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Doug Ashford died February 26 in Concord, New Hampshire. He was 53 years old. When it came to music (his most essential nutrient) he bought vinyl records and, later, CDs, like other people buy morning coffee. Friends used to play a recognition game with him they called "Stump Doug," and over decades, in every style — from gamelon to Celtic to Zydeco to Dan Zanes to Richard Thompson to John Denver — Doug missed a musical fragment only twice.
He was a humble evangelist for eclecticism and inclusiveness, kind of a music whisperer. Doug could segue between non-adjacent styles with such genius that there was no question they belonged together, even though they never had before.
His largest listening congregation was for “Morning Soup,” a folk-jazz show he hosted every Saturday from 10 to noon on Boston Free Radio. Lucky friends — those unsuccessful stumpers — also got an annual best-of CD each year, with personal liner notes they could savor over the next 12 months.
Though self-effacing and retiring in life (he liked to be heard more then seen, and receded to the back of any photo), Doug could be ruthless in criticism. “The cover artwork for this CD is the year’s worst,” he wrote about one selection. “It is rather unspeakable.”
Boston Free Radio, where Doug was the unpaid program director, epitomized a free-speech forum. For $60 a year, anyone could host an online radio show on almost any topic. There were series on high-school sports, widowhood, the secret lives of stuffed animals, and, of course, music. Doug embraced them all.
He fell in love many times — with music, radio, friends, Wolferman’s English Muffins — and delighted in introducing one passion to another. After a quest to a Zydeco and Cajun music festival in Louisiana, he returned with dozens of jars of olive jam that were pressed on friends. As far as he was concerned, it was a natural combination.
There were grand, open events, like the annual all-night sci-fi movie party, where guests brought fuzzy slippers. At the same time, Doug was intensely private. One night, a dear friend was stunned by a phone call. She'd known he was battling cancer. But, he explained apologetically, he wasn’t going to be able to attend the concert she’d bought them tickets for: he was going into hospice the next day.
At his memorial, friends made his bread-maker bread, ate his favorite burritos, and shared his apple-pie recipe, the one that had won their blind taste test year after year. His 2002 best-of CD played in the background, and after a while, the liner notes came out. When they were passed around, the wistful, hungering room fell on them like a splendid dessert.
Did you know Doug Ashford? Share your memories in the comments section.
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