the interview, and the group’s bassist, Jack Pyers, was to travel to the WFBG studios near Hollidaysburg to record the interview. I had only ever seen Pyers once from afar during a show with his old band, Harpo, in a crowded Scorpion in State College in 1983; so I didn’t readily recognize his face. When the night of the interview arrived, “Jack” showed up and did the interview, and it went smoothly. But a few days later, I discovered after seeing pictures of the band that it wasn’t Pyers who showed up for the interview, but Ostergaard, who never revealed his true identity and posed as Pyers for the interview.
Evidenced by that incident, Ostergaard had a sense of humor, and was often witty on stage. He had a personality and charisma, and was one of those people you didn’t ever forget after first meeting him.
Although Dirty Looks never achieved the widespread superstardom of other ‘80s contemporaries like Bon Jovi, Cinderella or Poison, they maintained a sizable and steady fan base worldwide and in their home state up to the present day.
Ostergaard’s passing follows nearly a year after the death of another Dirty Looks member, bassist Greg Pianka, who was killed in a bar stabbing in Erie last February.
Ostergaard leaves behind two surviving sons, Henrik Jr. and Elliott.
Henrik Ostergaard, during his last visit to Altoona, fronting Dirty Looks at 30 Something on November 15, 2008.