Upstate NY Banjoist Dick Sheridan, has died at 88

A mainstay of the jam sessions staged for decades by the Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse, N.Y., Richard (Dick) P. Sheridan, 88, died on May 29. He was well-known throughout Upstate NY as the leader and banjoist for the Soda Ash Dixieland Jazz Band. His vibrant sense of humor was as legendary as his musical talents. He was blessed with the charm of a leprechaun and the talent of an archangel.

Dick lived a long, full and fruitful life. In fact, he excelled at no less than three separate careers. In earlier decades, he made his living as an advertising copywriter and a public relations specialist for General Electric. For more than 50 years, he was a banjo-playing bandleader and a teacher mentoring students on all sorts of stringed instruments. And shortly after turning 75 years old, Dick set his sights on songbooks. Over the past 13 years, he wrote some three dozen songbooks, most for the humble, four-string ukulele. Given his late-in-life songbook success, Dick often quipped that he thought of himself as “the Grandma Moses of the ukulele.”

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His most recent publications were The Ukulele Goes Ragtime: A Play-Along Songbook issued in April 2023 by Centerstream Publications and Old-Time Radio Music Themes for Ukulele, also published by Centerstream in 2021.

Whether playing banjo, guitar, mandolin or ukulele, Sheridan displayed a rare mastery of chord solos – using chords to play both melody and harmony simultaneously. As a result, he managed to blend a pleasant musicality with a riveting rhythmic drive, qualities that made him a formidable addition to any rhythm section. In the early-1960s, he joined the Soda Ash Six Dixieland Band led then by Syracuse trumpeter Eddie Musengo. The group was named for the sodium carbonate created near Syracuse by combining salt brine and limestone.

Before long, Dick decided to add the title of club owner to his resume. Along with his fellow musicians, he opened the Jazz Barn, a music-and-beer hall which staged shows three summers running, from 1964 through 1966. The barn was located southwest of Skaneateles, N.Y.

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In the 1970s, Sheridan took over as bandleader and renamed the combo the Soda Ash Six. That sextet held forth both summers and winters for a solid decade at Song Mountain ski resort and also enjoyed a long run at the Clinton Station in downtown Syracuse. The band’s audiences enjoyed its repertoire from Clarence Williams’s “I Wish I Could Shimmy like My Sister Kate” to George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” from Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans” to Herb Albert’s “Tijuana Taxi.” Over his many years of strumming, Dick had probably played “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” more times than any other banjo player in Upstate New York. Over the years, the Soda Ash Six enjoyed some noteworthy brushes with greatness. One night at the Old Stone Mill in Skaneateles, they were joined by trumpeter Wild Bill Davison. Once, the clarinetist Peanuts Hucko sat in with the band at the Dinkler on James Street.

Raised on Long Island and educated at Holy Cross and Syracuse University, Dick Sheridan lived most of his life south of Skaneateles in a rustic cedar shake house.

Russ Tarby is based in Syracuse NY and has written about jazz for The Syncopated Times, The Syracuse New Times, The Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse (JASS) JazzFax Newsletter, and several other publications.

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