Remembering David Schnaufer


Just wanted to post a follow-up to the story we ran last week on David Schnaufer, the innovative dulcimer player who passed away on Aug. 23 from cancer. Butch Baldassari, a mandolin player and teaching colleague of Schnaufer's at Blair, wrote this piece in remembrance. Remembering David Schnaufer

I first started hearing about David Schnaufer, the dulcimer artist who passed away on August 23rd, when he was a Cactus Brother. He and the rest of the group used to "pick the splinters" out of "Fisher's Hornpipe" and other assorted alt-country tunes. A few years later, after we'd become acquainted, he said that he'd seen me playing with Bill Monroe and the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble at one of the Country Music Foundation ‘s New Artists Christmas parties—David was a New Artist, we were the hired help.

The first tune we ever sat down together and played was "Wild Rose of the Mountain" a beautiful "crooked" old gem from West Virginia. I don't know why, but for some reason I had thought David actually was from West Virginia. He had the look, talked the talk, wore the clothes and had the musical lick—he was the living, breathing tradition! So when he told me that he grew up a "surfer" down on the Texas Gulf Coast, I just had to tell him that I used to be a professional ski instructor and had also worked the dice tables in Las Vegas. We laughed long and hard at each other—"so much for past lives."

By then, we were more about dealing with the here and now and the future. A couple of 50+ year-old dreamers, we were going to make a record, a CD of Appalachian music—just dulcimer and mandolin. Unfortunately, Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer turned out to be David's last CD, though not his last recordings. Earlier this year he recorded with Linda Rondstadt and Faith Hill, and I recall David commenting on how nice they were to him. Those women were sharp enough to know that they were in the presence of real musical greatness.

David lost his parents when he was a teenager, which got me to wondering about the way he always wanted to play Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." When he did, time stood still, and people listened. He seemed to be lonesome, and kind of all alone in The Music City. Zada Law told me that he'd run off two or three girlfriends over the years; I guess David knew what was best for David. At some point The Grand Old Dulcimer Club and the Nashville Dulcimer Quartet became his family, and Zada Law and Sandy Conatser became his closest friends, personal assistants—confidantes in all things David. Schnaufer, as he used to refer to himself, also had pockets of friends back in the day at The Villager, and more recently at his Wednesday night hangout, the Sportsman's Grill.

One day last fall, David popped in while I was cooking up some red beets—he loved red beets—and brown rice. I served him up a nice-sized bowl, but all he could eat was 2 or 3 bites. That's when I started to realize how diabetes dominated his health, ravaging his fragile frame for the last 10+ years.

Nashville lost some real music royalty when David Schnaufer left this earth. I wish we'd done more together; maybe I should have listened to him as early as last Christmas Eve, when he was telling me to get cracking on that Appalachian Christmas CD that he wanted us to do. Maybe he knew deep down that he just didn't have much time left.

I miss the hell out of my pal. David Schnaufer won't be forgotten—not if I can help it.



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