Ron Reichard's Sentimental Journey

This St. Louis crooner plays old tunes for old folks.


Upstairs at Lagniappe's on a Saturday night, Reichard is winding down the last song and has just asked the audience not to say anything bad about him when he's gone. A few of his admirers are hanging around tonight, including Margaret Bianchetta and guitarist Tom Hall. In the seven years he's been performing around St. Louis, Reichard has fallen in with an interesting crowd of musicians.

Bianchetta built a whole band around Ron Reichard, "but it wasn't good enough for him," she says, sitting at an upstairs table with a glass of red wine while Reichard dines on tortellini. One of the bonuses at Lagniappe's is the free meal that comes with the gig.

Their band began as a two-person ensemble — Bianchetta on flute, Reichard on clarinet (his second instrument). More kept coming until it was a ragtag ensemble they dubbed the Torture Chamber Orchestra.

"That's when it got too much for Ron," she says. "It was frustrating to him, once again, because of his perfectionism. He would like his best his best efforts to go to an all-around good sound, and the Torture Chamber Orchestra does not have that."

"As fine a musician as Margaret is, she'll tolerate all of it," counters Reichard. "That's why I don't want to screw with it any more. It's like a grade-school band."

As Reichard emerged from exile, he started drawing the attention of musicians much younger than him, who shared a love of song and a desire to celebrate the lyrical and melodic beauty of early twentieth-century American popular music.

"Some of these younger people in their forties have a little understanding of the music that has come and gone, and do the music of all periods and different styles. We have a little bit more to talk about."

Each Monday — "and it is every Monday, no exceptions" — Reichard attends a potluck with many of these musicians. He's particularly close to Mary Dee Brown and Bianchetta, whom Reichard considers "a real bohemian — a total bohemian. You won't find any more complex a personality in the world than hers. I'm bad, but she might go me one better."

"He is kind of a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot guy," retorts Bianchetta, playfully poking at her friend. A few years back, she says, the Monday potluck group bought him time at a studio so he could record a CD, "and he complained the entire time."

The end result, however, is the beautiful, sixteen-song CD Pretend, on which Reichard performs both popular standards ("Pocket Full of Dreams" and "As Time Goes By") and relative obscurities ("Small Fry," "A, You're Adorable," "But, Beautiful").

Among the group, Reichard's knowledge and insight is unparalleled. They've pushed him, without success, to stray from the comfortable routine of restaurants and retirement homes and move onto a bigger stage.

"He could tell stories," says Bianchetta. "He knows everything about every song. He knows the history. He knows the year and can tell you why he likes the song."

"Nobody plays like that anymore. It's like he's a time capsule of that particular style," explains Tom Hall, sipping a beer upstairs at Lagniappe's. Hall has been playfully quibbling with Reichard about the chord structure of "Stardust." The younger musician has always done it one way, but Ron insists that his is the right way.

Later, Reichard explains his confidence: "I'm not just doing new versions of old songs. I'm doing old songs the way that they would have performed in the day that they were popular. And any of my musical friends will tell you, you couldn't go anyplace and hear these songs the way that I do them. And if you do, it's going to have more of a jazz edge to it. I'm the only game in town."

Reichard no longer tries to convince people that the music he enjoys is superior. "I'm learning more and more to keep my mouth shut. Most people think, 'My God, he doesn't know what he's talking about.'

"But they don't know what I know — and I don't know what they know. I'm going to give them that. I don't listen to the stuff that they're familiar with, and they don't listen to the stuff that I'm familiar with."

Contact the author randall.roberts@riverfronttimes.com

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