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Jug band great Fritz Richmond dies at 66


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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Fritz Richmond, a folk musician considered one of the world's finest players of the jug and washtub bass, died of lung cancer Sunday. He was 66.

Richmond became a key figure in the Boston folk music scene, where he worked as the house bassist at Club 47.

Drawing on his expertise as a U.S. Army helicopter mechanic, he strung the washtub bass with a steel cable, turning it into a usable instrument. To play it, he developed his own steel-and-rawhide gloves.

He won national attention in 1963 with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, where he learned that he'd be playing the jug as well as washtub bass. None of them knew the instrument firsthand and learned how to play it from scratchy old records.

Bandmate Geoff Muldaur said Richmond figured it out: “You go into it thinking it's this comical jug routine. Then you realize that he's putting real emotion across."

He was a trendsetter, too, said Muldaur. It was Richmond who came up with the Lovin' Spoonful's name and first wore the granny glasses with tiny colored lenses later favored by folks such as John B. Sebastian and Roger McGuinn.

While most wore the glasses to be trendy, Richmond did it was to hide the fact that the exertion of blowing the jug made him go cross-eyed.

In the early 1970s, he moved to Los Angeles and engineered albums for Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and others. He moved to Portland in 1977, but still taught recording classes and played in the Metropolitan Jug Band and Fritz Richmond's Barbecue Orchestra.

He made appearances on “A Prairie Home Companion" and continued to tour with John Sebastian's J-Band and with Muldaur. The Smithsonian has one of his washtub basses in its collection.

He played his last notes in public with Muldaur at the Boston Folk Festival last September, shortly after he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer.

“I gave him a solo," Muldaur said, “and he just nailed it. He didn't tell me that he was sick until after the gig because he didn't want to ruin it for me."

-- Associated Press

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