Rick Dobrowolski, music-loving barkeep

HE WAS the "man in black" to the local music scene.

Standing behind the bar at Tritone, 15th and South streets, dressed in his customary black vest and black shirt, dispensing wisdom and a sarcastic brand of humor with the drinks, Rick D might not have been recognizable as one of the most influential figures in Philly's popular-music world.

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His early specialty was rescuing local punk- rock bands from obscurity by booking them into some of the city's most popular nightspots. He had been a singer in punk bands, and he enjoyed and wanted to promote the music.

But as half owner of Tritone, he and his partner, Dave Rogers, oversaw the presentation there of some major mainstream figures in jazz and rock.

Richard C. Dobrowolski went home early Saturday after his bartending stint, went to bed and never woke up. He died of a heart attack at age 40. He lived in West Philadelphia.

His sudden death shocked the local music world.

"This is a loss for me and an even bigger loss for the Philadelphia music scene," said Sara Sherr, a writer on musical subjects who has contributed to the Philadephia Weekly and the Daily News.

"Truly the end of an era."

"He had a big punk heart, a great sense of humor, and a love of all genres of music," Sara added. "He wore a leather vest like no one else."

Rick wore that costume, complete with black combat boots, summer or winter, said his sister Linda Lyng.

"He was the man in black," Linda said. "He always wore black. But he considered himself a snappy dresser."

"He was one of the funniest people I've ever known," she added. "He was sarcastic, opinionated. He was definitely anti-establishment."

Added Dave Rogers: "He was a great guy, well-loved. He was a huge figure in the Philly music scene."

Before Tritone, Rick worked as a bartender at Bob & Barbara's at 1509 South St., where he was famous for his invention of what he called the "happy meal" - a shot of Jim Beam bourbon and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, for $3.

Rick was born in Philadelphia to James Dobrowolski and the former Eileen Woolsey. He graduated from Abington High School.

He was not a happy camper in high school, or when he worked at a "straight" job for the Prudential Insurance Co., his sister said. He found his happiness listening to, performing and promoting punk rock.

Rick started his career in music as a singer for the punk-rock band Newbyles and one called COS, the initials of which include a word not suitable for a family newspaper.

His sister said he started listening to punk rock as a teenager and eventually came to realize he could book the groups into local venues.

He started getting gigs for some of the most obscure local groups because he wanted to see them perform. His first bookings were at a former hole-in-the wall venue on 11th Street near Race called The Firenze.

He later got bands into the old JC Dobbs and at Upstairs at Nick's, among others. He promoted some far-out groups with names like Stalin's Daughter.

"He was an early supporter and adopter of all kinds of punk bands," Sara Sherr said.

Under Rick and Dave Rogers, who said he found his graduate studies in philosophy to be a big help in bartending, some avant-garde jazz musicians appeared at Tritone, including Uri Caine, a well-known Philadelphia-born jazz pianist; saxophonist Tim Berne, and guitarist Vernon Reid.

Sara Sherr said that whenever she comes upon a "young, curious, lost person" wanting to make it in the music business, "I give him or her whatever I have . . . Rick D wouldn't do it any other way, and neither would I."

Rick also is survived by his mother and another sister, Susan Lester.

Services: Memorial service 11 a.m tomorrow at the John R. Freed Funeral Home, Easton Road and Keswick Avenue, Glenside. Friends may call at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Chelten Hills Cemetery, Washington Lane and Woolston Avenue. *