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BY T. SCHOEN | Paul Caruso, a well-known East Village musician who played with Jimi Hendrix and worked to help the neighborhood’s homeless, died of a stroke on April 20. He was 65 years old.
Caruso grew up in the Bronx. After dropping out of school in the ninth grade, he later took studies through Clayton College of Natural Health. He went on to pursue an artistic career, playing the guitar and the harmonica.
His musical talent secured a friendship with Hendrix, whose song “My Friend” featured Caruso playing the harmonica, a role incorrectly credited at the time of the album’s release to a “harp” player named “Ger.” Caruso’s association with Hendrix led to his appearance in a documentary about the rock star’s life, which granted him some minor fame
Caruso continued his music career after Hendrix’s death, playing music alone on his E. Ninth St. stoop and in parks with his friends even into his final days.
“We were playing in the park just a few hours before this happened,” said Ash Gray, another musician and friend of Caruso’s, at his funeral service at the Ortiz Funeral Home on First Ave.
Caruso’s artistic talents were not only in music, but extended also into painting and cooking, according to his son, Avian, who had been estranged from his father for more than 10 years, only hearing of his death a few days after it happened.
“He was writing a book that will, unfortunately, never be published,” said Brendan, a friend of Caruso’s. Brendan originally met Caruso through the Hendrix documentary, approaching Caruso on the street after recognizing him from the movie, and finding a friendship rather than rejection.
“He was a celebrity, but he was a good friend,” Brendan said.
Even with his family, friends and music all keeping him busy, Caruso still gave his time to serve the community he lived in.
“He really did like helping out,” said Ayana, his stepdaughter.
“Paul was a wonderful person, he served others. He would assist homeless people,” said Dash, another friend and fellow musician.
“We would do the food runs from Trader Joe’s for the homeless people,” said Gray. “He’d get a big van and we’d just drive around, picking up food.”
To the people who knew Caruso, he was a passionate, intelligent and humble person.
Jimmy Sims, another friend, said Caruso and Carol only recently married after having been together for years. Together, they fed the East Village’s homeless at different local spots over the years. Sims said Caruso would wear a cowboy hat when he played guitar on his stoop.
He is survived by his wife, Carol, his son, Avian, his two brothers, Phil and Tony, several stepchildren, grandchildren and many other family members.
“He was the most intelligent person I’ve ever known,” said his brother Phil. “Throughout his life there had always been a lack of contentment, but these last years were the greatest of his life.”