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Fans of the local country music band Killer Hayseeds could count on bassist Ross Florand to do more than just hold down the rhythm and set the groove. He loved connecting with the crowd, making sure they were having as much fun as he was.

"He was more concerned with making eye contact than playing the part exactly the way it was supposed to be played," said longtime friend and Hayseeds bandmate Darin Essery. "That's the way people remember his image: He's dancing around, moving his hips, big smile on his face, and chomping on that gum. He'd give a wink to anyone he happened to make eye contact with."

Florand died Thursday of congestive heart failure. He was 58.

As news of Florand's death spread, country music stations in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud paid tribute with songs. The Killer Hayseeds, which play original and popular country tunes, mostly toured within 300 miles of the Twin Cities in Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota. In 2007, the band was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.

Florand, of Stacy, Minn, was a self-taught musician, and also worked as the band's manager. With the help of his wife, Jan, he was able to work full time as a musician.

"They say behind every successful musician is a spouse with a good job and benefits," she said playfully. "Seriously, we were blessed."

Florand had a heart attack when he was 39 and had undergone two bypass surgeries.

"It was like the good Lord said, 'I'm going to take you before your time, but I'm going to let you concentrate on your music and enjoy it while you're here,'" said Essery, a singer and fiddler who met Florand about 20 years ago.

Essery's band was looking for a new bassist, and Florand was game -- so long as they changed the name. Thus was born the Killer Hayseeds.

Along with his wife, Jan, Florand is survived by his children, Nikki and Connor. A visitation will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at Maranatha Assembly of Good Church in Forest Lake. A funeral will follow.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335