I woke to a sad message today. “Hi Mike. I want to reach out to you personally before we post on FB that Richard Dunne died last night. His heart gave out. Sumus was a joy in his life, as we’re you guys.”
This news was not unexpected, but still a bit tough to absorb. Richard and I go back to our very young days in the Bronx. We were passionate about the same thing – music. Richard was a gifted singer, actor, and guitar player with the look and charisma that made him the center of attention wherever he performed. In our early teens, we joined together with a couple of other local kids to form the band “Sumus,” where we all began our life-long habits/hobbies/professions/passions.
The band’s lineup changed a few times as we went through the joys and aggravations of learning how to make music together, and how to grow up in the changing era of the 1970s. We spent countless hours causing the living room chandelier to sway in drummer Richie Wood’s parent’s house on Loring Place. We enjoyed the good-natured bemusement of Mr. Wood’s New England – accented question, “how much more shit ya got in there?” as we struggled to load and unload band equipment, dragging it up the steep, narrow alleyway next to the house.
We spent a ton of time learning the songs of the day. Each member had a bit of a preference for different styles. Drummer Woody had studied under a jazz teacher, and his style of play showed that influence. Richard was a fan of the popular vocal groups of the time – notably Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. His pure tenor and great musicality gave him the flexibility to tackle even the most complex parts, and his stage training let him hide any vocal shortcomings with theatrical flair. As the band grew and changed, new members added new voices, colors, and musical skills to the collaboration. Singer Frank Roman, guitarist Michael Cunningham, guitarist/bassist Mike Monaco, pianist Jim Phillips, Hammond player Jim Tiernan, percussionist Allen, and maybe a few more that came and went. The band was always supported by the free-spirited and passionate Victor Ferrara, who never met a speaker cabinet he wouldn’t carry or a long drive in awful weather he wouldn’t make.
Some of our best times were summers spent in Fort Salem, New York, doing shows and playing gigs at the funky Fort Salem Summer Theater. So many memories, I think! Rich also included the band members in the productions he was involved in while attending Fordham University, another learning experience for us. He stayed close to many of the young actors he mentored and inspired.
Richard continued his theater career, performing across the region and later spreading to different parts of the country. He enjoyed a stint on the soap “Another World,” earning him the snarky but endearing title of “DDOG – Dick Dunne, Ordinary Guy.” Some of us still used that term over the decades, even though most of us only connected at funerals or reunions.
Over time I worked in a duo with Richard, he on guitar and vocals, and me on bass and bad vocals. We had some fun, made some pocket money, and met some new folks. One of the most consequential outcomes of this collaboration led to a life-changing event for me.
Richard was doing a show at a theater in Millbrook, New York. The theater had an after-show cabaret, featuring a great band led by singer Toni Glover. The group was looking to grow and expand, and Richard mentioned I might be a good fit. We played a few sets, and I auditioned for the band. I guess I passed because I was learning a whole new repertoire a short while later. I was also learning the names and personalities of the band members, which had grown with the addition of two female singers. After a rocky start and a lot of road time, I became close to the singer who, as I write this over forty years later, is upstairs, playing the piano. So, thanks, Rich.
I last saw Richard in person a few years back, playing at the LA dive bar The Oyster House with his group “The Drinks.” Over thirty years and three thousand miles from the dive bars of the Bronx, nothing had changed, at least not atmospherically. I walked into the bar while the band was on stage, dressed in a sport coat and slacks – not the usual attire for this establishment. I got the eye, the one we all probably gave to strangers who came into our local spots, and a very intoxicated and hostile guy asked me if I was “from the studio.” After talking to this odd dude, I decided to wait outside until the band took a break. I must note that I stopped drinking long ago and was out of bar shape. A few minutes later, a group of characters tumbled out the back door and approached me aggressively. Richard was among the mob and did not recognize me until I said, “I see nothing much has changed!” But in truth, a whole lot had changed. Me, older, fatter, balder. Richard older, balder, and minus a leg lost to diabetes.
He spent the last years of his life still singing and playing his heart out. The heart that finally gave out after years of illness and abuse.
Thanks for the music, the memories, and the friendships we share.