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The links on the upper left side of this page are primarily concerned with my music and career.

It features a biography, music samples, a section on my Dad, "The Silver Fox". The road section features information about recent or upcoming shows. There's a merchandise section, where you can buy CDs, and photos. There's also a full length video section, a guestbook area, and finally a weblog, which I try to update frequently.

I will also be addressing some of the questions that I'm often asked during my travels. So, with that in mind, enjoy the site and carry on...
$CRjr

The Silver Fox: Part 2

continued...

Behind Closed Doors

They stuck him into the studio with legendary country producer and "countrypolitan" founder Billy Sherril (Sherril had actually worked as an engineer on some of the later Sun sides). They took his piano away. They gave him songs that mixed country straight into Las Vegas lounge music, and got him to sing barfola like "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." But that one became a hit. And another one, "Behind Closed Doors" (a good one, actually) became an even bigger hit; a monster. Charlie had finally arrived. To be fair, even if Sherril had the artistic instincts of a two-by-four, he had the commercial instincts of a genius. By molding Charlie into a pop-country crooner, he neatly eliminated the conflicts and finally parleyed Charlie's talent into stardom, even if he had to bury that talent to do so. Stripped of his piano and stuffed in Nudie suits, he did the rounds of Vegas and the nightclubs. He ground out increasingly schlocky albums that buried the honest truths of his best later songs under layers of strings and clichés. He got a LOT more money, and a much bigger drinking habit. He distinguished himself by burning a winner's envelope at a country music awards show (probably the most human gesture of the evening). Critics who'd sat up and taken notice at the end of the 60's lost interest.

Nik Cohn (at least I think it was Cohn) ranked his as one of the five great musical geniuses of rock (the others were John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Phil Spector and P.J. Proby). Bob Dylan proclaimed Charlie his favorite singer (interestingly, it was Rich, not Dylan, that Sam Peckinpah had wanted for "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid." One hopes Charlie would have done a better acting job). Record execs still didn't know what to do with him. But Epic was getting some ideas. They stuck him into the studio with legendary country producer and "countrypolitan" founder Billy Sherril (Sherril had actually worked as an engineer on some of the later Sun sides). They took his piano away. They gave him songs that mixed country straight into Las Vegas lounge music, and got him to sing barfola like "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." But that one became a hit. And another one, "Behind Closed Doors" (a good one, actually) became an even bigger hit; a monster. Charlie had finally arrived. To be fair, even if Sherril had the artistic instincts of a two-by-four, he had the commercial instincts of a genius. By molding Charlie into a pop-country crooner, he neatly eliminated the conflicts and finally parleyed Charlie's talent into stardom, even if he had to bury that talent to do so. Stripped of his piano and stuffed in Nudie suits, he did the rounds of Vegas and the nightclubs. He ground out increasingly schlocky albums that buried the honest truths of his best later songs under layers of strings and clichés. He got a LOT more money, and a much bigger drinking habit. He distinguished himself by burning a winner's envelope at a country music awards show (probably the most human gesture of the evening). Critics who'd sat up and taken notice at the end of the 60's lost interest. He faded into lounge-lizard-hood. By the early 80's, the hits were a thing of the past. Oh, he still did all right. He had a legend to coast on, now. But Charlie finally turned himself around. He walked away from Vegas.

He went home. He dried out. He'd made a fortune, both in music and in shrewd business investments (a holding in the Wendy's hamburger chain). Close to ten years went by, and little was heard. Then, in 1993, he came out of hiding. Pictures and Paintings, his first album in a decade or more. It was a gem. This was the album he should have made 10 years earlier ... quiet, jazzy, late-night. More Mose Alison, or Ray Charles, than Elvis. As if to bring everything full circle, he recorded it at Sun studios in Memphis. It was as good an album as he'd ever made. And would ever make. He didn't tour, just stayed home. In June, 1995, he passed away. It made the back pages of the papers, but Jerry Garcia passed just a few days later. Even in death, he never quite got a break.

It's easy to cast this story as a story of failure. Talented young guy gets the crap beaten out of him by a music industry too small for his genius. Squanders his talent on dreck that's way beneath him. Dies just as he's finally found his voice again. It's easy in part because that's pretty much how the story was always painted. Peter Guralnick, in Lost Highway, etches a picture of a man caught between material success he's always longed for, and the fact that he's thrown away his artistic success to get it. He does not portray Charlie as a happy man. Playing one-nighters with pickup bands, drinking too much, afraid to say a word against his masters (Margaret-Ann was not so demure—she rips Billy Sherril a new asshole). Whether Charlie was really happy or not is impossible to say. Regardless of how Charlie felt about himself, there's no getting around the fact that he played the role of a loser in song better than nearly anyone else.

In songs like "Feel Like Going Home" and "Life's Little Ups and Downs" he sings in the voice of a man whose every dream has shattered. I always wonder if he ever heard Richard Thompson's "Beat the Retreat." It would have been a perfect one for him to cover. For that matter, it could stand as a perfect tribute (I doubt he ever heard it.)

Thompson may indeed have written it in the Rich spirit. It's an interesting idea). Certainly, no one ever played the wounded lover better than Charlie in "Another Place I Can't Go" (a truly wracked and beautiful song of loss—every time I meet another Charlie Rich fan, this is the song they most want to talk about).

When he tried to be funny, we got "Everything I Do Is Wrong," the sad/hilarious tale of a man with a bad luck streak a mile wide. And then there's "Midnight Blue," his toughest, most predatory song. Over a hard, ominous blues-rock backing, he mutters and growls of the joys and fears of the night life, how it takes him away from everything safe and secure, everything he thinks he loves, and still, he answers the call .... It's like the dark flip side of a Jerry Lee Lewis number.

Jerry Lee has always known he was courting hellfire ... his virtue was that he always sounded like he didn't give a damn.

Charlie, a gentler soul, sounds like he can hear those hellhounds on his trail, right behind him, and he knows exactly the price he must pay. It's a masterpiece. I don't know how Charlie Rich will be remembered. As a country singer? A lounge singer? Another of Sam Phillips pseudo-Elvises? To those who really know his music, he stands as an icon of iconoclasm ... impossible to pigeonhole, market, or classify. A blues singer? jazz singer? country singer? soul singer? All of those and more. He was a singer. A great one. The most beautiful loser of all.

By Alan Crandall

Still more stuff...

  1. Being taken seriously.
  2. How my father became a star.
  3. So, you wanna' be a country star?
  4. Who do you like better, Garth or Gershwin?
  5. You'll eat what you're served...
  6. The Media: Out with the old, in with the new.
  7. It's great exposure.

Thoughts on some of the people I've played with or known.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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