He couldn’t be there for Sunday’s big party in Thibodaux, but former Beatle Paul McCartney did send a video wishing his friend ‘Thad’ a happy birthday.
Thaddeus Richard, who plays horns, keyboards, guitar and numerous other instruments, celebrated his 73rd birthday a day early and took the stage with fellow musicians for a party organized in his honor at the Thibodaux Regional Wellness Center.
In the short video, shown during the party, McCartney strums an acoustic guitar and sings a greeting to his friend and former bandmate.
“Hey, Thad, you’re quite a boy,” McCartney sings. “You know we love you, no one above you.”
In a long life of music, Richard said his performances with Paul McCartney and Wings were the most memorable. He toured the world with the band from 1974 to 1980. A video on YouTube from the time shows Richard playing the iconic soprano sax solo from the 1975 hit “Listen to What the Man Said”.
“Take it away, Thaddeus”, McCartney sings from behind the piano.
When asked what it was like to perform with one of the world’s most famous bands, Richard said: “For a 25-year-old boy from Thibodaux, you have to be kidding – it was heaven.”
Richard left the Chitlin’ Circuit, where he sometimes had to get bland sandwiches through the back window, to fly around the world with McCartney and make a lot more money.
In the days of state-imposed racial segregation, Richard and other black musicians made the rounds at the Chitlin’ Curcuit, an unofficial string of nightclubs that ran through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and as far as Chicago.
Musicians like Irma Thomas, The Meters and the Neville Brothers played in Thibodaux nightclubs, Richard said. One of the most popular clubs in town was Hosea Hill’s Sugar Bowl.
Those nightclubs, Richard said, weren’t paying enough, so he packed up his instruments and moved to Nashville. The decision paid off when he was found by McCartney in 1974.
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Richard played as part of a horn section in a studio for some of McCartney’s recordings and was regarded by someone as exceptional on the saxophone. McCartney had a piece of solo music that he had written with his wife Linda and he gave it to Richard, who had never seen it.
“He put me in a studio, gave me a microphone and said, ‘Play,'” Richard said. “Once I was done with solos, all I could hear in the recording booth where they were, they called me ‘King Thaddeus’.”
McCartney is not the only famous musician Richard has performed with. Others include Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, Joe Tex, ZZ Hill, Tony Dorsey, Candi Staton, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, George Porter, Jeremy Davenport, and Danny Blanchard.
At one point or another, about a dozen musicians climbed the stage during his birthday celebration. Among them: Dr. Greg Ward on percussion; John Autin, 65, from Houma, piano; Herman Jackson, 70, of Baton Rouge, drums; Harry Anderson, 61, by Zachary, bass; Ray Mouton, 67, of Jackson, guitar; Aaron Fletcher, 42, from New Orleans, saxophone; Quiana Lynell, 41, of Gonzales, singer; Frank Ball, 72, van Houma, guitar; George Bell, 63, from Thibodaux, trumpet; and Charles “Chuckie See” Elam, 65, of New Orleans, saxophone.
A member of the office of the mayor of Thibodaux gave Richard a key to the city. Richard joked that he wanted to try it at a local bank.
The celebration was curated by the Music at St. John’s Concert Series. dr. William Robichaux is a board member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Thibodaux and a lifelong fan of Richard.
Richard aspired to music as a child; he says it’s in his blood and all he’s ever wanted to do. His mother, Alma Rose, was a church organist and his father, Renald, was a band director and composer who wrote music for Ray Charles.
Richard attended St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, where he played the oboe for the concert band.
“They had too many good saxophonists so I couldn’t get in,” he recalls.
Mary Anne Hoffman, 91, of Hoffman Music in Thibdaux, said she remembers a 16-year-old Richard entering her shop.
“He would run across the keys of the piano,” Hoffman said. “I said, ‘Oh man, this man has it.’ †
Whatever instrument Richard picked up, musicians attending Sunday’s feast said, he excelled at it. Many of the others who took the stage on Sunday said that Richard helped them learn their trade.
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Sometimes, when Autin was practicing his piano late at night at Nicholls State University, Richard would stop by to play some instruments. Richard would give Autin tips and help him teach for free.
“He was always everyone’s first choice on piano,” Autin said. “And it wasn’t even his main instrument.”
Family and colleagues said Richard’s musical talent is matched by his compassion. Richard’s little brother, Sean Richard, 50, told how Thaddeus would take him to shows and have him wear gear. Sean said he didn’t realize it then, but his brother showed him the world.
“It was easier for me when I went into the military because he had already taken me all over the world,” Sean said.
Sean and Richard’s daughter, Swann Coxen, 51, said Thaddeus is the relative who helped the different generations get along.
“He was the glue,” Coxen said.
Thaddeus had a knack for creating memorable family moments. Sean and Swann related how on Halloween, Thaddeus took nine of the younger family members, including Sean, for trick-or-treating. Thaddeus said it was a time when some people put razor blades in apples, and to avoid these problems, he took the children to homes he knew.
During the outing, Thaddeus decided to scare the youngsters by driving into a graveyard.
“I drove into the graveyard, got out of the car and ran,” said Richard. “Boy, they were scared, they screamed and screamed, and they’ve never forgotten that.”
McCartney also didn’t forget his old friend and fellow musician.
“Congratulations, Thad, such an honor,” McCartney sings at the end of his video. “You deserve it, dude.”