The undisputed all-time king and world champion of the jug and the washtub bass, Fritz Richmond lost a yearlong battle with lung cancer on November 20. His signature instruments now rest within the Smithsonian Institute’s permanent collection. He really was that good.
Born John B. Richmond Jr. in Newton, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1939, Fritz attended local schools and graduated from Newton High School in 1958. His interest in homemade instruments started in late 1958 or early 1959 when, with friends John “Buz” Marten and John Nagy, he went to Sears Roebuck to purchase his first washtub. Using a broom handle and a piece of rope, Fritz was almost immediately able to play…and play well. The boys formed a folk group called the Hoppers (so named because there were three Johns!), and performed in Boston-area coffeehouses.
Fritz continued to play washtub through a 1959-61 stint in the Army as a helicopter mechanic in Germany and Korea. Throughout his early days as part of the Boston/Cambridge folk music scene, Fritz provided solid bass lines for Eric Von Schmidt, Tom Rush, the Charles River Valley Boys and many others. He was a founding member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in 1963; it was with that band that Fritz began playing the jug.
After the Kweskin Jug Band disbanded in 1968, Fritz moved to Los Angeles, working primarily as a recording engineer with producer Paul Rothchild at Elektra Studios. He engineered sessions for the Doors, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Lonnie Mack, and the Everly Brothers, among others. As a musician during that period, he recorded with Browne, the Doors, Ry Cooder and many more.
Fritz moved to Portland, Oregon, in the late 1970s and there met his wife, Cynda Herbold. He worked as a legal assistant at the law firm Markowitz, Herbold, Glade and Mehlhaf, and performed locally with his jug band, the Barbecue Orchestra. He also played during this time with Raitt, Bob Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, John Sebastian and others, including recent tours of Europe and Japan. He performed several times on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion”, where he once astounded the audience by playing jug with the Turtle Island String Quartet on “The Flight Of The Bumblebee” and “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”.