After publication of “Scott Ricciuti: Epilogue,” in Worcester Magazine, on April 12, 2012, I continued to interview and to work through the material. Here is the “extended cut,” which I will continue to add to if/when more interviews occur.
“I was in the studio and my phone rang, and 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 AM? I answered it and he began with, ‘I really don’t know how to say this….’”
This scenario, experienced by Roger Lavallee, began his nightmare – one we all fear. Around Central Massachusetts and throughout the Bay State, and up to Vermont – where childhood chum, Childhood band mate, and one of his earliest friends, Ken Ebell, lives – similar phone calls announced the same horror to a nexus of distraught family members, a life partner, musicians, fans, friends, club owners and club goers, bartenders, music writers – a massive web spun over forty-eight years of life, and almost as many making music: James “Scott” Riccuti had succumbed to injuries incurred when his car left Route 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,” added Roger, who, over two decades that began when sharing bills with Scott’s band Childhood and evolved as Roger became the central engineer/producer of the vast majority of Scott’s prolific body of work, inadvertently became one of his closest friends.
“[Scott] had just been up to my house [in Vermont],” said Ken. “Your girlfriend answers the phone; her face turns white….I still haven’t processed that.”
Duncan Arsenault’s photo collection of Scott
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Scott Ricciuti, posted with vodpod
Roger’s sentiments echoed a veritable deluge of outpourings on Facebook and in articles in a host of area publications, and at memorial services at Vincent’s bar and in Scott’s home town of Marlboro, MA, as the local scene and loved ones 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,” said a reeling Paul Dagnello, thirteen-year bassist for Scott’s most enduring band, Huck, expressing the overwhelming consensus about Scott, universally lauded as a poetic, smart, tireless, humble, competitive, generous, and, above all, thrillingly energetic musician.
“The obvious hit that we all take is the fact that he was at his most prolific at writing and busiest ever at performing these last few years,” said Roger. “Pretty much every night of the week, he was performing somewhere, and so many people who would see him every single week are now going to feel the loss of his presence.”
“Two summers ago, when they started recording the Pistol Whipped album, Like the Red Haunts the Wine, I dropped by the studio, and being Scott, he, of course, invited everyone in the room to sing harmonies,” Recalled musician Anne Eggleston, adding, “he wanted everyone to feel special and included. He was not afraid to invite a near stranger to sit in with him. If he knew you played or sang, he was inviting you, his ‘dear friend,’ as he called everyone, up on that stage, whether or not you knew the song.”
“His songwriting is untouchable,” Annie added. “Even the saddest tunes are upbeat; the strangest lyric fits perfectly. The magic in Scott’s music has to be his humility.”
“He was always super talented,” remembered Ken. “We started writing songs about the same time. He, of course, always wrote a lot more songs than I did. Scott would have twelve, and I’d be like, ‘These six suck, these are good,’ and he’d be like, ‘Your two are cool!’ He was churning them out even back then. He always loved The Beatles and writing music, and we always wanted to do that.” About Scott’s technical schooling in music, Ken added, “He knew everything about that. He was good at that – we both were. He was a great soloist [on sax]. Then, he picked up the [baritone] sax and would solo on that. He played tuba.”
“One of my oldest memories of him was – remember those old Magnus Chord Organs? Before we even knew what was going on, we’d be like, ‘What’s this G mean?’ (Ken sustains a long G sound).”
“I always liked how I sang with Scott, the way our voices melded. But it was also very competitive. He wanted to write a better song than me, and I wanted to write a better song than him.”
Musician, Michael Thibodeau’s professional relationship with Scott was similar, he said. “Scott and I were fiercely competitive with each other, in a friendly way. Whenever one of us would write a new song, we would love to show it to each other, and the next step was to see who could write one better than that.”
“We played so many gigs together that I don’t even remember how we started, how many we’ve played,” remembered Michael. “We’ve been playing together for six or seven years, and we did four years every Tuesday night together. I’ve played multiple hundreds of gigs with him.”
“A thousand times you’re going to hear ‘he’s a great songwriter’,” Michael added. “It’s absolutely true. He’s probably the best songwriter I’ve ever known. Good guitar player. Not the best singer in the world for everything, but, for what he was doing, you couldn’t get any better. His voice was so individual. Scott’s great gift as a musician was he knew how to make everybody else around him better. He knew that people were always focusing on him. He knew that he knew a lot of people, and that a lot of people had been following him for a long time. But he knew how to take that attention and let someone who was sitting next to him shine. Sometimes to a fault. He’d pull anybody and everybody up on stage to stand with him, because he just wanted to share every moment he had up there with somebody else.”
