"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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org "
"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 email@example.com
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.