by Karen Plourde
Keith Souder would probably admit to having been a rolling stone back in the day. In a different way, he still is. (More about that later.) But since he just became a father again for the first time in 18 years, he’s keeping his feet planted and growing the roots he’s already put down.
Souder, 48, is part of the grocery staff at Weavers Way Chestnut Hill; he’s worked there for four years. He and his girlfriend, Virginia Herbaugh, 25, welcomed Avery Thomas Souder into the world on September 14. He also has an 18-year old son, Nyajah, who lives in New York City with his mom, Betsy Lee. “He’s a joy to the household,” Souder said of baby Avery. “We’re just looking forward to raising him.”
A native of Germantown and East Mt. Airy, Souder graduated from Penn Center Academy. The school, which was located at Broad and Arch streets and was operated by the YMCA, closed in 1988 due to declining enrollment.
Souder studied liberal arts at Temple University for a couple of semesters and got involved in the Philadelphia punk scene, singing with the band The M80s. In 1985, he helped form The Trained Attack Dogs, who toured around Philly and out of town for three years.
“I grew up listening to a lot of music with social activism, like Stax and Motown…even rock music around then,” he said. “And it just seemed like in the ‘80s, everybody was kinda dropping the ball and embracing the prosperity of feeling great about being American again. And punk rock…expressed my disdain for this complacency.”
When Souder wasn’t performing music, he was spinning it at such clubs as Revival and Silk City. In 1995, he fell in love with Betsy, then a student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and moved out there with her. While in Madison, he had his first experience working at a co-op as a volunteer for Willy Street Co-op.
After Betsy graduated, they relocated to Portland, Ore., where Nyajah was born. Meanwhile, Souder added to his co-op resume, working for Food Front Co-op. Following a short stint there, they came back East to Brooklyn, so Betsy could study fashion. Meanwhile, Souder made a living by DeeJay-ing and working as nonunion labor in the fashion and film industry.
“I’ve always been an avid collector of records,” he said of his DeeJay experience, “so I guess over time I was able to have opportunities to get up on a turntable and spin whatever it is I wanted…I’ve always been able to get my point across spinning music.”
In 2006, Betsy and Nyajah moved to London, and Souder decided to return to Philadelphia. He worked at Whole Foods for a while, then in 2010 became a paid cooperator at Weavers Way. Paid cooperators provide on-call, paid help for the co-op during busy times. It can be a gateway to becoming a Weavers Way employee.
“I jumped into it [working for the co-op] like a hungry tiger,” he said. “….I knew my way around. They didn’t have to tell me nothin’. Four holiday seasons later, I’m still at it.”
Souder’s return to Philly also signaled his return to performing live music. The Trained Attack Dogs re-formed in 2006. Then in 2010, he and his bandmates from Brown Sugar, an all-black Rolling Stones cover band that first got together for a party at Philadelphia Record Exchange in 1994, re-formed for a benefit show. They decided to make the band a going enterprise last May, and have been getting regular bookings since then. Souder is their lead vocalist.
“A guitar player friend of mine, we were talkin’…one day on South Street, and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if all the black guys who play rock ‘n’ roll got together and started a band?’” Souder said. “And we were just riffin’ off each other, and it was like, ‘Hey, we could…make it a Stones band. We could call it Brown Sugar.’”
But spinning or performing music is strictly a side gig. In addition to Souder’s regular shifts on the Hill, he now represents Weavers Way on the board of community station G-town Radio. He also credits the co-op with giving him another chance at a family; Virginia is coordinator of its POS (point of sale) department.
“I like how we serve a community agenda,” he said. “We’re not just a big, for-profit corporation. We give back to the people. We give back to our customers.”
Weavers Way Chestnut Hill is located at 8424 Germantown Ave. More information at www.weaversway.coop or 215-866-9150.