Friends, family remember Fluid guitarist Rick Kulwicki - Reverb

A life remembrance: Rick Kulwicki was indeed “Pure Sunshine”

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

A unique life should be celebrated uniquely. And so this weekend’s two-day rock event “Pure Sunshine: Rick Kulwicki Celebration and Benefit” is a fitting tribute to a man who made Denver a better, brighter place — personally and musically.

Kulwicki was the Fluid’s guitar player, but he was so much more. He was a friend and a brother and a bandmate and the guy who always made you smile. He was also a single father of twin boys –- the primary beneficiaries from the rock shows tonight and Saturday, which feature the Swayback, the Overcasters, Supermodified and the Buckingham Squares, a group Kulwicki was a part of. Others are playing the two-day mini-fest at the Bluebird Theater, including the Purple Fluid, the band fronted by Kulwicki’s twin sons, who will play both nights.

We recently spoke with a few of Kulwicki’s closest friends and family -– and some who admired him from afar, wanting to know him better and feeling the draw of his magnetic charm -– about what they already miss about Kulwicki, who passed away in mid-February. Tickets to Pure Sunshine — which got its name from a Bart Dahl quote in the obituary Reverb published on Feb. 16 — are $15 per night.

Memories of Rick Kulwicki.

:::

Rick is my hero and a great example to me! He has always been a warm, wise, humorous, talented, humble, loving brother. I have learned many lessons from him – many this past month. Live life simply and to it’s fullest; take time for your children; treat others kindly and with respect; never judge others; and follow your dreams. My life will never be the same as I stare at the big gaping hole in our family. I will dearly miss our conversations, our family get-togethers and the love and humor Rick shared each time we spoke. Rick’s greatest love and priority in life was being a devoted father. How he loved his boys! Richard and Roman are his legacy. May they continue to feel love and support from all of us. – Diane Kulwicki Prusse, sister

:::

As far as siblings go, I’ve cornered the best-case scenario: Not only did I come to the Kulwicki home, where Rick was already in residence, but I came when he was 9 years old. In practical terms, it’s the best advantage I can think of: There was nothing I had that Rick wanted, and nothing that Rick had that I especially wanted (except the coveted collection of 45s), and I can’t remember one single fight, argument, tantrum or taunt. We had our amazing parents, sister and unique upbringing in common, which was all it took to bridge the inevitable gap between age and life experience. Rick always had that ‘been there, done that’ advantage, but never lorded it.

He could absolutely see the ridiculousness, preciousness and glory in everything I did, which was an amazing gift to a teenager: To expose the life-and-death drama of adolescence as the fraud that it is and open up the prospect that life is multi-layered, complex and ultimately more humor than tragedy. Rick has always been the arbiter of cool, but not as a gauge on some arbitrary aesthetic, as it is with most people who impose their judgments, along with the implicit threat that to reject their opinion is to risk fellowship, standing or good reputation. Rick’s version of cool is the real one, and he’s never varied one iota from it: Cool is whatever hasn’t tried too hard, pushed too strongly, been too obvious, or sneered unkindly.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to be cool, trying to like that which is cool, trying to do what could be termed cool by the only person I ever knew who had a decent definition of it. Cool invariably requires you to be open, accepting, humble and unpretentious, and Rick was not only its spokesman, but its embodiment. Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture,” is a great person, but could be challenged on at least two points: 1) He didn’t win the parent (or sibling) lottery, at least not while I’m in the running; and 2) If you know your time is short, leaving a well-thought-out, meticulously videotaped lecture or book is, admittedly, a great option. When you don’t know that your time is short, leaving a well-thought-out, meticulously thoughtful, inclusive, giving and grateful life is the greatest legacy to leave. My brother was truly great, the greatest person I will ever know. - Linda Kulwicki Crawford, sister

:::

I met Ricky and the rest of the Fluid about 20 years ago when they played my club in Louisville, Ky., and I was later their agent and tour manager . It was an instant connection with them and a lifelong bond. Ricky was like my “other brother” – so much alike and so much in common. Over the years I would find myself in certain daily situations, and I would always think, ‘Do the right thing … Do it for the right reasons … Do it with integrity.’ That’s what Ricky instilled in us – and not by preaching it, but by living it. It is a feeling of the ultimate good of a fellow “brother,” the complete positive, happy, loving, non-judgmental comfort of knowing that no matter what, you knew you always had a friend and it was a sincere friend. Ricky would never “pose” or “patronize” you. He was way too loving to do that.

He just loved you for what you were. He was able to love and was able to accept love. His lust for life and his big smile and the way he made you feel with the shouting of your name when you walked into the room, whether you had just seen him yesterday or a year ago, and the instant joy that filled your heart, knowing that you were in the company of an absolute kind-hearted soul and that he was sincerely happy to see you and to be in your company, the feeling of being in the presence of a wonderful human being, and his way of making you feel that you were a better human being … that’s the thing I will miss most about Ricky. – Scotty Haulter, former Fluid agent

:::

I met Rick about 25 years ago when he started working for our family sign business. He and I became co-workers and worked together very closely for about 14 years. Always there with a jingle, song or commercial from years past, some funny story or joke, he was a guy who kept you laughing and made sure that your sense of humor had to be on high alert. He was always a professional and a perfectionist in his work. He was a fabulous screen printer who always got the most challenging jobs. Was a blast to work with in the field since we spent our days laughing and sharing stories, and our customers loved Richard!!

