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Remembering Ron Richardello
Ned Groth, April, 2013
(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance is based primarily on published information. Ron spent just a year at Darrow, and I didn’t know him well. I’ve striven for factual accuracy, but I take full responsibility for any errors. This remembrance can be amended, if need to be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)


Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Classmates\Richardello\scan0002 - Copy.jpgI got an e-mail from Peter Deri a few days ago, saying that he had been sitting in an auto glass shop in Pittsfield, waiting for his car to be ready, reading the Eagle. He spotted an ad with a picture of a woman named Denise Richardello; that led him to Google Ron, and he found a long article in the North Adams Transcript by John Seven, memorializing the “late, great accordion player.”

Thus we learned that Ron passed away, last July. And “great accordion player” is indeed how those of us who knew him will remember him.

Ron attended Darrow for just one year, our freshman year, 1958-59. He hailed from North Adams, MA, back then. He was in our class—the photo above is from our freshman class group shot. By the end of the year, though, I think Ron had been “promoted” a year, i.e., had he returned, he’d have been a junior. He didn’t come back that fall, but he was thenceforth listed on the alumni rolls as ‘61, so he wasn’t on my mailing list, never made it into our class newsletters or reunions, and we pretty much lost touch with him.

That grainy half-tone above is the only picture of Ron in the yearbook from his year at Darrow. He was in no sports pictures, no clubs or activities, none of the bands. Sometimes when someone leaves almost no trace in the yearbook, we hardly knew them. That wasn’t the case with Ron. Everybody knew Ron (or Ronnie, as we used to call him, often with a Lawrence-Welkian lilting accent.) Because Ron played the accordion. Man, could he play that accordion!

When we’d have talent nights or musical evenings, the Jazz Band would play some Dixieland (exceptionally well in fact), the Shakers might croon a few tunes, then Ron would come up and do an accordion solo. Even at the age of 14, he was a polished, accomplished and clearly very talented musician. I know at that point in my life, I didn’t take the accordion very seriously; it was for playing polkas and other at-least-semi-humorous kinds of music. But Ron played serious music on his accordion, and played it with virtuoso skill. Many of us came to look forward to those Friday nights and hearing him play for us.

When Ron was at Darrow, he was already performing professionally. The article linked above details his career, and please do read it. But here are a few highlights:

Ron started playing when he was about seven, learning the instrument from an uncle. He had a stressful family situation and he used to just lock himself in hDescription: http://members.iquest.net/~sabrina/gregger1.jpgis room and practice for hours. Soon it was clear he had a real talent for it. As a child, he appeared on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour with an all-accordion band. In the early 60s he was touring with Carmen Carrozza’s all-accordion orchestra. In 1965, Ron appeared on the Dean Martin show. That year, he was also invited to join comedian George Jessel on a USO tour to Vietnam.

Ron went with JDescription: http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR6V9TyxD5yerKmfZmM9xZz-ol4QfGF1H7dxeCn9uvUbBZixJhytjcXgAwessel and the USO to Vietnam a total of nine times, and it had a major effect on his life and his career. He met celebrities like General George MacArthur, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin, who invited him to appear on the Tonight Show. He played with the likes of Sammy Davis., Jr., George Benson, Wes Montgomery and James Brown. A hilarious anecdote in Seven’s article describes a Hollywood party where Ann-Margaret (yeah, that Ann-Margaret) started hitting on Ron (and Ron was utterly paralyzed).

Ron had two albums released, “After Hours,” in 1967, and “A Brand New Bag,” in 1969. In 1970, he married Susan Spada, and they settled down in North Adams. Ron formed a band called Poor Richard, and they played area night spots. For a time, he and Susan lived and toured in Canada, but they gravitated back to northwestern Massachusetts, especially after their son Description:  A Brand New Bag: Ron Richardello: MusicRick was born. For 15 years or so, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Ron owned a photo shop in North Adams; he’d work there during the week, and play with his band on Description: http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQuEOK81_WZAz6kU0rbwnl2d88xQRlirh4AkIKd3RSc-8nqRy93HrvFgrM_weekends. I found this old B&W photo in the Transcript’s archives of Ron playing one of those weekend gigs.

During those years, Ron experienced increasing health problems. He had scoliosis as a child, and carrying a heavy accordion around exacerbated it. In 1967, he fell down a flight of stairs and cracked a vertebra. This led to a long string of surgeries and more-or-less endless pain. He developed rheumatoid arthritis.

Ron worked at GE in Pittsfield for a few years in the ‘80s, but was laid off in 1987. He moved to Tennessee, hoping to get back into music in the Nashville scene, but his physical problems eventually made it impossible for him to perform. He tried producing, and also tried switching to being a keyboardist, but neither of those transitions worked out.

In 1989, Ron and Susan were divorced. The 1990s were a rough time; Ron was arrested a couple of times over domestic disputes, had money problems, lost his home. His son Rick is quoted in the Seven piece as saying that Ron “went through a lot, made a lot of bad decisions, hurt people.” By 2000, he was cut off from his family, living in public housing, unemployed.

None of us knew about any of that, of course. And eventually, Ron seems to have patched things up with his family, at least partially. His son Rick (Ronald Anthony Richardello) , who also went to Darrow (Class of 1993), lives in Tennessee, and is making a career as a musician.

Description: F:\NED'S PHOTOS\Darrow '62\Classmates\Richardello\Richardello By Howdy.jpgRon himself remained fond of Darrow. In fact, some of us saw him in 2007, at Reunions, as we gathered for our 45th. Ron was there with one of his grandsons, and we ran into him outside the Dairy Barn. Howdy Davis got this picture of Ron chatting with Towner Lapp.

That was the only time I’d seen Ron since our freshman year, and a few minutes was hardly enough time to catch up. He was using a crutch, and he said his arthritis was pretty seriously advanced. But aside from that, Ron seemed in good spirits and happy to be back on the Darrow campus. It was good to see him, even briefly.

Just about five years after we saw him, in May 2012, as we were gearing up for our 50th, Ron had a heart attack. He never really recovered, and died two months later.

From an obituary I found online, I learned that Ron was a lifelong “relentless” Yankees fan, that in addition to his son Rick, he is also survived by a daughter, Nicole, who lives in Tennessee too, as well as six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

We’re fortunate that John Seven, who knew Ron as an accordion player, tracked down Rick and wrote that long, detailed profile of the man behind the music, telling us about Ron’s career and his life, warts and all. I feel as if we know him better now that he’s gone than we did when he was around. But those of us who did know him at Darrow can agree on one thing—Man, could he play that accordion! Ronnie, we’ll always remember you for that, and whenever I hear an accordion being played really well, I’ll think of you.

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