Scott’s close acquaintances were quick to clarify that his gifts went way beyond music. Hours of interviews revealed reverent tones about a guy whose art was his life force, and a personality of complete “inclusiveness.”
“Who’s closer than a brother,” asked Ken. “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 said.
Michael (for whose wedding Scott acted as Best Man) and Annie, both told stories of being warmly pulled into Scott’s spotlight, fostered, and nurtured. “He took the attention on him and put it on others,” said Michael. “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. I travelled a lot with him. My wife and Maro – the four of us would hang out quite a bit.”
“When I started playing with him, he could have said, ‘just sit next to me and we’ll play two of my songs and then play one or two of yours.’ But it was – from day one – ‘We’re going to trade songs, we’re going to feature your songwriting next to mine.’ He really brought me along. I learned so much from him.”
“My first memory of spending time with him,” remembered Annie, “was shortly after I met Duncan – I came by the house and they had been writing music, cooking, and drinking wine, some of Scott’s favorite things to do. Meals were spiritual experiences for him and his lyrics often mention cooking. He was so kind and warm to me. He loved Duncan [Arsenault – musician in Pistol Whipped and a variety of other projects with which Scott was involved] dearly and that just seemed to pour over and include me. His love for his friends ran endlessly and he never missed an opportunity to tell you how much he loved you and give you a big hug and a kiss.”
“(Scott) had true love for other musicians. He was really inspired by everything,” said Duncan.
The Early Years
“We grew up together in Marlboro,” said Ken. “The first time I met him, he was a funny looking kid with a funny haircut that could play a little bit of saxophone, who was in the school band. I was in fourth grade and he was in fifth. By sixth grade, we had already become fast friends and wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. We even had a little rock band in sixth grade – the Richer School Rock Quartet. We played “Proud Mary” – trumpet, two saxes, and a drum player. We were like Glee. The cool kids didn’t like us. We didn’t smoke cigarettes back then. We were in the band room and Scott would be playing his Yamaha [acoustic guitar] and I’d be jamming away on the electric piano.”
“We were very lucky to have a great music system at Marlboro High School in the early ‘80s. Cosmo Valente ran it – I think he still does – and there was a whole band room with sixteen Yamaha electric pianos and guitars, and anybody that was interested could come down on their free periods and play. We played all the time, and we kind of cut our teeth that way. Scott and I were joined at the hip. There were just the two of us in the theory and harmony classes. We learned all the theory and harmony.”
“We were in the Framingham Blazers Band together [Framingham Public Schools band still active today]. Being in a band at school is a funny thing. They called us band geeks all the time. But by the time when Scott was a senior and I was a junior, we were rock ‘n’ roll, playing at the proms and stuff. We had a little band called Midnight Sun, and we had a sax player, and we played Springsteen. We even played nightclubs! Sixteen years old! Like the Dew Drop Inn, in Northboro, and Manny’s, in Hudson. They let us come in because we brought…our family and friends.”
“Way before Childhood,” Ken continued, “a lot of people don’t know, but during the Midnight Sun days, we were doing old country and it was apparent early on how well we sang together. We even did a three-piece for a while, and played gigs all the way down to Rhode Island and shit.”
“And then Scott went off to college for a year, which didn’t suit him that well,” Ken continued. “And when he came back – I was kind of lost during that time – we immediately started playing music and reconnecting. And he had met a couple friends –his roommate was Danny Lucas [drummer for Childhood and Huck] at ULowell. They also met Greg Passler [guitarist for Childhood] at ULowell. Danny was the first guy. We kind of jammed with him, and then Greg came in. We also had our drummer, Chris Diraddo, and we formed an early version of Childhood – early ‘80s. We started writing songs, because that was the big thing. I still have a bunch of cassette demos. It’s funny, there was a photo on Facebook [after Scott’s death, an array of photos were posted to the site] of me with the perm? That’s when we were making those videos with Steve Diraddo, Chris’s brother, up in the cemetery!”
“Eventually, Chris Diraddo moved to Florida, and that’s when Danny came back, and that’s when we really started playing with Childhood – early ‘80s – ’84, or something like that.”
Childhood enjoyed significant local success, even winning the prestigious WBCN Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble in 1987, leading to, perhaps, their biggest gig: opening for The fixx, at The Channel, in Boston, according to former Childhood manager, Lisa Mondello Naujoks. “When the Rumble thing happened, it was kind of like a snowball effect in the opposite way, where it crushes you, you know? I don’t know why we never broke after that, but it didn’t matter. We just kept doing what we did: gigging a lot.”
