Richard Lieberson RIP 1949 - 2006

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Richard Lieberson RIP 1949 - 2006

Postby plankity » Wed Sep 13, 2006 9:49 pm

To:> Zimmerman Phil
From: "Peter S. Shenkin"
Subject: Richard Lieberson, 1949-2006
Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2006 21:44:17 -0400

I just sent the following to the Yahoo "greatcountry" list.
Richard, a regular contributor to this list, died last night, having suffered a heart attack three weeks earlier. Though he seemed to do well at first, his condition quickly deteriorated, leading to emergency open-heart surgery, pneumonia, partial kidney and liver failure. There was a cardiac-arrest incident a week after the operation. He was successfully resuscitated, but it took several weeks for the other symptoms to sufficiently improve for his condition to be evaluated. At that time, he was found to be medically and legally brain-dead.

The following will appear in the obituary notice that his family is putting into the New York Times: "Richard was a scholar of early country and jazz guitar styles and a guitarist who could play completely idiomatically in many different styles. He was the author of an influential book on playing country fiddle tunes on the guitar, as well as a still unpublished study of early jazz guitar styles."

Richard was the mainstay of the Central Park Sheiks in the 1970s, along with Matt Glaser and others -- something he would often joke was better forgotten. Readers of this list may be familiar with his interview with Eldon Shamblin that appeared around 1980 in Guitar Player magazine and with his article on Zeke Turner for the Journal of Country Music. I forget when this was; maybe the early '90s. He also wrote liner notes for several CD re-issues of LPs, including Hank Garland's "Jazz Winds from a New Direction."

Richard made his living playing music in the New York area -- mainly traditional jazz. He played with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks for several years. For a while he had a working group with violinist Bob Mastrow and added bass -- often Marty Confurius.

He had a vast repertoire. He once told me that on a Memorial Day weekend Dixieland gig at the Statue of Liberty, the band played 8 hours
on each of the three days without repeating themselves. That was just a small sampling of a single genre. He was respected by and on friendly terms with the New York A-team of mainstream jazz players, such as Ken Peplowski, Dan Levinson, Bucky Pizzarelli, James Cirillo and Howard Alden. In the '80s, he taught at Jay Unger and Molly Mason's "Western and Swing Week" at Ashokan, which is where I got to know him. He himself had studied with blues legend the Reverend Gary Davis and jazz great George Barnes.

Those who knew him told stories about his quick and acerbic wit. He did not suffer fools, but fools suffered in his presence. Underneath this was one of the sweetest guys I have ever met. I confess that this never occurred to me while he was alive. Though his social skills were in some ways rudimentary -- small-talk was an art he never mastered --, once he got onto a subject he loved, like music, or, in recent years, his newly discovered mafioso ancester (which his family had kept secret), he would come alive and gleefully engage everyone present.

This ability to engage people served him well in his "second career" of researching and writing about notable guitarists whom he admired. I already mentioned his interview with Eldon Shamblin. For his article about Zeke Turner, he interviewed a number of well-known Nashville "golden-era" guitarists, as well as Zeke's brother, bass player Zeb. For his book, he collected interview notes he had made over the previous twenty years.

He attended an 80th-birthday party for Al Casey, who had played acoustic guitar for Fats Waller. At the party, Richard performed Al's showpiece, "Buck Jumpin'", recorded some 50 years earlier, note for note. He did the same for Tiny Moore in the '80s with Tiny's solo on "Fat Boy Rag". From Richard I learned to recognize Chet or Grady or Hank or Roy or Zeke after hearing just a few bars. I could usually outguess him on steel players, though. Smile

Richard frequently came to my place for dinner or for parties, and I would often go to his place to spend the evening watching and talking about old jazz and country videos or listening to music, or discussing his extensive collection of noir paperbacks. I would always hear something new, or something old a new way. We we would sometimes go to pickin' parties together and would always end up playing -- mostly country stuff. Richard (unlike me and my poor efforts) could keep up with the best of them. To hear him "do" Eldon was amazing; he could also "do" Zeke, and sometimes, in an unexpected place, would come, say, a Roy Nichols lick that would make you fall over. I recall Duke Ellington's describing himself as feeling this way on hearing Paul Desmond "doing" Johnny Hodges.

Richard also loved reharmonizing country tunes. I remember his rendition of "Kentucky Waltz" -- each verse getting more abstract... and everything done tastefully and in its proper place. One never had the sense that he was showing off.

Over the past 20 years, Richard was one of my closest -- maybe my closest -- friend. I saw no reason that our relationship of music and friendship should ever end. As John O'Hara said upon George Gershwin's death, "I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."

Richard's friends and relatives will be arranging a musical memorial to him in a month or so.

-Peter Shenkin.
I took lessons from Richard in the late 80's - when I first showed up for a lesson, Richard asked me what I knew about him: rather than get into all the Central Park Sheiks stuff, I replied that I heard he was fond of making oblique references to the Texas Playboys and the Dixie Doughboys in captions he wrote for girlee magazines (his day job at that time). He didn't even flinch and then asked who told me that tidbit. I told him I heard it from Eddie Diehl... Richard said, "well then, let's begin!"

To me, he was a great teacher because, while I knew next to nothing, he would show me anything I wanted to learn (and show me how Freddie Green would play it, how Eldon Shamblin would play it, how Al Casey would and so on). He could pack so much into a 30 minute lesson that I *always* returned two weeks later, sheepish in the fact that I had made through less than half of what we had done at the previous lesson.

At Ashokan, he scoffed when I grabbed a guitar to backup 'Faded Love', saying he hadn't taught it to me yet but later conceded that I'd used the right building blocks to frame the tune... later, he declined to join in on a swinging number during Honky Tonk Night (he told me use his amp) only to have a total change of heart once the tune began: but now, he had no place to plug in!

I have other fond memories of Richard: he will be missed!

Norman CT/USA
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