Lou Giampetruzzi, 1953-2006

Lou Giampetruzzi died on Friday. Some of you have seen me play with the Kate and Lou Band, and if you did, you know what a great musician and wonderful person he was. He was the master of almost any instrument he chose to play, and a generous man who always had time to teach and help younger musicians like me. He literally wrote the book on contemporary accordion, covering everything from Leadbelly to Cajun music to traditional tunes. He was a great mandolin player, played beautiful guitar, and in his younger days, played the hell out of the Hammond B3 organ in rock bands.

In addition to his wide knowledge of traditional American music, he and Kate wrote numerous original songs, including beautiful jazz ballads and more modern songs. His musicianship, their writing, and Kate’s voice, were an unbeatable combination. I used to promote the gigs with Kate and Lou as much out of enthusiasm for sharing how great they were as to get people to come see me play.

I first met Lou back when the Ponkiesburg Pickin’ Party was still at the Brazen Head on Sunday afternoons. I had a lot to learn about the music, and Lou, the elder statesman of the group, was always generous with his time, his memory and his music. I used to get there early on Sunday afternoons to sit with him for ten or fifteen minutes and learn a new tune or two, tunes I knew he’d kick off at full speed the next week, taking for granted that I’d learned them. He was a great mentor, a great musician, and a good friend, and I learned a lot from him and Kate both, about music and life. It was an honor and a joy to play with the Kate and Lou Band, and to get to know both of them.

Sitting there with him on a random Sunday, and watching him spend time with anyone and everyone, you’d never know what a master he was, or how many connections he made in the community. About three years ago he founded an invitation-only mailing list for people who’ve been involved in the NYC bluegrass and old-time scene over the past thirty years. The members include younger folks like me, as well as a lot of big names who got their start in this scene, and without exception, they all knew and respected Lou. And we’ll all miss him, very much.

The posed photo of Kate and Lou in Red Hook is a much better picture, but even though none of us look that great (in particular, apologies to Fran, in the middle), this photo shows the Lou I remember. Sunday afternoon at the Brazen Head, telling stories, joking, teaching, playing and always having time for those of us who were still learning to read when he was out there kicking ass with the Wonderbeans and his other bands.

Peace, Lou. You will be with us every time we play.

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