Playing with the Boston-based band the Prime Movers in the 1980s, Jeffrey Dean Sugarman traded his guitar for a bass and became the kind of dependable musician who helped hold bands together rhythmically and emotionally.
He shifted instruments when the band needed a bassist and in doing so “took something a lot of people would consider a chore and he made it his passion,” said Dick Tate, who played guitar in the Prime Movers with Mr. Sugarman and is now night manager at the Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge.
The results were impressive, said Tate, who called Mr. Sugarman “probably the most solid, consistent player I’ve ever come across.”
Mr. Sugarman, who became an account executive at First Data Corp., helping businesses switch to accepting credit cards, died June 21 in his Medford home. He was 49 and had been diagnosed a little more a year ago with glioblastoma brain cancer.
‘He had an ability, in an industry full of narcissists and egomaniacs, to portray warmth and good humor.’
Though the Prime Movers reunited several years ago and released a first full-length album while Mr. Sugarman was in his 40s, the band’s origins went back decades to when he and Tate first met on a Green Line subway car while both were attending Newton South High School.
Mr. Sugarman struck up a conversation with Tate and the two discussed their musical aspirations.
After graduating in 1982, they joined the Prime Movers, and Mr. Sugarman also began attending Northeastern University, so rehearsals and gigs often were built around that schedule.
Tate said Mr. Sugarman quickly became the one in the band who smoothed out personality clashes and took on a lot of the responsibilities of holding a group together.
“He got along with everybody,” Tate said. “He did not put on airs the way a lot of people did, and that was something the Boston rock scene in the 1980s lacked.”
Meanwhile, by practicing his new instrument nonstop, Mr. Sugarman came to be the musical center of the band.
“Jeff had a great tone and he was the heartbeat of the band,” said Tate, who praised “that rhythmic something under the music. It was a steady rhythmic thumping, it was on time, and in that regard, that was Jeff’s strongest attribute.”
Mr. Sugarman, he added, “had heart and he played with heart. . . . The bass on the Prime Movers’ performance was always there.”
Mr. Sugarman, who also played with the Slaves and the Strangemen bands, often bit his lower lip when he played, recalled his wife of 17 years, the former Wren Jareckie.
Other band members often stayed out late partying, but Mr. Sugarman was a pragmatist, family and friends said.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the mid-1980s and focused on his music career for a short time before cutting his long locks and taking a job with First Data Corp. in the 1990s.
The use of credit cards was not as universal, and Mr. Sugarman’s people skills came in handy as he persuaded businesses to accept them.
“Jeff Sugarman is a legend in our industry, first because he was in it for so long, and second because he was the best at what he did,” said longtime colleague Jeff Haughton. “He was just a pleasant guy to deal with.”
Mr. Sugarman had a way of putting people at ease, family and colleagues said.
“I think the thing about Jeff is he always took care of people,” his wife said. “He never left anyone hanging.”
Often working from home, Mr. Sugarman also spent many hours each week on State Street, seeing clients and attending meetings.
When he reported to work in person, “he wanted to be one of the smartest-looking devils on the block,” Haughton said, noting that Mr. Sugarman wore elegant suits and took a joking pride in having the silkiest gray hair.
Mr. Sugarman drew culturally from his rich connection to his Jewish roots, family and friends recalled, and he could tell stories and jokes in a torrent of words.
He worked right up until his death, and was thrilled to be able to attend the bar mitzvah of his son, Jake, this past spring, his wife said.
A service has been held for Mr. Sugarman, who in addition to his wife and son leaves his mother, Elaine, and his stepfather, Herb Kutzman of Chestnut Hill; his father, Matthew and his father’s partner Elaine Kantrowitz of Chestnut Hill ; and two brothers, Neal of Queens, N.Y., and Mark of Brooklyn, N.Y.
A few years ago, the Prime Movers decided to launch a reunion tour of Europe, and gathered for a recording session that resulted in the release of the band’s first album, about a quarter century after the musicians first joined together.
“We’re all middle-aged men, but he was still the most solid player, and had that same consistency,” Tate said.
In a 2007 Globe interview, Mr. Sugarman said the reunion “was much more for the pure enjoyment of playing than the pressure that we felt when we were younger.”
Still, he had always seemed to handle such pressure quite well, family and friends said.
“He had an ability, in an industry full of narcissists and egomaniacs, to portray warmth and good humor,” Tate said, “but yet, he still had a star charisma.”