Charlie Rich
Rich in 1973
Rich in 1973
Background information
Birth nameCharles Allan Rich
Born(1932-12-14)December 14, 1932
Colt, Arkansas, U.S.
DiedJuly 25, 1995(1995-07-25) (aged 62)
Hammond, Louisiana, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, piano, guitar
Years active1958–1995
LabelsSun, Phillips, Groove / RCA, Smash Records, Hi Records, Epic, UA, Elektra, Sire
WebsiteCharlieRich.com

Charles Allan Rich (December 14, 1932 – July 25, 1995) was an American country music singer, songwriter, and musician.[1] His eclectic style of music was often difficult to classify, encompassing the rockabilly, jazz, blues, country, soul, and gospel genres.[2]

In the later part of his life, Rich acquired the nickname the Silver Fox. He is perhaps best remembered for a pair of 1973 hits, "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl," which topped the U.S. country singles charts as well as the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles charts and earned him two Grammy Awards. Rich was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Early life

Rich was born in Colt, Arkansas, to rural cotton farmers.[1] He graduated from Consolidated High School in Forrest City, where he played saxophone in the band. He was strongly influenced by his parents, who were members of the Landmark Missionary Baptist Church; his mother, Helen Rich, played piano in church and his father sang in gospel quartets. A black sharecropper on the family land named C. J. Allen taught Rich blues piano. He enrolled at Arkansas State College on a football scholarship and then after an injury, transferred to the University of Arkansas as a music major. He left after one semester to join the United States Air Force in 1953.[1]

He married Margaret Ann Greene in 1952. While stationed in Enid, Oklahoma, he formed "the Velvetones", playing jazz and blues and featuring his wife on vocals.[2] When he left the military in 1956, the couple returned to the West Memphis area to farm 500 acres. He also began performing in clubs around the Memphis area, playing both jazz and R&B, and began writing his own material.

Career

After recording some demonstration songs for Sam Phillips at Sun Records that Phillips considered "too jazzy" and insufficiently commercial, Rich was given a stack of Jerry Lee Lewis records and told: "Come back when you get that bad."[1] In a 1992 interview with Fresh Air host Terry Gross, Rich himself recalled Bill Justis telling Rich's wife those words.[3]

In 1958, Rich became a regular session musician for Sun Records, playing on a variety of records by Lewis, Johnny Cash, Bill Justis, Warren Smith, Billy Lee Riley, Carl Mann, and Ray Smith.[1] He also wrote several songs for Lewis, Cash, and others.[1]

After he began recording for the Sun subsidiary Phillips International Records, his third single was the 1960 Top 30 hit "Lonely Weekends",[1] with Presley-like vocals. It sold more than one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America.[2] None of his seven follow-up singles was a success, however, though several of the songs became staples in his live set, including "Who Will the Next Fool Be", "Sittin' and Thinkin'", and "No Headstone on My Grave".[1] These songs were often recorded by others to varying degrees of success, such as the Bobby Bland version of "Who Will the Next Fool Be".

"Rich's jazzy chops and heartfelt polish transform Nashville's best chicken fat into high-quality mainstream pop—Arkansas's answer to Nat Cole. Cole was better at it, but I prefer Rich's homely subject matter and rock and roll roots."

Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)[4]

Rich's career then stalled and he left the struggling Sun label in 1963, signing with Groove, a subsidiary of RCA Victor.[1] His first single for Groove, "Big Boss Man", was a minor hit, but once again, his Chet Atkins-produced follow-up records all failed. In 1965 he moved to Smash Records, where his new producer, Jerry Kennedy, encouraged him to emphasize his country and rock n' roll leanings, although Rich considered himself a jazz pianist and had not paid much attention to country music since childhood.[1] His first single for Smash was "Mohair Sam", an R&B-inflected novelty-rock number written by Dallas Frazier, which became a top 30 pop hit. However, once more none of his follow-up singles were successful. Rich again changed labels, moving to Hi Records, where he recorded blue-eyed soul music and straight country, but once more, none of his singles for Hi made a dent on the country or pop charts. One Hi Records track, "Love Is After Me" (1966), belatedly became a white soul favorite in the early 1970s.[citation needed]

