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R.I.P. Desert Fox

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Elk River
Feb 09, 2009 1:46 PM GMT
I got a call over the weekend that said Bill Romel (pronounced Ra-MEL, I believe), The Desert Fox has died. Here is his bio, in his own words, posted on his Web site. I talked to whoever it was that did his new site, which was bascially a 1990s-style site until it got this nice revamp not too long ago.

Here's the bio:

"I have been playing Chromatic for 60 years; yes, I started when I was ten.

The Chromatic has always been my most important Hobby. Music was my first love. I studied Accordion as a teenager. Carried one during my stint in the Army. I am a Vet of the Korean War. Worked in Special Services in a Military Police Unit on the Island of Cheju guarding ten thousand Chinese and Korean POW's while procuring entertainment for the troops, USO Shows etc. Played Chromatic with a really fine Spanish Guitar Player and Singer in some of the shows. We had a ball and he taught me how to sing in Spanish.

I had to choose between making a living to support a family, or becoming a vagabond musician. I chose a career in medicine. Following discharge, I studied with a Pathologist for four years and remained on as his assistant for another three, then left to pursue my own career. I worked in many hospitals and laboratories and as a researcher and teacher in some large companies. Eventually, I opened my own laboratory in Flagstaff Arizona in 1987 specializing in analysis of samples of drugs and substance abuse for Law Enforcement. I retired in 1993.

Sold the Laboratory to a group of Pathologists at a Hospital and moved back to Las Vegas. Oh, I never mentioned that I moved to Las Vegas in 1956. Two of my Daughters were born here and I became a consultant to a Ph. D. Biochemist, Dr. A. William Smith. We developed some new and improved methods for staining blood and tissue cells for the Clinical Laboratory, patented our work and he went on to build a profitable business from our work. At that time I was Director of North Las Vegas Hospital Laboratory and Radiology Departments.

I always found a way find time to play my Chromatic and did a very short period of playing professionally in a club in Orange County CA and then another short time in Las Vegas with a combo of jazz piano, bass, sax and a crooner at the Showboat Hotel and the MGM Hotel lounges. Married with four children. Moved back to Las Vegas in 1994 to set up my Shop.

Where did I get all my experience in the repair and construction of Chromatics? While living in California and working in research for the laboratory I learned to construct tools and instruments for the lab when there was nothing available in the market place. I applied these skills to fixing chromatics and building chromatics for my own use. I also met and became friends with the brother of a very famous Harmonica Personality, Dave Doucette of the Harmonica Rascal's era. Dave introduced me to his brother Fred Doucette, a master tool and die maker and chromatic harmonica player. He taught me how to use machine shop tools and equipment and we developed our own prototype chromatics which were the results of much experimentation and trial and error. Unfortunately, Fred passed away too soon to enjoy the fruits of our work together.

Favorite Music:

Classical, Jazz, Big Band, Dixieland Jazz. Ragtime and the music from the 20's to the 70's

Favorite Chromatic Harmonica musicians:

Charlie Leighton
George Fields
John Sebastian Sr.
Larry Adler
Tommy Rielly
Blackie Shackner
Pierre Herbineaux
William Gallison
"Toots" Thielmans
Eddy Lawrence Manson
Stan Harper
Pete Pederson
Tom Stryker
Dave Hart
Stevie Wonder
And many more too numerous to mention. I love them all.

Best Regards,

Bill Romel"

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Comments (5)

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Feb 09, 2009 1:51 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

Here is a nice story the Vegas! (Baby) Sun did on the Fox 10 years ago.

Feb 09, 2009 2:57 PM GMT
Sarge Replied:

Bill was a real nice guy. I would like to have had one his worked over chromatics.

Feb 09, 2009 6:31 PM GMT
Randy S Replied:

Bill was a real nice guy. I started working on harps about 15 years ago and wanted to make my own combs.I tried every type of jig and home made machine I could think of. I called several of the big name customizers and received replies like "Dont quit your day job" I called Bill and he told me exactly what type of tools and machinery he used. Super helpful and no secrets. Very selfless. He is one of the only people I know of that actually made his own reeds and plates. From beryllium copper. He said these reeds would outlast the owner. He could put a compressor nozzle in the slot and blow the reed vertically and they would return to the set gap every time. RIP Bill.

Feb 09, 2009 8:14 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

Bill was the man who did what no other man could do - convince me that plastic combs were not abominations.
Basically, he politely explained to me that when pearwood combs came to Vegas! (Baby), they would explode in the climate. Thus, I decided that if I ever moved to Vegas! (Baby), I would have to go plastic. Thus, I never moved to Vegas
Seriously, he was very polite about that stuff. Never said "Hey Dave you are full of sh..," although I often project that vibe;) He just said "Hey, here are my experiences, you are intelligent enough to consider these and draw your own conclusions."
I have a tremendous amount of respect for that man.

Feb 09, 2009 8:16 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

Question... did he ever say anything to anybody about how he felt about the nickname "Desert Fox." I'm not sure he was that crazy about it, but I always felt it was such an appropriate nomer for a such a guy and it was always used out of respect, but I don't know. When you are larger than life, as he was, you often don't have control over such things.

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