By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Unfortunately, a Beatles reunion will never happen. But for the lucky people of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Rick and the Arrhythmics returned for a long-awaited (by some, at least) encore.
Back in the 1980s, the band, which included several local doctors, specialized in rowdy, three-chord classic rock, including songs like “Rescue Me,” “Wooly Bully” and “Do You Love Me?” And for more than a decade, they hosted a free, ’60s-style sock hop Halloween costume party that was one of the most popular events on the city social calendar.
Now, after a 20-year hiatus, the band recently got back together for an American Heart Association fundraiser.
The “Rick” in Rick and the Arrhythmics is cardiologist Richard Lewis, M.D., medical director of the Mary Washington Health Alliance in Fredericksburg.
After growing up on Long Island, graduating from Harvard and getting his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University, Lewis and his wife, Ginny, moved to Fredericksburg in 1984 so he could join Cardiology Associates.
Back then, the local medical community had a tradition of throwing a party to introduce newly arrived physicians.
While enjoying himself, Lewis was approached by pediatrician Mike Childress, M.D., who asked if he played an instrument.
“I told him I played the keyboard,” Lewis recalled. “He said, ‘Good, you’re in the band.’”
At the time, “the band” was a collection of doctors who’d recently switched from playing bluegrass to rock-and-roll “when we realized how lousy we were at bluegrass,” Childress recalled with a laugh.
They enjoyed playing together but didn’t take themselves too seriously. After Lewis joined, they renamed themselves Rick and the Arrhythmics for the word’s double meaning as an irregular rhythm of both music and the heart.
Over time the original five-person lineup picked up additional musicians, including Al Wood, one of Childress’ oldest friends who’d drive in from Richmond to sing lead vocals. They also enlisted a four-person horn section.
“We had a great time,” Lewis said. “After all, how many adults get to play in their own garage band?”
Despite the fun, the band had a curious attitude toward playing before an audience.
They rarely did.
“We’d play one gig a year,” explained Lewis.
That was the ’60s-themed party held at the end of October in the ballroom of the local country club.
Eventually, however, life started getting in the way.
Kids got older and more demanding of their parents’ time. Two married band members divorced. And most tragically, Wood died of a heart attack.
“After a while, we just sort of went our separate ways,” Lewis said.
Lewis always had a knack for explaining how the heart works so he soon adopted the musical persona of “Dr. Rick Lewis, the Singing Cardiologist.” As Dr. Rick, he wrote and performed “Weird Al” Yankovic-type parodies of popular songs, but with a medical twist.
One, about 2-year-old Finn Blumenthal, who recently had lifesaving heart surgery, is sung to the tune of “Fun Fun Fun” by the Beach Boys: And we’ll have fun with Finn / now his heart is really pumping away…
He teaches children coronary matters to the tune of “If I Only Had a Heart” from The Wizard of Oz: When your heart is all a-pumpin’ / It makes a sound like thumpin’…
And he explains how heart disease affects women differently than men to the tune of John Lennon’s “Woman”: Now, woman, let me try to explain / You can have a heart attack without any pain…
But still, the tug of Rick and the Arrhythmics continued and so he agreed to resuscitate the band to play the inaugural Fredericksburg Heart Walk in late September.
The 10-piece band, with six original members, played two hour-long sets, one before the walk and one after.
“It was amazing,” Lewis said the next day. “There were about 360 people and some of them were dancing while we played.”
The walk’s fundraising goal was $50,000, but with help from the reconstituted Arrhythmics, they raised a total of $65,000.
What’s more, the band members had so much fun playing together that they’re already talking about resurrecting the fondly remembered sock hop. But this time, they’ll hold it in February.
Just in time for American Heart Month.
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