The Envelope Burning
One of the questions I'm most asked is in regard to my father burning "John Denver's" envelope at the CMA Awards. The "envelope incident" is either loved or hated, depending on your point of view. Many John Denver fans thought it was a tacky thing to do. Then you have those that think it was the greatest pro-traditionalist country stance ever. Let's back up for a moment and I'll try to explain what I think it was all about.
For those of you that assume Charlie thought John wasn't country enough, I'm sorry but you're wrong. If you feel that way fine, but that wasn't my father's point of view. Anybody that knows anything at all about the history of my father will know that it simply wasn't in his mind set to judge someone for not being "country enough", "blues enough", "rock enough", or "anything enough". It went against everything he believed in. He started out as a rockabilly, then did R&B for several years, then he migrated to Jazz, and finally to country. For years people said my father wasn't country enough. In fact, a few well known country artists at the time tried to start their own awards show (separate from the CMA), primarily because they thought "Behind Closed Doors" and Charlie Rich just weren't traditional country. I personally consider that musical bigotry, and my father didn't take part in that kind of judgementalism. What are people really saying when they something isn't country enough? I like what Kenny Rogers said: "country music is whatever country people listen to". I couldn't agree more. I love Shania, Vince, and Charlie Rich. You couldn't really call any of them a die hard honky tonk red neck. Neither was Eddie Arnold, Ronnie Milsap, Eddie Rabbit, or any number of country superstars. So, let me make it clear, I don't believe my father burned that envelope because of that.
He also didn't burn it because he disliked John Denver. I never heard him utter one bad word against any musician or singer. In John Denver's case, Dad told me that he liked him. I think the saddest thing that came out of the whole affair was that people thought it was an anti-John Denver thing when it wasn't. Dad had met John before and liked him, in fact he said the award goes to my good buddy John Denver. Those are the words he used. Then of course he lit the envelope and the rumours started flying.
Okay then, why did he do it? I'll tell you why I thought he did it.
- #1 HE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE CUTE. FUNNY EVEN.
- #2 BAD JUDGEMENT. He had recently broken his foot in a freak accident at his home in Memphis. It sounds funny, but he got his foot caught in an awkward position while getting out of a reclining chair. He cracked several bones in his foot. So...
- Due to the pain, he took pain medication the night of the show: BAD IDEA!
- Secondly, he and another country star got to drinking Gin and Tonics while waiting in the dressing room. The show was long, so by the time Dad was supposed to go on, the drinks on top of the medication did their work.
- Aside from the foot thing, Dad was burnt out on the "business" of music. Not music, but the pencil pushing unfairness of the industry valuing profit at the expense of artistic integrity. Just so you know, this is not my opinion, but something we had talked about often. Many will tell you that my father was ready to get out of the music business even before he made it big. The years on the road, the honky tonks, the politics of the business had already taken a toll on him. He loved music, but hated the music business.
- He also didn't like the whole concept of competition in music, so the awards shows were never really his cup of tea. He used to tell me, "It's an art, not a sport". I'm sure he wouldn't have appreciated today's "American Idol" and "You Can Be A Star", as it's basic premise is flawed. The criteria is patently unfair, i.e., you can't be over 24. What' up with that? It's what I call the "Star Search" approach to singing. How long and loud can you hold a note. I'm sorry, but that's the height of amateurism. Who cares how long you can hold a note, can you sing? Can you impart the meaning of a song?
In summary, I think Dad just didn't think such a big deal would be made of it. I don't think he thought that people would think it was anything other than a joke. Having said that, the influence of combining pain medication (which, by the way, he was under doctor's orders to do) and alcohol can't be underestimated. So maybe he used bad judgement. Well, he was human after all. I know the last thing my father would have wanted to do was set himself up as judge of another musician. He felt badly that people thought it was a statement against John Denver.
I've never told anyone this, but a few months after all this happened, my mother and father were in Aspen, Colorado. My father made a special trip to try and go visit John Denver. He drove up to his place because he wanted to explain what happened. Unfortunately, John wasn't there at the time, so that opportunity was missed. I honestly don't know if he ever got in touch with him or not, but I know he tried to on that occasion. So now you know. I've had a lot of people tell me they thought it was the coolest thing that ever happened. I've been reluctant to post what I know about it, but I think the truth of the situation is important for people to know.
I think my father's gotten a bad rap on this one. Country music should be proud to have someone with such a rich musical legacy as Charlie Rich. I think he was the greatest country vocalist, pianist, and artist of all time, in fact it's not even close when judged fairly by classic musical criteria.
Just this past year (2008) I was contacted by the Country Music Hall of Fame. My father is now a part of an exhibit that chronicles the Country Music Stars of the 70s. My family and I are very thankful that this has happened and would like to thank the CMA for this. As an aside, I lost the use of my favorite Silver Fox jacket in the deal, but the fans are more than worth that small personal sacrifice. It's funny because just the week before they contacted me—I was telling Connie Smith that if I ever lost that I would probably be unemployed. :) Well fortunately that hasn't happened yet.
I've added a line-through the following text due to this turn of events. Credit where due. Thanks CMA.
It would appear that the Country Music Hall of Fame has forgotten my father's contribution to country music. Many say he was black-balled due to the envelope incident. That despite the fact that he nearly single handedly brought country music to a whole new world of listeners from 1973 to 1980. A lot of people in our industry profited, either directly or indirectly, by my father's success. His appeal went beyond country. Many of his songs and albums reached the #1 Spot on Billboard's Pop, Country, and Easy Listening Charts. He elevated country music by appealing to a much wider audience than any country artist before him. Charlie Rich was the largest grossing country act in the 70s, period. His contribution to country music is of major importance. Unfortunately, if you go to the Country Music Hall of Fame, you won't find one single display about him, not one. That's just wrong. It's not unlike the old Pharaohs of Egypt, who used to destroy the monuments of their predecessors to try and minimize their achievements. It's really ludicrous. Since his passing in 1995, I've had literally hundreds of fans ask me why he hasn't been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Still more stuff...
- Being taken seriously.
- How my father became a star.
- So, you wanna' be a country star?
- Who do you like better, Garth or Gershwin?
- You'll eat what you're served...
- The Media: Out with the old, in with the new.
- It's great exposure.
Thoughts on some of the people I've played with or known.
- Charlie Rich
- Freddy Fender
- Smokey Robinson
- Jo-El Sonnier
- Randy Meisner
- Billy Swan
- Flaco Jimenez
- Augie Meyers
- Doug Sahm
- Jerry Lee Lewis
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