Mike Somerville, national recording artist, guitarist, singer, and songwriter, of Irma, passed away Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, at Aspirus Hospital, Wausau, surrounded by his loving family. He was 67.
Mike was born in Peoria, IL, on Aug. 15, 1952, to Ross A. Somerville and Alma (Alexander) Somerville. He is survived by his life partner of 24 years, Mary Ingman, of Irma, WI; mother, Alma Somerville, of Peoria, IL; brother, Scott (Bev) Somerville, of Creve Coeur, IL; sister, Susan (Charles) Somerville-Brown, of West Peoria, IL; niece, Renee’(Jeff) Lee of East Peoria, IL; nephew, Ross (Caitlin) Somerville, of Creve Coeur, IL; great-nephew, Griffin Lee; Mary’s son, Chad (Candice) Herman, of Viroqua, WI, and her grandchildren, Emma and Gavin Herman.
He was preceded in death by his father, Ross A. Somerville, his paternal and maternal grandparents, many aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Music and the guitar became Mike’s passions in junior high school. He started guitar lessons with the late Ruth Piksa at Byerly Music of Peoria. He practiced for hours every day. While in high school he started performing in local rock bands which, over the years, included Side Winder, Gulliver, Ricky Spitfire, and the Scorfina-Somerville Project. Mike graduated from Woodruff High School and attended ICC.
It was in 1973 that he became the lead guitarist for Head-East, a rock band that was then based in Champaign-Urbana, IL. Head East recorded their iconic album Flat as a Pancake at Golden Voice Studio in South Pekin, IL. That album featured some of Mike’s original songs, “Never Been Any Reason” and “Love Me Tonight.” It landed them a recording deal with what was then A&M, and Flat as a Pancake became a gold record. Somerville recorded five more LP’s with Head East before leaving the band in 1980. His songs have been used in film and television.
Mike moved to St. Louis, MO, and played with the local band Sgt. Carter. In the mid-90s he returned to the road with Head East, where he met the love and light of his life, Mary Ingman, a local resident of Tomahawk. He settled down with her in her native northern Wisconsin. He once again left Head East in 2003. Mike continued to play, record and write in Wisconsin. His final performance was in May 2019, with the 50th Anniversary Reunion Show of Head East in Manistee, MI. He was respected by many musicians on a professional and personal level.
As a guitarist, Mike was given the nickname of “Slick” Somerville, and his black Les Paul guitar was “Black Beauty.” He made that guitar sing. He could make any guitar sing. When Mike did not have a guitar in his hand (which was seldom) he enjoyed watching black and white classic movies. He was a huge baseball fan, and with his steel trap of a memory he could tell you statistics from a game that happened 30 years ago. Mike enjoyed listening to jazz, classical, and bluegrass. His latest favorites were Nickel Creek and The Raveonettes. He had a great, dry sense of humor, and found the funniest birthday cards on the planet.
Mike lived a simple life but a very generous one, having donated to many non-profit organizations that benefited veterans, children, animals, the less fortunate, and disease research. His last and final donation was to the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin.
As a family man he was simply Mike or Uncle Mike – a quiet, sweet, loving, giving soul. He shall be greatly missed.
A private family graveside service will take place in the spring in Illinois. A Celebration of Life and a tribute to his music is currently being planned. This will take place sometime in the late spring/early summer in Peoria, IL.
Memorials may be directed to the Mike Somerville Memorial Tribute, Generations Funeral Home and Crematory, PO Box 525, Tomahawk, WI 54487.
Generations Funeral Home & Crematory is assisting the family. You may view Mike’s obituary and leave online condolences at generationsfuneral.com.