Front Porch

Remembering Lou Fanucchi

Lou Fanucchi (1962-2017). Rest well, dear friend.


Lou with his children, Dante and Lauren.


Lou at a recent concert

In 1996, I was determined to do whatever I could to get out of a gig. Specifically, it was a concert at LA’s Museum of Tolerance, and it was my first. Bandleader Yale Strom had exerted an inordinate amount of pressure on me to sing a few numbers—in my newly-acquired Yiddish—with Hot Pstromi. After I reluctantly, grudgingly even, agreed, Yale broke the news to the band: Fred Benedetti on guitar, Tripp Sprague on reeds, Jeff Pekarek on contrabass, Yale himself on violin, and Lou Fanucchi on accordion. The initial reaction to news of my guest appearance ranged from indifferent to what remains my favorite observation: “Yale” [deep sigh], “when they want to sing, you just have to let them.” I was so intimidated to sing in front of these amazing musicians, I forgot to be nervous about the audience. After the first number, I turned around and locked eyes with Lou. He gave me a big grin and nodded. I had an ally.

Lou’s opinion meant everything to me because he was a genius. I’ve never seen anyone absorb the subtleties and emotions of a new chart as quickly and as profoundly. During my two decades of singing with Lou, I could completely relax, knowing that he was really listening, instinctively pushing the chords and tempo I needed at a precise moment, which fills around my phrasing made me sound better, and creating spontaneous dialogues with me. And Lou did this in myriad genres: Classical, Latin, Italian (of course), Cajun, klezmer, jazz, and even bangra-inflected Southeast Asian rock jams. He played them all as if they were his sole genre of expertise. Some of my favorite moments on stage included turning to watch him, head bent to the side, tongue sticking out, ripping through solos. He never ran out of ideas or runs, he was invariably tasteful, true to the idioms of a genre, tireless and inventive. Even now, I can hear him launch into a story backstage, starting with, “Listen, check this out…”.

We toured around the U.S. with Lou. Our bandmate from New York, the virtuoso accordionist Peter Stan, came to San Diego to duet with Lou. I’ve seen Pete turn away from a performance (all over the world) with a little frown and say, “I can’t stay here, it’s cold”. I’ve seen him almost in tears if a musician was unpleasant. When he met Lou, it was as if the rest of us melted away and they were on an island together. “That Lou guy?” he said. “He’s the real deal.” There was no higher praise. Pete and Lou were brothers from then on. Lou was certainly one of the best accordionists on the West Coast. I can say without reservation that had things worked out for Lou, he would have been one of the best accordionists on the planet.

There are a lot of people who believe that an artist has to experience pain to plumb those depths of emotion in the music. Lou made a good case for that argument, because he was ravaged by emotional pain. He self-medicated. His struggles started to affect his playing and his relationships with his colleagues. Other musicians would say, “Yale, we love playing your gigs, because we get to play with Lou… but we can’t hire him anymore for our own gigs.” These are guys who loved Lou, but who need to work and couldn’t afford to lose more and more gigs because their accordionist didn’t show up. And it affected our band, too. Yale’s solution was to give up leader pay and hire an extra musician for the “middle.” If Lou showed up for the gig, the concert would be even more extraordinary; if he didn’t, the audience would never realize anything was missing. I have to write candidly that the suspense was harrowing. If he didn’t show up, we were heartsick. And if he did, we were ready to weep with relief.

All of us operated under the basic premise that it was a privilege to play with Lou, that he was a genius, and that we loved him as a bandmate and as a person. We knew that the only thing we could do for him was to try to remind him of what and who he was as often as he would let us. Separate from his music, the centers of his heart were his kids, Lauren and Dante. He was humble about himself, but burst with pride whenever he talked about them… which was all the time. But love, respect, support, encouragement, and (I confess) mom-style occasional scolding were no match for his pain. Lou’s story—a great human with gargantuan artistry who destroyed himself—would move someone who didn’t know him. For those of us who did, there aren’t enough words to express the ongoing feeling of loss. There is always someone missing for us, on stage and off.

