Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: Gear Junkies: In Memoriam, Alaska-to-Hawaii musician and friend, Mike Riopel

Friday, July 11, 2008

Gear Junkies: In Memoriam, Alaska-to-Hawaii musician and friend, Mike Riopel

"Gear Junkies" is the free, premier weekly newsletter sent via email to the Alaska music community written and edited by the Goddess of the Alaska Music Scene, Patti Greene

Michael Riopel 1955-2008

Bluegrass guitarist and bass player Mike Riopel died July 7th in Hawaii, apparently of a stroke. He'd previously suffered small strokes and, with no health insurance, had only recently started seeing a doctor.

He was 53.

From California and, more recently, of Anchorage, Mike played with numerous groups, including Grass Plus, the McClain Family Band, the Fabulous SpamTones, Carol Lavrakas, and Gary Sloan.

He repaired instruments (dB Music, Music Works) and, in the mid-90s, with harmonica player Louisiana George, guitarist KC LeFevre, and drummer Eric Baldwin, as The Midtown Boys, hosted the first Sunday jam at the Chef's Inn in the mid-'90s. (The jam was hugely popular, which ultimately led to an expanded music calendar and "Blues Central".)

In Hawaii, he played with the
Voggy Mountain Ramblers.

His bio, self-penned for the band's website, reads:

Michael Riopel started playing music professionally in 1974 as a blues bass player in the Bay Area. He moved to Alaska in 1976 and played in bluegrass, rock and jazz bands until 1980 when he met and married Ruth McLain. He took up guitar and played with the McLain Family Band from 1980 - 1986. Upon returning to Alaska, he joined the popular Alaskan Bluegrass Band, Grass Plus, who made a couple trips outside of Alaska including the Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival and Telluride, where the band finished second to the Dixie Chicks in the band contest. Michael was also the long time guitarist for the "Grismanesque" band, Bernard Glansbeek Ensemble. In 2002, Michael moved to the Big Island for r & r and took up golf. He is very happy to have found a new home with Hawaii's own Voggy Mountain Ramblers.
Mike's life will be celebrated at Anderson Bluegrass Festival [July 25, 26, and 27] and, in accordance with his wishes, his ashes will be spread over Resurrection Bay later this summer. Condolences can be sent to his nephew, Greg Riopel, Box 1888, Kamuela, HI 96743.

Rest in peace, Michael.--Patti Greene

Patti included several remembrances from friends:

"Michael was my dear, dear friend and I miss him terribly. I just made a site in my garden called the “Happy Heart Garden”. Michael had a little spot on a rock where he worked on the morning’s crossword puzzle and he was so fond of the phrase “happy heart”. My garden is now dedicated to him and his happy heart.--With warm aloha, Jan Willis Kailua-Kona, Hawaii willis@hawaii.rr.com "

"Mike was hired to play bass behind jazz guitar legend Charlie Byrd, because Mike was such a great reader and bass player, he didn’t miss a lick. Charlie Byrd was knocked out by his playing."--Stu Schulman roomers@alaska.net

I have three of my own.

One---I was able to sing during a sanity-saving jam with the amazing "Grass Plus" in, of all places, the lobby of the BP facility up in Prudhoe Bay. I never did figure out how they got a paid gig up there but I remember how jam sessions with BP employee and Alaska musician Lou Nathansen helped keep me (coughVECOEMPLOYEEcough) alive in the dark Arctic winter. To be able to have one with Lou AND Grass Plus felt like Christmas!

Two--"the two Mikes"...Riopel and the late Mike McDonald...who were both in the first-ever blues jam band in the newly-revamped-from-a-piano-bar Chef's Inn back in 1995. It was my first sound gig where I wasn't just "a friend of the band."

Three--I'll never forget his smile.

It's a bittersweet thought that "the two Mikes" are getting the chance to play together again.

My heartfelt condolences to all friends and fans of Mike Riopel.


I hope this comment from Patti didn't slip anyone's notice:

He'd previously suffered small strokes and, with no health insurance, had only recently started seeing a doctor.

I don't wish to take away from this tribute to Mike but I realized this was something he shared with the late Mike McDonald as well as so many other musicians and Americans. We'll never know, but I can't help but wonder how earlier doctor's care may have extended his life.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to be cruel or play down the fact that the entertainers need health insurance, but there are a lot of free and welfare clinics. Go don't be to proud to save your life. You can also get some cheap health insurance and all hospitals give out welfare programs.

I am so sorry about the lose.

7/12/2008 5:10 AM  
Blogger monocot said...

Premiums for health insurance have gone up some 70% since 2000. By the time you add a pre existing condition like strokes to it, often you can't get covered at all.

Medicaid/Medicare doesn't cover people over a certain small income, and many hospital welfare programs are overloaded with demand.

There are millions of people in the same boat as this guy. It's a sad reality that we have some of the best health care in the world, but many people don't have access to it.

7/12/2008 4:11 PM  
Blogger storyj said...

I love you Michael, I'll miss your sweet spirit, the Soduku puzzles you worked every morning, watching "Firefly" with you and Helen in the big house in Kona. I know you are playing to a Full House now, but I miss you my friend,
your "future ex-wife",

7/12/2008 9:57 PM  
Blogger CelticDiva said...


Thank you for coming and posting!

I should have known he'd love Firefly, I remember having some sci-fi conversations before or after a gig! (I love Firefly/Serenity BTW)

Thank you for sharing your memories with us. Even in this virtual world, it seems to help bring a little tranquility.




7/12/2008 10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I miss Michael so much! He was one of my best friends, but he was also my teacher. He taught me to play the bass guitar and I actually went on to tour with him in Alaska with the classic rock band, "Eliza Blue." It was truly an amazing chapter in my life.

Later he came to vacation in Wisconsin (where I live now) and we would play small gigs for friends and family. We fondly called ourselves, "The Remnants" and later, "The Flying Cadillacs".

What a great spirit, what a great musician and friend. Michael's life touched so many lives. He would be surprised to know this.

Michael - you will always be a big part of my life. I love you and I miss you tremendously.
- Helen

7/14/2008 6:18 AM  

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