“I was in the studio and my phone rang,” recalls Roger Lavallee, a musician, engineer and producer. “It was my friend John Donovan, who performed every Tuesday night at Vincent’s with Scott. Why would John be calling me at 11:30 a.m.? I answered it, and he began with, ‘I really don’t know how to say this…’”
This scenario – one we all fear – played out around central Massachusetts and throughout the Bay State, as well as up to Vermont, where childhood chum, Childhood band mate and close friend Ken Ebell lives. Similar phone calls delivered the same tragic news to a nexus of distraught family members, a life partner, musicians, fans, friends, club owners, bartenders and music writers – a massive web spun over 48 years of life and almost as many making music: James “Scott” Ricciuti had succumbed to injuries incurred when his car left Rt. 290 in Northboro and landed in the median strip.
“I ended my [recording] session, and like a zombie, went to be with my girlfriend and my dog. I spent the day cycling between numbness and breakdown,” adds Lavallee, whose relationship with Ricciuti began with sharing bills with Riccuti’s band Childhood and evolved over two decades as Lavallee became the central engineer/producer of the vast majority of Ricciuti’s body of work. Inadvertently, Ricciuti became one of Lavalle’s closest friends.
Lavalle’s sentiments echoed a veritable deluge of outpourings on Facebook and through articles in a host of area publications, as the local scene attempted to grasp the reality that “the glue” of the local scene was gone.
“The area – not just the local scene – just lost the most prolific, talented songwriter they will ever see so close,” asserts a reeling Paul Dagnello, 13-year bassist for Ricciuti’s most enduring band, Huck. Dagnello expresses an overwhelming consensus about Riccutti, who was universally lauded as a poetic, smart, tireless, and, above all, thrillingly energetic musician.
Ricciuti’s close acquaintances were quick to clarify, however, that his true gift expanded far beyond music. Hours of interviews revealed reverent tones about a guy whose art was his life force, and a personality of complete “inclusiveness.” Local musicians Annie Eggleston and Michael Thibodeau— Ricciuti was the best man at Thibodeau’s wedding—both told stories of being warmly pulled into Ricciuti’s spotlight, fostered and nurtured.
“He took the attention on him and put it on others,” recalls Thibodeau. “I’ve known him for a decade, but it felt like a lifetime. He was my best friend. He was the person I was most intimate with musically, and who I talked to about everything.”
“The first time I met him, he was a funny looking kid with a funny haircut who could play a little bit of saxophone,” remembers Ken Ebell. “I was in fourth grade, and he was in fifth.” The two would go on to form a band as a couple of music-class geeks, informs Ebell, and would eventually conceive Childhood in the 1980s and enjoy significant local success, even winning the prestigious WBCN Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble in 1986. The two played for years before parting ways in 1990, though the friendship endured—Ricciuti stood up as best man for Ebell a month later. Recently, Ebell joined Ricciuti for several engagements, including a Childhood reunion and a set on piano at a Ralph’s Pistol Whipped show.
“Who’s closer than a brother,” asks Ebell. “We spoke the same language. We didn’t even have to talk about stuff. We’d finish each other’s sentences.”
“I don’t think there’s been a better person ever born,” he affirms.
Local drummer, Duncan Arsenault’s, relationship with Ricciuti blossomed exponentially in recent years as the musician became a regular feature of Arsenaults’s Thursday night series at The Dive Bar in Worcester, where, along with bassist Jeff Burch, Pistol Whipped germinated when Ricciuti introduced the pair to his original songs.
“You can’t have this wonderful musical community and expect when something bad happens for it to be easy,” Arsenault laments. “[Ricciuti] had true love for other musicians. He was really inspired by everything. He was so fired up and inspired by music. I think he’s the greatest songwriter. He didn’t need to do any more work, but he was still working at it really hard.”
“He was incredibly willing to participate musically in anything. He had endless energy for gigging. He was down to play. There were times when he would leave a gig he was already playing and come over to The Dive and do that one as well,” he remembers.
Arsenault takes heart in the phenomenal response to the online stream of his extensive collection of MP3 recordings of Ricciuti’s music, and downloads of Ricciuti’s and Pistol Whipped’s “Like the Red Haunts the Wine” on Bandcamp, while others too have taken solace in hearing his music being piped at Oxford’s Casual Dining in Oxford and at TT the Bear’s Place in Cambridge; hearing Ricciuti’s lilting country ballad “Saddest Side of Monday” in a local diner; and in the Rumble set dedicated to Ricciuti by Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck.
“The most heartwarming thing that has happened is the outpouring of respect for him,” Arsenault adds.
“I can’t even begin to untangle what effect Scott’s loss will have on the local music scene,” grieves Lavallee. “It has already had profound effects on me and my closest friends, from wanting to make music in his honor to feeling really lost and wondering how do we go on without him. Among the many things that I am so heartbroken that I will miss: knowing that I no longer have the next song to record with him to look forward to, is really making me think about the shape of my future as a producer.”