Our customers would go out of there way to come into the shop to spend a half-hour hanging out in his print room just because he was the kinda guy you wanted to be around. As many people have said more elegantly, he was an infectious guy who always brought the mood up around him and lived his life 100 percent, full-throttle. I missed being around him everyday after we both left Sign Associates. He was such a true friend who you always knew you could count on if you needed him. He will always hold a place in my heart as a friend and will always make me chuckle thinking of some story or radio jingle from 20 years ago. – Mark Dreher, colleague

:::

The first time I spoke to Rick was on the phone from my apartment in New York. I really couldn’t believe that I was actually talking to him … My brother was playing in a band with Rick at the time, and he introduced us. He was so nice, quick to laugh, clearly a highly evolved soul. He was saying how excited he was to talk to me and how he felt it was meant to be and all that … it blew me away. So I met Rick in a professional context, and I helped manage the Fluid for most of their reunion shows. It was a joy to help those guys out – I just wanted them to enjoy their moments on-stage and not have to think about the other junk. The last couple shows they played in Denver ended up being the largest audiences they ever played for in their own hometown.

Once we finally got to meet in person, I was even more in awe. He did the fist-punch thing to greet, instead of a handshake, which I thought was great. We were fast-friends. This doesn’t make me special, it’s just how he was – with everyone. Everyone deserved a smile, everyone deserved his time, everyone deserved his energy because it was healing. It was like his calling to deliver happiness, whether through music or just talking, or a smile and a nod as you passed him on the street. No one was immune from his infectious smile. It hit you and showed you a better way to conduct yourself. Rick didn’t judge, he only gave. He brought you into focus and made you feel really good about yourself. He was cool, tall and kind of goofy in the most endearing way … a raw dog … he was his own system and, oh, he was an amazingly talented guitar player. Effortless. I loved that he was so happily unique.

When it came time to talk shop, talk about rock ‘n’ roll he spoke fondly of his days on the road sharing some pretty hilarious stories, but there was no doubt that it was his boys that were the center of his universe. He wasn’t going to go pursue a career in music again, his boys were his life, plain and simple.

He also used to say, “Life is too long to be mad” – “Life is too long to be …” whatever. I thought that was a such a cool thing. Life is to long … to be mad, sad or harbor negativity. He lived everyday like it was another long lovely day in a long beautiful life. Sadly, Rick’s ended way too soon.

I’ll miss his presence, his ease and his happy charm. He was “Pure Sunshine” – I think that’s what I told (Ricardo Baca) the day after he passed, I’m honored that that notion stuck. He was literally magnetic. People wanted to be close to him. He absolutely lit up a room. John Robinson said it best, and I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like: “If you ever needed an example of how to conduct yourself you need only look at the way Rick lived his life.” His example will live on. – Bart Dahl, former Fluid manager

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One of my few regrets in life is not getting to know Ricky better back in the day. Back in circa ’86, Ricky and I knew many of the same people in the scene. In life, so many things all come down to timing and the like. I think when I used to talk to Ricky, he was very involved in the scene and on a fast pace with the Fluid. No matter how fast pace things were, he’d always have time for a brief chat and to make you feel welcomed. I used to talk with him, mostly at the Fluid shows at the German House, the Funhouse, Old Town Hall in Littleton, Atzlan and Rock Island. I recall being at the Fluid’s Punch-N-Judy album release at the Funhouse. I also recall being at the Fluid tour sendoff at the Funhouse as well.

The main thing I can say about Ricky beyond how absolutely kind he was, is the fact that he had the “it” factor. Music and rock ‘n’ roll seeped out of his pores. Playing music was in his sweat. Back in those days, we all had those aspirations to make it in the business, and when the Fluid appeared to be on their way, it gave hope to us all, and it made me happy to see such a great guy doing well at what was in his blood and in his soul. So, he and I would talk briefly at the Fluid shows, and Ricky was always was an amazing person to me. I just wish timing would have allowed me to become one of his good buddies, because even though I didn’t know him as well as my current bandmate James Clower, I am still greatly affected by his passing.

Recently I caught a Buckingham Squares show at the Walnut Room, and Ricky was still firing on all eight cylinders. He was still happy to chat like the old days. I was ecstatic to see him playing with another long-time buddy, Sam Schiel, in the Squares. I recall back in ’86 when Sam’s band then, the Henderson’s, played a show with the Fluid. That Squares show brought back memories and that feeling of hope that I had long forgotten about. Ricky’s presence inspired me when I was young and again, when I had recently seen him play at the Walnut Room. His leaving us has certainly caused me to be a little more introspective, and I can’t shake that feeling that his departure has left a void somewhere in my soul. – Robert “The Goose” Guzman, musician with the Mighty 18 Wheeler and the Bonnie Situation, both of which will play Pure Sunshine this weekend

:::

I knew Rick through his support of Larimer Lounge and the Denver rock scene. I really became acquainted with all those guys when the Fluid reunion came together in 2008, which started with getting a tip from Bart Dahl at SXSW ironically. He was a great musician, and I will never forget seeing the Fluid at the Garage in my senior year of high school. I also have a ton of respect for anybody that can raise twin boys on their own. – Scott Campbell, talent buyer at the Larimer Lounge and the Bluebird and Ogden theaters

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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.

  • lisa mclennan

    His boys are beautiful. Like angels. I can see him in them.