Fritz Richmond (1939-2005)

1. 5. 2007 | Rubriky: Články,Lives,Multilingual

[by Ken Hunt, London] There is an iconic image of Fritz ‘The Orange Dude’ Richmond, who died on 20 November 2006 as the result of lung cancer, in Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney’s illustrated story of the Cambridge, Massachusetts folk scene, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (1979. It was taken by John Cooke of the Charles River Valley Boys at Club 47 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Richmond is profiled playing washtub bass, wearing his trademark shades with a scarf around his neck, max musicianly cool. John B. Richmond was born on 10 July 1939 in Newton, MA. He gravitated to folk music in the late 1950s, during that period when folk music was becoming cool – beyond the word’s bland and debased contemporary sense of ‘good’. It was again cool in the old-fashioned hipster sense. He fell in with a crowd of East Coast folkies, the nascent Boston and Cambridge, MA scenes that included John Sebastian (later of the Lovin’ Spoonful), Maria D’Amato (later Muldaur) and those two chroniclers of Cambridge scene -Rooney and von Schmidt. Many of them went on to grander things.

Richmond wound up playing bass and jug with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band – an outfit that recorded extensively for Vanguard. At this stage jug band music (an early predecessor of the Grateful Dead and worse, skiffle in Britain) was described as boasting “an extroverted, near-goofy extentialism that is in direct contrast to anything somber [to maintain sombre’s beastly Am-E spelling] or introverted” (according to Paul Nelson in his notes to the roughly contemporaneous Even Dozen Jug Band’s solitary album). Time magazine might have been improvising on a theme in 1963 when one clever sausage there said that “jug band music sounds like ragtime with hecklers.” The Kweskin outfit achieved considerable influence and penetration (another beastly word) in folk circles and even before the band folded its hand in the late 1960s Richmond was in the right circles again. He fell in with the Elektra circle.

Richmond travelled to Nassau in the Bahamas and became part of the team in 1964 that preserved Joseph Spence’s Happy All The Time. In Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws’ history of Elektra, Follow The Music, Richmond recalled hanging out with Paul Butterfield and checking out a band led by Mike Bloomfield and asking why Bloomfield wasn’t playing with Butterfield. The result was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It tore hearts asunder and showed what a mixed-race blues band could show the world. This was an era of civil rights and civil rights music.

After the dissolution of the Kweskin band, Richmond fell in with other circles in many senses. On the West Coast, he engineered sessions for acts such as Jackson Browne, the Doors and Bonnie Raitt. Richmond drifted – if that is the right word – into legal work later in life (no nastiness intended), working as a legal assistant. But he maintained his musical interests in a variety of Oregon ensembles including the Barbecue Orchestra. He wasn’t a peripheral figure. He was a shaper, an innovator, a musician who just by being there helped shape our folk worldview. And, apparently, since part of his instrument collection wound up at the Smithsonian we can hope that future folkies will gaze thereon and think, ‘Oooh, I could do something with that.’


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