Mike Scap passes

Mike ScapMike Scap, a noted guitarist, mandolinist, and fiddler in the 1980s, passed away in Springfield, New Jersey on March 29. He was 60 years of age, and had been suffering from lung cancer.

Close followers of the Colorado bluegrass scene knew Mike as the original guitarist with Hot Rize in 1978. Prior to Nick Forster joining the group, Scap played the guitar with Charles Sawtelle on bass. He had been a member of the Ophelia Swing Band as well, which also included Tim O’Brien of Hot Rize fame.

Mike’s given name was Scoppetuolo, but he was known in the music business simply as Scap. In addition to his distinctive guitar playing, Mike was accomplished on most of the common acoustic string instruments and used them to perform bluegrass, Celtic, country, blues, jazz, and the new acoustic music that was being birthed in the ’80s, pioneered by artists like David Grisman and Tony Rice.

He also spent time on fiddle with Front Range, another nationally-prominent Colorado band in the 1980s. After moving out to the Boulder area from his native Jersey, Scap performed with a great many eclectic acoustic acts in a variety of styles.

But he was already a recognized monster at home in New Jersey before heading west. Mike is credited with teaching flatpicking to celebrated guitar instructor Steve Kaufman as a youth back in Jersey, and for coining the phrase “floaties” to describe the now common technique of mixing open strings with fretted notes on consecutive strings to mimic the sound of a banjo roll on fiddle tunes and the like.

Hot Rize in 1978: Pete Wernick, Tim O'Brien, Mike ScapA life-long smoker, his friends recall Scap’s courtesy where his habit was concerned, and often teased him for his belief that cars were the ruination of the world – hence his refusal to own or drive one – while he pumped his own smoke into the atmosphere each day.

Art was another passion, with his line drawing and pencil sketches serving as cover art for his recordings.

Later in life he became something of a hermit, and wasn’t very active in the music world. His close friend and former roommate, Pete Schwimmer, a Colorado banjo picker, recalls in a lovely Facebook reminecence that Mike’s eccentricities didn’t mesh well with the touring life.

“Mike did have the trait of not being able to adjust well to the unexpected, and as a musician, this might have interfered with his being more commercially successful and well known, as if you are trying to make it as a musician, the unexpected does seem to happen more than one might like (compared to a day job for instance).”

Friends remember Mike Scap for his wit and good humor as much as for his multi-instrumental skill in bluegrass and acoustic music.

A deeply religious man, Scap was commemorated with a Funeral Mass at St. James Church in Springfield this past Saturday, and interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery.

R.I.P., Mike Scap.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.