Robert M. Baum, 51, musician in Irish band

March 31, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert M. Baum, who played bass guitar with O'Malley's March and was known for his rollicking renditions of traditional Irish music and an especially spirited "Brown Eyed Girl," died of a stroke Wednesday at his Columbia home. He was 51.

Mr. Baum, who was born in Baltimore, and raised in Northwood and Lutherville, started playing bass guitar as an 11-year-old in garage bands.

"I guess we've been playing together for 40 years," said electric guitarist and fellow band member Ralph J. Reinoldi, a boyhood friend who also grew up in Lutherville.

With his 20-year-old Ampeg clear Plexiglas bass guitar, Mr. Baum cut quite a figure on stage when performing, which earned him a special introduction by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the group's vocalist and acoustic guitar player.

"Martin always introduced him by saying, `Here is bouncing Bob Baum, the Waterford Crystal clear Celtic bass guitar player.' And his playing kind of reflected his spirit. He was a big, gregarious, fun-loving guy, who played with energy, spirit, humor, and when he had to, could play by the seat of his pants," Mr. Reinoldi said.

He added, "The main ingredient he provided on any occasion was fun, and he easily transmitted this to audiences."

"Bob was always kind of the anchor of the group who kept an excited bunch of musicians playing together and on beat. He made us believe that an electric guitar could play Irish music and he always made me look good. He was also a steady guy who only missed three or four jobs in 10 years," said Mr. O'Malley.

"He was also the guy who counted us back into the main rhythm after solos, and now he is no longer with us. We're all pretty crushed by this," he said.

The band, which last performed together at Bohager's on St. Patrick's Day, was still trying to cope with the illness of Paul Levin, its flutist and pipe player, who is battling a brain tumor, when Mr. Baum died unexpectedly.

"He was a driving force in the band - very loyal - and always a committed friend. I think we're in shock right now. We were all worried about Paul and then this happened. It's a sucker punch, and it's devastating," said Jamie Wilson, the band's drummer.

While Mr. Baum did not sing many lead vocals, several numbers had become associated with him. In addition to "Brown Eyed Girl," they included "Wait for Me," "Whiskey in the Jar" and a particularly moving rendition of the "Irish Blessing." He also enjoyed playing Irish reels and jigs.

As a youth, he overcame polio and endured open-heart surgery, and after graduation from Calvert Hall College, he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in the early 1970s from Towson State College.

Mr. Baum, who had earlier worked in advertising, was a methadone counselor with We Care Health Services Inc. at his death.

In 1995, when playing at McGinn's, then a North Charles Street pub, Mr. Baum met Kim Cwalina, his future wife, who was a single mother raising four children. They married in 1999.

"He was the love of my life and the best thing that ever happened to me. I was a single parent with kids and he turned us into a family," said Mrs. Baum.

Mr. Baum enjoyed playing at home as well and, when possible, made sure his family was along for gigs.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Roman Catholic Church, 20 E. Ridgely Road, Timonium.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Baum is survived by two stepsons, Shannon T. Hiteshew and Timothy K. Hiteshew, and two stepdaughters, Stephanie M. Hiteshew and Kierney E. Hiteshew, all of Columbia; and his mother, Eleanor M. Baum of Lutherville.

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