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Last Friday, local guitarist, composer, arranger, and teacher Phil Mathieu passed away at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, due to complications of liver disease, hepatitis C, and sepsis. He was 50 years old.
Born in D.C. and raised in Rockville, Phil was a go-to musician for many local bands and orchestras, but he was best known as a member of Charlie Byrd’s Washington Guitar Quintet from 1992 through 2001 and alt-country ensemble Ruthie and the Wranglers from 1997 until 2009. More recently, he played in the jump blues/rockabilly band The Natty Beaux. His contributions to theater were impressive: He performed regularly at area venues from the Kennedy Center to Wolf Trap, and played music for Follies, The Color Purple, Legally Blonde, Mame, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Funny Girl, Oklahoma!, and Hairspray. A music graduate from George Mason University, Mathieu also taught classical guitar at Montgomery College.
“He was one of very few players that had a B-Bender-equipped Telecaster, which was great for mimicking the bent notes of a steel guitar,” says bassist and longtime collaborator Louie Newmyer. “So, at first I only knew him as a great country player. Later I became aware of his versatility when I realized he also excelled at classical, flamenco, rockabilly, and jazz too. This versatility certainly served him well for his pit-band work. And, he played just about any stringed instrument.”
Singer Ruthie Logsdon, Phil’s partner, notes that he was more than just a musician: “He was an avid bird watcher, a horror films junkie, and made us laugh our asses off when we were on the road.” Mathieu taught students, but he helped out his fellow musicians, too. “Phil was very helpful to me many years ago when we were both subs on a jazz gig. Jazz and reading charts were two things that intimidated me, and Phil was incredibly helpful (and patient) by inviting me over his house for a crash course on reading charts and playing jazz,” says Newmyer. “He went over each song, and in a couple of hours taught me so many things that serve me well today. I can see how he is thought of as an excellent guitar teacher. He had such an easygoing manner. A fun, kind, gentle guy who loved to laugh, who will be sorely missed by everyone in the D.C. music community.”
Phil is survived by Logsdon, of Takoma Park, Md.; mother Marge Mathieu of Silver Spring, Md.; brother Stephen Mathieu of Oak Hill, Va.; sister Darlene Burris of Winston Salem, N.C.; and six nieces. A memorial service will be held today at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home at 300 West Montgomery Ave. in Rockville. The funeral takes place Saturday at noon at Shrine of St. Jude, 12701 Veirs Mill Road, Rockville, with reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Phil’s memory to either The Audubon Society or The Hepatitis Foundation International.