What does one call a musician who plays 12 instruments? The words “muli-talented,” “brilliant” and “accomplished” come to mind. But ask singer-songwriter Don Richmond (he began playing guitar and trumpet at age 10) and all you’ll get is humility.
“I really have no idea how many instruments I actually play. I often want the sound of an instrument in a particular song. For example, the accordion provides texture, so I’ll pick one up and play a sparse little background pad in a section of a song. So you could say I play accordion, but I really don’t.”
Although he has a particular fondness for fiddle, banjo and guitar, Richmond plays the mandolin most often. “I’d never really played until 1990, but I love it because of the range of energy and textures you can get out of it. Elegant, flighty and airy.”
When he’s practicing and performing live with his band, the Rifters, they play mostly originals and obscure covers. During solo gigs, Richmond sticks primarily with original music. “I’m kind of on a recent run where I’ve been doing a fair amount of solo stuff and it feels really good.” He’s appeared on stage with numerous nationally known acts, including The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Michael Martin Murphy, George Strait, The Judds and Willie Nelson.
Richmond’s day job is running a recording studio, Howlin’ Dog Records, from his Alamosa home. Most recently, he produced the recording for Salida band Pint and a Half, and he’s currently working on a project for an artist from Austin, Texas. He and good friend David Clemmer are in the final tweaking stages of a wide-ranging collaborative work that adds gentle acoustics to some fairly electric rock and roll. “The term Americana, it’s so nebulous that it’s become meaningless, but that sort of describes it. [The recording] runs the gamut from folk to blues-y rock kind of stuff.” Richmond’s also been percolating along on the writing of another solo album of his own and aims to begin recording it this summer.
Richmond said he was surprised to win the Governor’s Creative Leadership Award in 2016 and described the experience as very sweet. “That’s the odd thing about growing up and living in Alamosa, it’s off the map and beyond the edge of nowhere. We’re sort of obscure and detached from the Front Range, but the world seems to find you. It was gratifying to hook into something happening in the big cities of our state, and it connected me again with some remarkable, wonderful people who are working hard to make cool things happen in the world of the arts in Colorado.”
Several years ago, Richmond was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and given a 5 percent chance of being alive in five years. Ten years later, Richmond said he has a different relationship with his work. He’s no longer running himself ragged. “I don’t internalize it. I don’t worry quite so much whether I’m getting things done … I don’t want it to kill me. I’ve found balance. I have no idea why I lived through it … I try not to lose sight of how grateful I am to still have a chance to do all of this life stuff.”
Since living through such a profound experience, Richmond’s begun to “look at what’s important” and he’s learned to feed his soul through his love of mountains, gardening and traveling with his wife. “Like most folks, what came up for me was love, relationships and the tapestry that we weave with our connection to other people – our friendships, our families – when we are not performing. Every one of those is a thread. It’s a beautiful thing that really rises to the surface when you’re wondering whether you’re going to be alive or not.”
Richmond said he hasn’t planned out how much of his Coaldale Schoolhouse performance at 7 p.m. on April 15 will be shared with local musician Bruce Hayes, but his last show with Hayes at the Salida SteamPlant was a “really sweet night.” The duo has not played together with any regularity, but Richmond said he has tremendous admiration for Hayes’ skill and artistry. “We’ll likely do the same thing. I’ll play some stuff myself and then we’ll bring Bruce out and have as much fun as possible.”
To learn more about Richmond or to listen to his music, visit donrichmond.com. The schoolhouse is located at 287 Hayden Creek Road in Coaldale off U.S. 50. Tickets for the show are $15 and may be purchased at the door.