June 3, 1990 – Richard Arthur Sohl (Patti Smith Group) was born May 26th 1953 in Queens, New York City. He grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist family that encouraged music. Still in his late teens he became a classical piano player in a world of New York Proto Punk, Punk rock and rock and ultimately became best known for his work as songwriter, pianist and arranger with the Patti Smith Group.
This is what guitarist Lenny Kaye said about Richard Sohl in an interview in 1996:
What about a piano player for the stage show. Do you see yourself eventually finding someone to replace Richard Sohl?
“Well, as you know Richard Sohl passed into the great beyond, and he was always our perfect piano player. So when the right person comes along… We don’t just want someone to put organ pads underneath the songs. We want someone who will help us move forward creatively, in the same way that Richard did. You know when it was just me, Richard and Patti, there was a real immediacy to the work we did. Richard was the right person.
Patti told us a funny story about the time you were auditioning piano players. When Richard Sohl first walked in, you said, “D.N.V” right away, because he looked liked the young boy, Tadzio, from Visconti’s Death in Venice.
Yeah, he had that stupid sailor suit on, and he was just so like, “I’m beautiful, I know it, I’ll play some great piano.” “Okay, sure!” and then he’d go roomn, wramn, wramn.
Sohl also played with genre greats like Iggy Pop, Nina Hagen and Elliott Murphy. Richard Sohl well known as the keyboardist of the Patti Smith Ggroup was a soul of many creative and sensitive faces and facets of expression that occupied a space in the New York City Punk/Music scene. Richard Sohl in the Patti Snith Group has still to derive proper recognition from that association where Patti Smith has continiously derived profit and benefit from her association with others much like Andy Warhol those others have seemingly derived little benefit from her.
He died on June 3, 1990 of a heart attack while vacationing on Fire Island, New York.
More telling than anything of the little information I could find on Richard Sohl are the wonderful words from Elliot Murphy:
“But so much of the finesse came from Richard Sohl whose piano playing was so modest, so classically composed, so right. Richard didn’t like synthesizers and didn’t care to learn; preferred to travel light. I only heard of his sad passing months after he died; didn’t know who to call or write. We met in ’73 or ’74 at a party and spent many nights in the photo-booths of Times Square with friend Steven Meisel and Geraldine. Later, he found his place with Patti Smith and finally (again) with me; countless nights at Tramps and some memorable European tours – Montreuz Jazz Festival ’83, on the beach in Sete and an infernally hot Italian summer – from Milano to the boot… Oh, Richard, we miss you… And whenever I play LAST CALL, I think of you smiling at that terrible upright at Tramps, seemingly asleep at the keys while I braved it through my sob story.”
“People hear songs, music but to the musicians who write the songs, play the music; we hear time, places, faces, sometimes too much to bear as Richard Sohl’s stunning piano intro to THE STREETS OF NEW YORK brings it all back…where? Not home, anymore. But someplace else, even closer to the heart.
I didn’t know it for a few years later, but this album was my swan-song to New York City where I spent fifteen years searching for the soul of a city and finally gave up intent upon finding my own, at last.”