Being taken seriously (or Big shoes to fill).
This is another one of those articles that I'm reluctant to even write, lest ye' think that I've got a chip on my shoulder. Still, if I don't write about it, who will? Natalie Cole, I don't think so, maybe Hank Jr., well no he's gotten beyond the stigma of being compared to his father. You're stuck with me.
How it all began...
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I lived in Arkansas. I fished, played football, had a pretty normal life growing up. My father was a musician. We weren't rich (no pun intended), but we did own a piano. It was very taboo for us to play my father's piano. It was a work tool. Well, I did it anyway. I mean how much football and fishing can a guy take. They didn't have video games in those days, and I was bored. Long story short, I snuck into the garage where the piano was kept and taught myself how to play keyboard. I got pretty good at it, so I thought "what the heck, I can sing too", so I did. From the very first time I played I was writing. Learning popular songs by others held very little appeal for me, so I became a writer.
I managed to record some things on an old tape recorder that we had in the garage. Again, that was very taboo, as it was also one of my Dad's "work tools". In a risky fit of boldness, I did it anyway. One day I managed the nerve to play it for my mother, who played it for my father. They didn't kill me, so I suppose it must have been all right. My mom even sent it to a record producer. He said it showed promise, but he also said I wasn't quite ready yet. The "yet" part gave me encouragement, but I pretty much forgot about becoming the next Elvis.
Somehow the tape got placed in my dad's car. When he was on a trip to Nashville, he and a fellow musician named Henry Strezlicki went out to grab a bite to eat. I think Dad was in Nashville to do some recording. Anyway, Henry asked if he could have the tape and my Dad said okay. I'm not real clear on the details, but somehow it made it's way to a fellow named Don Ellis. Don was a vice president with Epic Records. He didn't do country, just rock. He was based in New York City. Don heard the tape and loved it. As fate would have it, Don was traveling to Louisiana to talk to a band he had just signed. While at the airport in Little Rock, he called our house and asked for me. My mother said, "are you sure you don't mean Charlie SR?" He said "no, I'm quite sure I want to speak with Allan Rich." That's the name I went by then. I won't bore you with that story right now.
Let's make a deal
Well that was the day that changed my life. I no longer had dreams of being a professional football player. Don signed me to a record deal that day. It was awesome, just like in the movies. He knew and loved all the songs I had written and recorded on that one little tape. In the next couple of months Don would go on to sign Danny Fogelberg, John Hyatt, and Dave Loggins. He's also the guy that signed Minnie Ripperton and countless other acts for CBS/Epic.
The point I'm coming to in all this is that I have experienced the joy of people liking me for me. Not because my Dad was a big star, because he wasn't a big star in those days. In fact, this was a couple of years before "Behind Closed Doors" would launch my father into superstardom, and unfortunately turn me into "Charlie's son". I'm very proud of my father's accomplishments in music, but it complicated attempts to have my own music be taken seriously. Hank Jr. went through the same thing. Luckily, he finally got "the" big break.
When you assume...
People just assume that I got my record deal because my Dad was a big star. It just isn't true. I now understand why they would think that, but I got that deal on my talent, not on "his" talent or pull. Frankly, at that point in time, he had no pull. It took me the better part of a year to record that first album. Shortly after that, and right before my album was to be released, "Behind Closed Doors" came out, and made my father a star. I'm not saying that I would be star if that hadn't happened, but I can say with certainty that it clouded the waters. Epic didn't want to muddy up the promotion, and frankly, I think it hurt the efforts to promote my album. Well, what's done is done.
On being taken seriously.
All I've ever asked is to be taken seriously on my own terms. That's not a lot to ask. I realize it's next to impossible, but being Charlie SR's son is not the sum of my musical achievements. It's a bit of an awkward thing I'm trying to explain because I'm very honored and proud to have had him as a father, but that's not anything that I did. I think every man and woman wants to be recognized for the work they have done. I can't take, nor should I be given any credit for fate.
I moved to the West Coast to record another album, but for CBS this time. By that point my Dad was a household name. Also, the entire group of people that signed me and was supposed to promote my album, were hired by another label. Don Ellis, and his 2 assistants, as well as the promotion man in charge of my record. Oh well, I don't have to tell you that the writing was on the wall. They dropped me when the album didn't sell. It never had a chance. It wasn't promoted.
I'm not bitter about what happened. No one was happier about my father's success than me. Still, it has made it far more difficult than I could have imagined to get any type of recognition for what I've worked so hard for all my life. I stayed on the west coast for several years, working more behind the scenes. Singing backup with Smokey Robinson, being Freddy Fender's bandleader, producing other artists. Now I'm back in Nashville. I don't know what the future holds, but I'm still in there plowing ahead. Maybe I'll get a break, and maybe I won't. All I ask is that you take me, or better yet my music seriously. I think I deserve that. I think anyone that puts over 30 years of life into something deserves that.
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 Jiminez
- Augie Meyers
- Doug Sahm
- Jerry Lee Lewis