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News: Fluid guitarist Rick Kulwicki is dead at 49

Denver guitarist Rick Kulwicki passed away on Tuesday. He was 49. Photo by Jill Razer Mustoffa, special to heyreverb.com
Denver guitarist Rick Kulwicki passed away on Tuesday. He was 49. Photo by Jill Razer Mustoffa, special to heyreverb.com

Denver musician Rick Kulwicki died Tuesday, Reverb learned this morning. Kulwicki, best known as guitarist for Sub Pop recording artists the Fluid –- alongside his work in the Frantix and more recently the Buckingham Squares -– was 49.

UPDATE: Memorial services for Kulwicki, who died from arterial sclerosis, are Tuesday Feb. 22 in Denver.

“Everybody who he touched went away with a positive feeling,” said Arnie Beckman, a close friend and bandmate to Kulwicki. “He made people feel good. There will be a formal memorial service soon, and when it happens, it will be overwhelmed with people. Everybody who encountered him loved him. You hear that a lot when people pass away, but in Rick’s case, it’s not exaggeration.”

Kulwicki is survived by his two teenage sons – of whom he was a single father – two sisters and his mother.

In recent years, Kulwicki played guitar and hosted practices for the Buckingham Squares, and Beckman played bass for the Denver band. Beckman knew something was askew when he showed up to band practice at Kulwicki’s house on Tuesday night at around 6 p.m. and found paramedics on the scene. As of Wednesday afternoon, Beckman said the cause of death was still unknown.

“We talked every day,” Beckman said. “He wasn’t that kind of guy who would have complained if there was (anything wrong with his health).”

News of Kulwicki’s death spread on Wednesday morning on Facebook and message boards with friends, fans and bandmates lamenting the loss of a man who was as kind in person as he was ferocious on the guitar.

“Rick was a person of impeccable integrity,” said Fluid frontman John Robinson, a friend of Kulwicki’s for decades. “If you ever needed an example of how to live your life, you only had to look at how Rick conducted his.”

Bart Dahl helped manage the Fluid through their recent reunions, including a triumphant return the Bluebird Theater in 2008.

“I’ve never met his equal for pure sunshine and happiness and positivity,” said Dahl. “He was just a magical character – an ambassador of goodwill.

“He had such a vast musical knowledge and was a professor for everything great – without ever being preachy. He had a way of sharing joy without ever shoving it down your throat. There was no pretense – no, ‘Look how much I know.’ It never came out that way with Rick.”

Ronnie Crawford was a bartender at 7 South, the revered, now-closed Denver rock club that helped the Fluid and many others find their feet in the ’80s and ’90s.

“He was a dad and a musician and a compassionate guy,” Crawford said. “He was so easy-going, and he was a great guy to be around. He was a family man, too. His boys have their own band. They were guitar techs when the Fluid would play.”

Crawford will be tending bar at the Skylark Lounge tonight – and old haunt of Kulwicki’s – where friends and fans of the artist will gather starting at 6:30 to mourn publically.

“It’ll be the first of many celebrations,” Crawford said.

Dahl remembers running into Kulwicki on the tiny dance floor at Sputnik a few months ago.

“A friend of his was DJing down there and had brought down these old 45s,” Dahl said. “Rick was dancing and he had these Mick Jagger moves – this hip shakin’ – and he was able to be funny and sassy and groovy while he was dancing like nobody was watching. Julie and I had a good time dancing with him. It always made me so happy to see him.”

Robinson remembers quiet afternoons and loud nights spent with Kulwicki back when their band, the Fluid, was the first non-Seattle band signed to the influential Sub Pop — now considered one of the top indie labels in the world. (The Fluid shared a split 7-inch single with Nirvana back in the day — the Fluid’s “Candy” on one side, Nirvana’s “Molly’s Lips” on the other — a piece of vinyl that regularly now draws upward of $100 on eBay.) The two have remained very close over the years.

“There were a few of us,” Robinson remembered, “that always knew Rick was truly an angel of some kind, hanging out here with a smile on his face and a lot of love in his heart to share — and, when we were really lucky, a guitar in his hands.”

Further memorial plans for Kulwicki will be announced on the Buckingham Squares’ Facebook page, Beckman said.

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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post.