Press "Enter" to skip to content

Life in Symphony: musician Don Richmond

Article by Marcia Darnell

Local arts – July 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine –

When I arrived at Don Richmond’s studio in Alamosa for our interview, he was working on a computer, gazing intently at squiggles and symbols that looked like an alien language to a hack writer. He explained that he was burning a CD for a young musician, having used the computer as a recording device.

“None of the music was synthesized,” he emphasized, “it was just recorded on the computer. The advantages are instant access, and easier cutting, splicing and editing.

“If during the recording someone hit a drum at the wrong time, you can pick up that beat on the computer and move it over a tenth of a second. It’s like the difference between a typewriter and a word processor.”

THAT I understood.

That’s Don Richmond, musician, teacher, helper, and technophile. He and his studio, Howlin’ Dog Recording, have launched many an artist’s CD dreams.

Don Richmond, courtesy of Don Richmond
Don Richmond, courtesy of Don Richmond

“I’m proud to open the door to high-quality recording at a reasonable price in the San Luis Valley,” he said.

Musicians come to him from a 100-mile radius, including Taos, Walsenburg, and Salida.

The Valley has been Don’s home since he was 7, when his parents moved him and his four older siblings to Alamosa in 1962. His parents had both been professional singers, but gave up those careers to become educators.

“My mother toured with Xavier Cugat in the late ’30s,” he said. “But she never talked about it. I think it was very hard for her to leave it behind.”

His father taught music at Adams State College; his mother was a high school teacher who continued to sing in the church choir.

Richmond started playing the trumpet in the school band at 10, then picked up the guitar at home, asking his older brother and others for lessons.

“My interest in trumpet waned dramatically once I discovered guitar,” he said.

At 15, he was playing with a band of college students, which became the house band at a couple of Alamosa bars.

“I always thought I’d do it till I felt like doing something else,” he said. The he smiled. “That never happened.”

Richmond’s decision to apply himself to the study of music has been what he calls “an infinite journey.”

“I learned music from two sides,” he said. Some instruction, as with the trumpet, was traditional classroom training. Other instruments he mastered by “piecing it together.” What he discovered on his own meshed with music theory he learned in classrooms.

Richmond feels that the old-fashioned discipline of music lessons stifles creativity. Just teaching kids “when you see this notation, hit this key,” dampens the surge of inventive impulses that led them to music to begin with.

He prefers to learn — and teach — in a more integrative style, that fosters artistry at the same time it teaches notation, theory, and work.

Richmond plays “a dozen or more” instruments, including accordion, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, keyboards, and Indian flute. This helps him in his recording biz, because he can offer an artist a whole band without having to hire one.

His solo career has been prolific, with five collections recorded. His many appearances in the region have made him a respected fixture on the music scene. In addition, he plays with several groups. Hired Hands has made two CDs of its bluegrass/country/folk sound. Lucky LaRue plays a lot of rock; Burning Joan offers folk/rock “somewhere between the Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan.” He’s also part of a new group called Taosamosa, an experimental jazz/bluegrass fusion.

Richmond is proud to be part of the music of this region.

“I love the idea of reflecting where you come from in your art,” he said. “That’s a high calling and I enthusiastically embrace it.” He said his songs “are rooted in the San Luis Valley and very expressive of it.”

Although Howlin’ Dog has been “remarkably successful,” Richmond concedes that making a living in this valley is a challenge. He’s logged a lot of miles and hours traveling between performances and studio sessions. However, doing what he wants is the ultimate fringe benefit.

“You love it enough to keep going and if you have to do something else in addition to survive, there’s no shame in that.”

Richmond also puts a considerable amount back into his community. He plays a lot of benefit concerts, has served as Artist in Residence in area schools, and contributes in other ways as well.

When I was holding monthly poetry readings at a local cafe, Don arrived hours before the event and set up one of his own amps and microphones before heading to Taos for a performance. He’d return the next day to take down the equipment, after driving back in the wee hours of the night. There was no paycheck in this job, just the gratitude of those taking part.

“Humanity has the power and the capability to re-create this world in a more sublime way than we’ve ever seen it,” he said of his donations. “When I have an opportunity to participate in something that moves us toward that, that’s also an infinite journey.”

Then he added, “What else have we got to do?”

Richmond is married to Teri McCartney, who teaches in a graduate department at Adams State College. He has two grown daughters, Heather and Laurel, and two grandchildren.

He also has a strong belief in the value of regional art.

“I wish that regional musicians weren’t just seen as people who failed to make it on a national level,” he said. “I’d like to see regional music more supported by the media, especially radio, and by audiences.”

He recalls a trip to Hawaii during which he heard lots of Hawaiian music on the radio.

“Some of it was traditional songs, and some was new, but it had a place on the radio and in the culture.” He wants to see that phenomenon everywhere.

Toward that end, he’d like to create a regional record label, one that would be recognized nationally for quality local recordings. Richmond has many other goals, dreams, and hopes for local music and his own development. But one is paramount:

“I want always to be a singer/songwriter,” he said. “I want to keep doing all of it.”

>> Don Richmond will perform at the Great Sand Dunes on Aug. 25 and at Bongo Billy’s in Salida on Sept. 7.

>> Hired Hands will be at Lake City’s Fourth of July celebration and at Crescent Amphitheater in Denver on July 16.

>>Richmond’s music is the background for an upcoming PBS documentary, “In Search of Bedichek.”

>> More info about Richmond’s CDs, performances, and Howlin’ Dog records can be found at

Marcia Darnell lives and writes in Alamosa, where her old flute is collecting dust on a closet shelf.