Singer / pianist / songwriter
Borrn Charles Alan Rich, 14 December 1932, Colt, Arkansas
With nine country number ones to his credit, it is understandable that Charlie Rich is primarily remembered as a country singer. But that label doesn't do him justice. Rich is probably the most eclectic musician ever to be called country. Jazz was always his preferred genre, but his success came first with rock n roll, then - fleetingly - with white R&B and finally with countrypolitan country music.
Rich grew up on a farm in Colt, Arkansas, in a musical and religious family. His mother taught him to play the piano. Charlie developed an early love of blues and gospel singing as well as jazz piano, Stan Kenton being a particular favourite. During his enlistment in the air force, Rich played on- and off-base in a group called the Velvetones, featuring his wife, Margaret Ann, on lead vocals. Back in Arkansas, he worked on his father's cotton farm for some time, but farming was not to his taste. He'd rather play jazz in local clubs, but didn't believe he could make a living in music, with a wife and three kids to support.
Feeling that her husband would be happier playing music, Margaret Ann sent a tape of Charlie's songs to Bill Justis at Sun and that's how it all began. Justis introduced Charlie to Sam Phillips, who recognized Rich's talent, but gave him some Jerry Lee Lewis records and told him "Come back when you get that bad". He was a good student and was signed by Sun Records in late 1957, first as a songwriter and session pianist. Among the songs he wrote for his fellow Sun artists are "The Ways Of A Woman In Love" (Johnny Cash), "Break-Up" & "I'll Make It All Up To You" (Jerry Lee Lewis), "Right Behind You Baby" (Ray Smith) and "I'm Coming Home" (Carl Mann, later recorded by Elvis). Having studied music at the University of Arkansas in 1952-53, Rich was the most skilled musician at Sun. While continuing as a writer and member of Sun's house band, Charlie Rich also developed a career as a singer. He is a gifted and sophisticated vocalist with a soulful voice of remarkable range and feeling. Except for an instrumental single under the pseudonym Bobby Sheridan ("Red Man"/"Sad News", Sun 354), all his Sun recordings came out on Phillips International. "Whirlwind"/ "Philadelphia Baby" was the first single (October 1958), followed by the equally good "Rebound"/"Big Man". But it was the third single, "Lonely Weekends", that established him as a performer in his own right. The Presley-ish rocker peaked at # 22 on the Billboard charts in the spring of 1960. In spite of some excellent records like "Who Will the Next Fool Be" (perhaps his most outstanding song) and "Sittin' and Thinkin'", there were no further hits on Phillips International, in part because his music was impossible to pigeonhole.
Rich left Sun in 1962 and signed with RCA's reactivated Groove label the next year. Under the supervision of Chet Atkins he cut eight non-charting singles including "Big Boss Man" and several bluesy country items ("There Won't Be Anymore", "I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore") that were later overdubbed and successfully reissued. In 1965 he moved to Smash / Mercury and scored another Top 30 hit (# 21) with "Mohair Sam" (written by Dallas Frazier), but once again he couldn't find a follow-up. Interviewed by Peter Guralnick, Rich described his period with Jerry Kennedy at Smash as the most satisfying, from a musical point of view.
A stint with Hi Records in 1966-67 brought no success at all and then, in December 1967, Charlie signed with Epic Records in Nashville, working under the direction of Billy Sherrill, who steered him in the direction of countrypolitan, an easy-listening country style that appealed to an MOR market. After five commercially arid years, Rich finally broke through. First with "I Take It On Home" (# 6 country, 1972), then with "Behind Closed Doors" (# 1 country, # 15 pop), culminating with "The Most Beatiful Girl" (# 1 pop and country, late 1973). The latter two were big international hits, earned him a Grammy and the Country Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year award in 1974. Also, the "Behind Closed Doors" LP (his highest charting album, # 8) won the CMA award for Album of the year. By this time he was nicknamed "The Silver Fox" ; before he turned 40, his hair was already completely white.
In the wake of Rich's success at Epic, RCA began reissuing old recordings from the Groove period and three of these singles also went # 1 country in 1974. The pop hits stopped after 1976, but his success on the country charts continued until 1981, on Epic, United Artists and Elektra. His last country chart topper was "On My Knees", a duet with Janie Fricke (1978). Rich's attitude toward his success and his material was ambivalent. There were times when he seemed uncomfortable with success and occasionally exhibited bizarre behaviour, such as setting fire to the envelope that announced that John Denver had won the Entertainer of the Year Award at the nationally televised 1975 CMA Awards ceremony.
In 1981 Charlie went into semi-retirement in Memphis, trying to beat his alcohol addiction. He made an impressive comeback in 1992 with the jazzy album "Pictures and Paintings" on Sire (produced by Peter Guralnick), the highlight being a recut of "Feel Like Going Home". Sadly it was to be his last record, as he died from a blood cot in his lung while travelling to see his son in Florida. He was found dead at a motel in Hammond, Louisiana, on July 25, 1995, aged 62.
More info : - http://www.geocities.ws/clackumscorner/ - http://www.rockabillyhall.com/CharlieRich1.html (By Shaun Mather) - Official website : http://www.charlierich.com/
Further reading : Charlie Rich : Lonely Weekends. This is Chapter 10 in Peter Guralnick's book "Feel Like Going Home" (1971), page 196-213.
Discography / sessionography :
Rebound / Big Man :
Lonely Weekends :
Who Will the Next Fool Be :
Sittin' and Thinkin' :
Red Man / Sad News :
Mohair Sam (live) :
Life's Little Ups and Downs :
Behind Closed Doors (live) :
The Most Beautiful Girl (live) :
Feel Like Going Home :
Dik, February 2013
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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