“We were too young. I don’t know what happened. It all happened so fast. We were all just playing around a lot, making our music. It was a really great scene around in ’86-’87, with all the Danimal [local musician/promoter Dan Hartwell, later founder of the successful Locobazooka festival] stuff that was going on. All of a sudden bands got a little place that they could play, and the crowds started to come.”
The two played for years before parting ways in 1990, though the friendship endured and Ken still joined Scott for recent shows, including Childhood reunions and a set on piano at a Ralph’s Pistol Whipped show.
“When I left the band, it was a little acrimonious for a while,” said Ken. When asked how he and Scott managed a relationship both in and out of the band, Ken said, “One funny thing about Scott was that….It was getting to be a little bit too much for me, and the girl that I was with at the time was with child, so we got married, and I told Scott, ‘I can’t do it,’ and he was adamant to keep going on, and he was mad, and Greg was even madder. But Scott was best man at my wedding a month later, and we stayed in touch.”
“I moved to Vermont in 1992 and we were out of touch for a little while, but we would come down and see him, and after I got divorced I got back into music,” he added.
“I loved all the Huck stuff he did – I always kept in touch about that – and then we did the Childhood reunions and things like that.”
“I first met Scott in 1993 when The Curtain Society got to open up for Childhood at P.T. Beanie’s Music Box, on Main Street, in Worcester,” remembered Roger. [I, too, met the band this way, sharing bills with my band, Flubber, the same year at the same venue.] “They were absolutely rock stars to me at that point, because I had heard them on the radio and read about them in magazines. I was just blown away by them at that show: To meet them after the sound check and to be immediately welcomed into what was the best bunch of people I would meet in this business. We immediately became friends.”
“Very soon after that, Childhood had decided to come to a close, and Scott and drummer Danny Lucas, who Scott had been musical partners with since at least college, as far as I knew, put together…Huck. [They] came into the studio [Tremolo Lounge, in West Boylston, where Roger has engineered since the mid ‘90s] with me to for a few demos. From the absolute start, I jumped in with both feet…as their producer…because I loved what they did so much and understood what they were trying to achieve….We became a unit. I loved that band like I was one of them.”
“I first heard Scott and Huck play around 1995,” Said longtime Huck bassist/vocalist, Paul Dagnello.” I had heard of Childhood, but never got a chance to see them. I had a girlfriend in college who was obsessed with Huck, so I had to deal with her swooning while I just listened to the great music.”
“The first time I met Scott, I believe, was on September 21, 1996,” Added Paul. “It was the night of The Curtain Society CD release of Life Is Long Still [at the now defunct Foothill’s Theatre, in the former Galleria Mall/Worcester Common Fashion Outlets]. My band at the time was playing at The Cove [Sir Morgan’s Cove – now The Lucky Dog Music Hall] with Black Rose Garden and Huck. I remember Scott coming up to me before, in his sweet and gracious way, and saying, ‘Hey, man, I have heard so many good things about you guys. I can’t wait to hear you guys. I’m so happy you guys are on the bill.’ While the setup was happening at The Cove, he skipped out to watch The Curtain Society sound check at Foothill’s. He made sure he was back in time to catch our set. I hit the first chord and looked up to see Scott walk through the door.”
Paul added, “From there, we started meeting up from time to time…and just started developing a professional relationship. After Dave Robinson [of Black Rose Garden and original bass player with Huck]…left the band, I got a call from Scott. ‘I know you don’t play bass, but we really need a bass player, but specifically we need someone to sing harmony.’ This was a Saturday. He gave me twenty songs to learn…and said, ‘Come to practice on Monday and [we’ll] just see what happens.’ I borrowed a bass and worked my ass off to learn as many songs as I could. I showed up at practice, met Danny, and just started. After rehearsal, all I got was a ‘that wasn’t bad. Come back tomorrow night and let’s try again.’ I showed up the second night and we did the same thing. Again Scott said, ‘That was all right, and, by the way, we have a gig tomorrow and it’s a battle of the bands.’”
“The first gigs we played together were at the Bijou [Art Cinema, on Foster Street, in the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets, which closed in 2004],” said Michael. “And there was a series on Wednesday nights at Vincent’s for a while that Huck, Curtain Society, and Mossberg [band featuring keyboardist/songwriter Steve Mossberg] would rotate. Then, they got moved over to Ralph’s, under the moose, when they first started doing stuff downstairs after Vincent bought Ralph’s. I got pulled into that group via Steve Mossberg; and Roger and Duncan. I met them first. Scott and I just started playing songs together at those things.”
