02 December 2011
I Try To Remember Dick Ruedebusch
I first met Dick when I was about 15, or at least sometime in the middle 50s. He was unhappily selling cars in Mayville WI I think it was, and playing lead trumpet in a city band in Hartford WI just to keep his lip in shape. Making a a living as a musician was not easy then or now. In those days every small town in Wisconsin had a baseball team and a city band, or a town band, or sometimes a village band. He was clearly more than a step or two better than the rest of us in that band. The director hated it when Dick would add a little improvisation to what was on the page, though the rest of us loved it. I remember listening to him tell stories about playing all day and night during the War. That would be World War Two in case there are any youngish readers. Only the guys who hadn't actually been in combat talked about it. He was about 17 when he volunteered out of high school.
I moved on from Hustisford High to Carroll College in Waukesha WI in 1957. Some friends told me about the trumpet player at the Tunnel Inn in downtown Milwaukee. We were regular visitors there in the late 50s/early 60s. I remember he borrowed my trombone for awhile because something had happened to Sonny Sievert's horn.
I went to Boston for medical school in the Fall of 1961. One night I was drifting off to sleep with the radio on, when I recognized the sound and style of Dick Ruedebusch, playing a solo in a big band, one of Woody Herman's Thundering Herds I think. That sobered me up fairly quickly.
Dick died some 6 years later, in his early 40s, unexpectedly while he was in hospital being treated for valvular heart disease I think. His funeral was a big deal in the village of Hustisford. Because all of the 60s were a blur for me I somehow conflated the being waked by his late night solo and his death in order, I'm sure, to make a better story. So, I'm waked by a dead man playing a trumpet solo. Yeah, right!
I was reminded of this strangeness on my part by an email coming from a clear blue sky from a friend from Carroll, Carl Trendler, who was kind enough to drop me a line to straighten me out, some 50 years later. I accused him of having some memory loss when it was really me. He was a Delta Rho so I should have known better.
The only other things I can think of about Dick, besides my all-time favorite, St James Infirmary Blues, and that he preferred the name 'traditional music' rather than 'dixieland', was that he married a pretty Hustisford girl, Marilyn Roethke. Their kids, at least some of them, were given names having to do with Bunny Berrigan. What a guy. I tear up when I hear him play.
I found these two on UTube.