By RUSS OLIVO
NORTH PROVIDENCE – He was a regular performer at George’s of Galilee and other rooms around the state, cranking out the oldies-but-goodies on the guitar and serving up playful banter with a loyal following that stretched back decades.
A Cumberland native, Charles “Chuck” Doris was the epitome of a working-class musician, a guitarist with a blue-collar ethic who performed with his duo, Second Avenue, for the sheer joy of it and otherwise supported himself with a bartending gig in the casual downstairs bistro of Providence’s swanky Pot a Feu.
And just like that, he was gone.
At the age of 68, Doris died on Sunday due to complications of COVID-19, his longtime partner Julie Collins told his fans and friends on Facebook.
But this was hardly the announcement Collins was expecting to make. If anything, she thought it overwhelmingly likely that Doris’ symptoms would be mild and that he’d make a swift recovery. After all, that’s what’s supposed to happen to the comparatively small fraction of fully vaccinated individuals who somehow suffer a “breakthrough” case of COVID-19 – at least according to the public health experts.
And that’s pretty much how Collins’ bout with the virus had progressed. She and Doris had both been fully vaccinated before they became ill.
But COVID-19 took hold of Doris and quickly overcame him.
“It was quite a shock,” said Collins. “He wasn’t sick for a long time...it took him within two weeks. It was a tragedy and just unfair.”
While Doris may not have been an instantly recognizable name among local celebrities, in the Rhode Island nightclub circuit and among his fans, he was exceedingly well-known. And news of his death spread rapidly on social media, where expressions of grief filled Second Avenue’s and Doris’ Facebook pages.
“Stunned and saddened to learn of the passing of my friend and musical colleague Chuck Doris of 2nd Avenue,” wrote Bill Gannon, a longtime solo performer. “I will miss you my friend.”
But this was not the first tragedy to stagger Second Avenue.
For many years, Doris was one half of the band, appearing alongside co-founding member Glenn Kuzirian, a longtime friend from the hometown. The two had attended high school together in Cumberland, where Doris was raised and had been a longtime resident before moving to North Providence.
Doris and Kuzirian founded Second Avenue in 1977 and together they established the band’s identity as a contemporary cover act, performing hits by the chart-toppers of the day – from the Beatles to the Stones and everything in between. They knew hundreds of songs but their stage presence was more than a perfunctory execution of familiar tunes. They were known for engaging the audience in wry, humorous repartee, elevating a Second Avenue encounter to an evening of uplifting entertainment.
Indeed, friends and colleagues saw Doris as more than a mere singer or guitarist.
“Charlie was a talented musician, a gifted comic, a brilliant coworker, and a kind compassionate friend,” Antigone Howlett remarked on social media. “There’s not many truly amusing characters like Charlie in the world. He was greatly loved and will be sorely missed.”
Fellow musicians knew Doris not just as a talented artist, but a generous and gentle soul with a life-long passion for fine-tuning his craft and sharing what he knew with others. He was always eager to see other musicians succeed, offering tips, pointers and encouragement.
In 2015, however, Second Avenue was knocked for a loop that might have crushed a less resourceful band. Kuzirian was stricken by cancer, which claimed his life after a courageous battle. Doris and a few other musicians with whom they’d become friendly were with Kuzirian in the hospital when he died.
By then, Second Avenue had already been performing for 38 years. With the help of Steve Tancredi, a drummer who had a long association with Doris and Kuzirian, the band regrouped after Kuzirian’s death and had continued to perform regularly – at least until COVID-19 arrived.
Collins said she and Doris had no idea how they caught COVID-19, especially since they hadn’t been mingling much as performing artists continue to get back up to full speed after the pandemic.
In addition to Collins, her daughters and granddaughter, Doris leaves a brother Jeffrey Doris and his wife Donna of Burrillville, plus a niece and a nephew. The J.J. Duffy Funeral Home in Cumberland is in charge of arrangements, but the service and burial are private, according to his obituary.
A celebration of his life will be held at a date to be announced, the funeral home says.
As she struggles to process the grief of losing Doris, Collins thinks his peers in the state’s musical community won’t soon forget him.
“I think they knew how talented he was,” she says
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo