|Subject: Goodbye Old Pal (he would have liked that!)
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Date Posted: 16:20:56 12/29/01 Sat
Thanks to Bob and Laurie McCarthy for letting me know about this message board, and to David and Jan Vincent for setting it up.
I've known Dick for well over thirty years. I think I was a junior at Boston University when I met Dick, a freshman, around '68. Both of us were music-crazed and very much out of the popular mainstream as the music we played was bluegrass and old-time country. Even then, he had the talent of being able to listen critically, to pick out the important elements of a tune or a technique, and then to apply it.
Dick joined my old-time band, The Spark Gap Wonder Boys, when our guitar player got drafted, and for a couple of years played with us all over New England and as far south as North Carolina. He had a great sense of humor and an inquisitive mind that was always open to new forms of music. As someone else pointed out, he loved puns and plays on words.
I was always awed by his incredible musical technique. Whatever instrument he touched, he was able to learn. I remember that he decided to learn to play the fiddle. Within a matter of months he was playing that instrument with us on stage. He had the ability to focus and isolate those portions of his technique that were problematic, and correct them quickly.
When our former guitar player, George Nelson (also an awesome picker), returned from Viet Nam, both of them remained in the band. A highlight of our shows was when George and Dick would do one of their fiddle tune medleys. It would literally leave the aspiring guitar pickers in the audience gaping with disbelief!
I've heard this story from several people, and while I haven't verified it with the principals, I have no doubt that it is true: We did a lot of touring and playing colleges during those days, and both the mandolin virtuoso Paul Anastasio and fiddler/mandolinist/singer Tim O'Brien got their first exposures to the music from listening to Dick play during those times.
In 1972, I got invited to play with David Bromberg, and the SGWB broke up. I played mandolin, fiddle, guitar and a few miscellaneous instruments with Bromberg for about a year and a half, and then got a fellowship to grad school. I turned in my notice to Bromberg and he asked if I knew anyone who could replace me as "utility man" in the band. I thought about it and told him, "There is one guy that could do it, but I'm not sure you'll like him because he's a better guitar player than you." (I wasn't very tactful in those days!) But apparently they hit it off, so Dick joined Bromberg and recorded and played with him right up through this past summer.
After Dick moved west, he seldom came back east so I didn't get to play music with him for a long time. I saw his name pop up in various places, recording with this person or that. I heard via the grapevine (and I should have asked him about this when I saw him) that Emmylou Harris had asked him to join her band, but he had turned her down because he didn't want to tour anymore.
A couple of years ago he came back east for some reason -- I think one of his parents had passed away -- and while he was here made contact with some of his old friends. We ran into each other at a party and it was like old times. It was as if twenty years hadn't passed at all. He said he'd really enjoyed being back, and sure enough he made an effort to return and visit once or twice a year. It was such a pleasure to be able to sit down and pick a few with him again.
He always got such a child's joy out of listening to or playing music that he liked. My friend Allen Feldman commented that Dick was without ego when it came to music, that he just loved the sounds that were produced whether he produced them or someone else in the jam did, and that's why people loved playing with him. He would listen to someone's playing, be they beginner or virtuoso, and always find something new to enjoy and learn from in it. He always looked completely happy when he was playing.
The last time I saw him, we spent a long time talking about the future of recorded music and how the Internet was changing the recording industry, about the industry's chagrin at having the standard distribution channels bypassed, and similar topics. And all the time he was talking I got the feeling that he felt that his life was part of a fascinating journey, and that he was so lucky to be taking part in this trip.
You know, we could use a few more people with that attitude. I'll miss him a lot.
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