“We just hit it off,” Michael added. “I vividly remember one night him pulling me aside and telling me that he thought I was a wonderful songwriter, but that he hated me, because I was so young. We just started playing gigs together.”
Drummer Duncan Arsenault’s relationship with Scott blossomed exponentially in recent years, as Scott became a regular feature of Duncan’s Thursday night series at The Dive Bar, in Worcester, where, along with bassist Jeff Burch, Pistol Whipped germinated, when Scott began introducing the pair to his original songs.
“He was so fired up and inspired by music,” Said Duncan. “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.”
Roger, who engineered and produced Huck’s material, added, “He had already proven himself as a gifted songwriter for years by the time he and Danny moved on to start Huck. It’s like they started at full-tilt and somehow it kept getting better and better and better. We would finish making a CD and I would be thinking, Whoah. This thing is a masterpiece! A year and a half later, I would get a scribbled-on cassette tape of rehearsal demos of a new batch of songs and I would be thinking, Wtf? How the hell do they top that last CD? Every time.”
“In the last few years, after being really inspired by a few trips that Scott took with Michael Thibodeau to be a stagehand at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Scott really cranked the valves wide open and turned himself into a songwriting machine,” added Roger. “He threw anything and everything he had onto the page and honed his craft into something like I’ve only heard about. He became so good at it. We would be on the road somewhere and someone would say something in passing and he would laugh and say, ‘That would make a great concept for a song!’ The next morning, I would hear him strumming in another room and a few minutes later he would come up for a coffee and say he finished that song idea.”
“He was incredibly willing to participate musically in anything,” said Duncan. “[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.”
“We had spent the last six years doing a duo,” said Ken. “Scott never stopped [putting his full energy into music]. His greatest songs came out later. His Huck songs, to me, are friggin’ incredible.”
Picking up the Pieces
“We’re going to survive, we’re going to get by, we’re going to make it through, we’re going to pick up the pieces,” said Michael. “It’s not like we’re never going to play again. But how can you replace a guy who played with everybody? You can’t get that back, because not everybody is that guy that can just sort of make everybody else around him feel good and feel better about what they’re doing.”
“Publically speaking, there’s going to be a huge void,” Michael added, “because Scott was so ubiquitous; he was everywhere. He played everywhere, he played anything. I used to bust his chops, because he’d play in a parking lot. He didn’t care how big or small the gig was. If someone asked him and he had an open date, he’d be there. As a music community – even just people who like to go to bars and drink – they’re going to notice that he’s not around. He was sort of one of the elder statesmen – the guy who’s been around so long – who had this amazing catalogue of songs. He’s going to be sorely missed. Somebody can come in and fill that public void, but personally, I’ve lost my music partner. I’ve lost the guy I played most of my gigs with. I spent more time honing my musical skills with him than anyone else.”
“You can’t have this wonderful musical community and expect when something bad happens for it to be easy,” Duncan said, though he takes heart in the “outpouring of respect for him,” including phenomenal response to the online stream of his extensive collection of mp3 recordings of Scott’s music, and downloads of Scott Ricciuti and Pistol Whipped’s “Like the Red Haunts the Wine” on Bandcamp. Others, meanwhile, have taken solace in hearing Scott’s music being piped at Oxford’s Casual Dining, in Oxford, and at TT the Bear’s Place, in Cambridge; and in the recent Boston Rumble set dedicated to Scott by Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck.
“We stopped in at a deli in Oxford to try to eat something,” said Roger [about the day he heard the news of Scott’s passing], “and the owner, a good friend and member of the local music scene, as well, was listening to Scott’s music in the store. I broke down hearing the song ‘Saddest Side of Monday’ as we walked in.”
“I can’t even begin to untangle what effect Scott’s loss will have on the local music scene,” said Roger. “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.”
“Trying to picture the hole that is left in the music scene just tears me up inside,” lamented Annie. “You cannot replace the songwriting ability, the voice, the guitar skills, and the occasional saxophone moment, with any one person.”
“It’s been an unspoken promise,” lamented Roger, “that there will always be a great time ahead of me where I get to be with Scott and be a part of making another musical miracle, and with the thought that I will never be able to do that again, it really shifts my perspective about my future. I just need to hold tightly to the spirit and inspiration that he has left with me and keep trying to make new miracles.”
“We aren’t sure how to honor him without him there to play,” said Annie.