I’m getting a little tired of awesome people I know passing away. And I’m even bummed when even not-so-awesome people die. I know death is part of life, but what I find strange is the gush of regret-laden feelings that comes to the surface at funerals; “I wish I’d told her how much she meant to me,” or “I wonder if he knew what an inspiration he was to those around him.”
Why wait to tell people post-mortem? Now is the time! So on that note, I am starting what I hope to make a ritual–celebrating and sharing now. Even if the person I write about doesn’t read my post, at least I’ve put my thanks out into the universe.
So here goes!
You ROCK Luther Richmond!
Many of my friends know me as a musician. I played saxophone for years in bands throughout the U.S.: Reggae, folk and rock in Santa Barbara, classical and jazz in Hawaii, ska in Boston, punk jazz in Bend, Country Rock in Santa Ynez, and even an international stint of busking on the streets of Amsterdam, earning more per hour for my jazzy notes than any hourly rate in my professional career. But where did this all start? I could herald back to the days of piano lessons as an 8-year-old, or flute in Solvang Elementary School under the direction of Bob Raliegh, or saxophone in high school jazz band under the direction of Dan Neece. But what took me to the next level was Luther Richmond, the lead singer of Jah-B-One, or Jah-Bone, a talented reggae band from Santa Barbara.
So to understand why Luther gets the honor of the first write-up, I’ll have to start with the rather embarrassing story of our very first encounter. When I was eighteen going on nineteen, I played sax in the Santa Barbara City College jazz band and via friends, learned of a reggae band looking for a sax player. Even though I was not versed in reggae, I went to the tryout anyway. Afterall, I was an invincible, I-can-do-anything young adult.
When we pulled up to the house, my friend led me to a little shack in back. Upon opening the door, I entered a smoke-filled room sardined with musicians, all male, of varying ethnicities and ages. As a caucasian female, I seemed to be the missing link needed to complete the diversity snapshot. Luther, the lead singer, sat behind the drum set. No one needed to tell me he was the leader of the band. His cool cat presence conveyed it immediately. He was all eloquence and tact as he called out the charts, cut it off when something wasn’t jiving, or gave a compliment when it was.
They played a song that made me feel like I had no worries in the world. It had a steady beat that made me want to dance, simple lyrics about rocking a boat, and a sweet horn section throughout the song that sent positive vibes down my white girl spine. When we finished playing, I asked if was a cover or an original. “A cover,” Luther said without cracking a smile. “It’s by Bob Marley.” And with that moment of utter humiliation, a friendship was born.
After a few more tryouts, Luther Richmond and his band of friends welcomed me to their tribe. I not only learned about reggae music, but that friendships were not limited to people your own age, color or background. We played everything from Caribbean restaurants to frat parties, festivals and upscale bars. We had a following. During this period I learned that educated college students, i.e. my peeps, were sometimes among the dumbest people on earth. I learned that reggae music has a depth to it that you need to learn through exposure, practice and listening; that one man’s drinking song can be another man’s anthem of living a life of integrity.
I was also exposed to great talent; Luther’s voice was one I could listen to for hours. He had this smooth, natural voice that could make men close their eyes and listen intently, swaying to the rhythms. He spoiled many mainstream musicians for me, as their voices couldn’t compare to his. And despite this, he always remained humble.
Luther taught me through music, but also through his parenting style. His kids were little when I first started playing with his band, but he talked to them like they were adults. At first I found this strange. Most people I knew who had kids this age would lilt their voices upward into sing-songy notes of affection when they spoke to their children. Not Luther. He listened to their needs, encouraged them to use reason, and used a firm yet gentle tone. And his children always listened to him. They were always polite, yet not afraid to share their thoughts and opinions.
Is it at all surprising that his children grew into successful, confident yet considerate adults? And what resonates in me when I think of Luther is how happy he is as a human being; not happy in the sense of someone who’s always smiling and kidding around, but of someone who’s simply satisfied with the choices they’ve made in life, rolls with the punches and keeps on going. In other words, a man of integrity.
Luther also stood up for what he believed in. One time I told him I wished I could find an office job for him so he wouldn’t have to work so hard. His response surprised me. He never wanted an office job. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something like, Why would I want to be shackled to a desk?
Although I did use that sing-songy voice with my child when he was younger, I’ve held many an office job and my saxophone is a bit neglected, his positive impact on my life has shown itself in unexpected ways. Ways that speak of integrity. And more importantly, he’s still out there, vibrant and cool, gigging in Santa Barbara with Shades of Soul. You rock Luther Richmond!