PORTLAND, Maine — Frank Coffin, a bassist who seemed to play with everyone under Maine’s musical sun, died Friday after a recent cancer diagnosis. Coffin was 65.
A planned tribute concert at the Silver Spur in Mechanic Falls on Sunday, organized by friends and fans to help with Coffin’s medical bills, will go on. Instead of a tribute show though, with Coffin in attendance, it will be a memorial to one of the state’s most respected country music stalwarts.
“My heart is broken,” said Maine guitar legend Denny Breau, a co-organizer of the event. “The hardest thing is not being able to say goodbye.”
Breau met Coffin in the 1970s and they started playing regular gigs together in the 1980s. Hundreds — possibly thousands — of gigs later, Breau knew Coffin as well as anyone.
“He was a wonderful man with an even keel,” Breau said. “He never got upset and we never had one cross word in all these years — and that’s unusual for musicians.”
With his dark, rose-tinted glasses, wry beard and trucker’s cap often perched high on his head, Coffin was an enigmatic stage presence who oozed cool, along with quiet confidence.
Offstage, Breau said Coffin was kind, with a dry sense of humor. As a bass player, he was unmatched, steady and tasteful.
“He was a rock. He never overplayed,” Breau said. “He knew what went where and layed down a groove you could drive a truck through.”
In addition to playing with Breau, Coffin played in a host of bands over the years such as Taste, Malinda Liberty and the Grownups and the Hurricane Mountain Band.
“And, of course, he sat in with everybody,” Breau said, “like, hundreds of bands.”
Coffin was born in Rumford in 1955 and lived in Auburn for many years with music and life partner Liberty. The couple were together for 46 years.
Liberty gained statewide fame in 1986 with the perennial seasonal gem, the “Maine Christmas Song.” As always, Coffin was by her side, playing bass on the track.
Liberty first met him in 1976, when putting one of her first bands together.
“Everybody said I had to get Frank Coffin, so I did,” Liberty said.
A year later, they were an official couple.
“He was quiet and handsome and humble,” she said, “And he loved music as much as I did — and he treated me really great.”
Coffin then became a second father to Liberty’s two daughters, then 3 and 8 years old.
“He loved us like his own,” Nicole Latourneau said. “We never called him Frank. To us, he was always Papa.”
Later, Coffin also became an enthusiastic grandfather of three, writing personalized children’s books for each of them.
While working as a musician by night and on the weekends, Coffin also had a 20-year, steady job at Musician’s First Choice, a music store in Augusta, where he especially took pride in helping customers pick out their first instruments.
Coffin’s laid back, friendly demeanor made him a natural salesman, said store owner Steve Beaulieu.
“We had so much fun here,” Beaulieu said. “Over the last 25 years, I probably spent more time with Frankie than my wife — and we never had an argument.”
Beaulieu said he knows exactly what he’ll miss most about Coffin. “His heart. He was the sweetest guy ever, my best friend,” he said.
As word of Coffin’s death spread around social media on Friday, over a hundred stunned tribute posts appeared in just a few hours.
“Frank was a pro’s pro, and as cool as it gets,” said Tim Emery, a guitar slinger and co-owner of Buckdancer’s Choice Music Co. in Portland.
“He wasn’t my friend,” Wesley Littlefield said. “He was everyone’s friend.”
“Through Frank, I took note that less can be more,” Steve Mercier said.
“You were the foundation of every band you were in,” said Maine country musician DeeDee Allen, who also owns the Silver Spur.
Originally, Liberty was going to sing at Sunday’s show but she’s canceled those plans. It would be too difficult, she said. But she hopes everyone else comes to sing and play and remember Coffin.
“He was the leader of the band,” Liberty said, “and I know he wants us all to keep playing.”
The Frank Coffin concert is scheduled for Sunday, July 11, from 1 to 6 p.m. at The Silver Spur, 272 Lewiston St. in Mechanic Falls. Admission is $10, BYOB.