6 Comments

  1. Lois Bach
    Posted July, 2017 at 11:21 PM | Permalink

    What a beautiful memory, Elizabeth. We have so many incredible memories of our lives with Lou: when our violin shop, Classic Bows, was located two door down from Alterations Gardens, Lou was a regular visitor, making my day by playing French musette songs to entertain our afternoons. We knew of his talent in so many facets: Italian folk, German Octoberfest, Tango, French. Whatever the style of music, Lou was the master. What a wonderful experience to see both Lou and his hero, Frank Marocco, playing accordion duets a decade or more ago in a retirement home community in east county. From the look of delight on Lou’s face, it had to be a highlight of his life. Not only a talented musician, but a true friend, Lou would stop by often to visit us in our music shop. He was so proud of his children, and his daughter Lauren owns a violin that was purchased at our shop. I grew up in an Eastern European family where my older cousins had a polka band with one of my cousins on drums and the other on accordion, so Lou’s music was a special link to my childhood. I will miss Lou forever and treasure the fleeting moments that we shared over the years.

  2. Joe Dyke
    Posted July, 2017 at 8:51 PM | Permalink

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for this heart-felt tribute and being candidly realistic regarding Lou’s alcoholism.
    Lou and I worked together as sidemen for over 30 years as well as hiring each other for our own bands.
    I heard Lou at his best and saw him at his worst.

  3. Posted July, 2017 at 3:28 PM | Permalink

    A brilliantly written piece, Elizabeth. It clearly reflects our experiences both musically and personnally and the tragic downfall of this beloved, talented man.
    We are so glad that we able to record Lou on a couple of our CD’s. He will always be next to us especially on a gig. Lou will be the “missing man”.

    Thanks for that beautiful remembrance.

  4. Y.S. Winston, Ph.D,
    Posted July, 2017 at 12:09 AM | Permalink

    Thank you for crafting this yachor.

    I was one of those who chose to stop hiring Lou after twenty years of experiencing his unforgettable artistry. My personal story is too trenchant to tell here but I will share it with you and Yale the next time we have a privileged moment. The depth of his pain was unplumbable. He transformed the moniker of “accordionist” from a punch line to an approbation, transcending the instrument into a mere vehicle for his profound and ineffable artistry. I count myself as one of the fortunate ones who experienced innumerable paroxysms of musical ecstasy standing next to him as he masterfully interpreted tunes at first site in front of hundreds of enraptured listeners.

    When a man like Lou passes, the world is a much, much, much smaller place. I hope that he has found the peace the eluded him on this plane and that his dharma is clear for his next go around.

    I’m sorry, Lauren and Dante. I know how much he loved you, and being a father myself to an amazing daughter and mind blowing son, I know that any relief he feels in death will never replace the joy he experienced in living that you brought to his tortured tenure on this plane. Your father was a truly great artist – and anyone who knows me or my work as a journalist knows that this is a word I use penuriously.

  5. anthonyfrassa
    Posted August, 2017 at 11:34 PM | Permalink

    I was student of Lou for a couple of years.. He was a dedicated person who had an illness that kills peolle. He would come to my house. I am 77 years old and Lou’s was an inspiration. I hope God will give you the strength to carry the loss of your father. I think he was a great accordionist. He was such an honest. He never was in it for the money. I am happy to have know such a great person with such a big heart.I was saddened to hear of his passing. May God bless Lou and his lovely family.

  6. Posted August, 2017 at 7:43 PM | Permalink

    Lou Was a great person who loved music.He struggled with Huss I’ll never complaining It was great to have known such a good person. One day he spendthrift a hour fixing my old 60 year old accodion.He was a di dictated person. Lou was not his illness.I pray for the family. Be proud of your father he was a great person.

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