Career peak in the 1970s

Despite his lack of consistent commercial success, Epic Records signed Rich in 1967, mainly on the recommendation of producer Billy Sherrill.[1] Sherrill helped Rich refashion himself as a Nashville Sound balladeer during an era when old rock 'n' roll artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty were finding a new musical home in the country and western format. This new "countrypolitan" Rich sound paid off in the summer of 1972, when "I Take It on Home" went to number six on the country charts.[1] The title track from his 1973 album Behind Closed Doors became a number-one country hit early in that year, then crossed over into the top 20 on the pop charts.[1] This time, his follow-up single did not disappoint, as "The Most Beautiful Girl" spent three weeks at the top of the country charts and two weeks at the top of the pop charts.[1] Now that he was established as a country music star, Behind Closed Doors won three awards from the Country Music Association that year: Best Male Vocalist, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year. The album was also certified gold. Rich won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and he took home four Academy of Country Music awards. One of RCA Victor's several resident songwriters, Marvin Walters, co-wrote for three years with Rich, producing four recordings including the popular "Set Me Free".[citation needed]

After "The Most Beautiful Girl," number-one hits came quickly, five songs topping the country charts in 1974 and crossed over to the pop charts:[1] "There Won't Be Anymore" (pop number 18), "A Very Special Love Song" (pop number 11), "I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore" (pop number 47), "I Love My Friend" (pop number 24), and "She Called Me Baby" (pop number 47). Both RCA Records and Mercury Records (Smash was a subsidiary of Mercury that was absorbed into the main company in 1970) also re-released his previously recorded material from the mid-1960s. All of this success led the CMA to name him Entertainer of the Year in 1974.[citation needed] In the same year he performed the Academy Award-nominated theme song "I Feel Love (Benji's Theme)" from the film Benji. Rich had three more top-five hits in 1975, but though he was at the peak of his popularity, he began to drink heavily, causing considerable problems off-stage.[citation needed]

CMA awards 1975

Rich's problematic drinking famously culminated at the CMA awards ceremony for 1975,[1] when he presented the award for Entertainer of the Year while visibly intoxicated.[5] After stumbling through the names of the nominees, he clumsily tore open the envelope, took out a cigarette lighter, and lit on fire the paper with the winner's name.[1] He then announced the winner of the award as "My friend Mr. John Denver".[6] Some considered it an act of rebellion against the Music Row-controlled Nashville Sound; others speculated that it was a protest against the award going to Denver, whose music Rich had considered too "pop" and not enough "country".[5] Many, including industry insiders, were outraged, and Rich's popularity took a dive.[1]

In a 2016 interview, former CMA Executive Director Jo Walker-Meador speculated that Rich's drunkenness may have been in part due to resentment over his being shut out of the nominations that year, after his success at the 1974 awards. His son Charlie, Jr., says on his website:

I'll tell you why I thought he did it. #1 He thought it would be funny. He set it up by talking about how the potential winners were probably nervous, as he had been the previous year. #2 Bad judgement. He had recently broken his foot in a freak accident at his home in Memphis. ... 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 got him buzzed. ... Primarily he thought it would be funny. 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.[5]

The slump in Rich's career was exacerbated by the fact that his records began to sound increasingly similar: pop-inflected country ballads with overdubbed strings and little jazz or blues. He did not have a top-10 hit again until "Rollin' With the Flow" went to number one on the country charts (as well as number 32 on the easy listening charts) in 1977.[1] Early the following year, in 1978, he signed with United Artists Records, and throughout that year, he had hits on both Epic and UA. His hits in 1978 included the top-10 hits "Beautiful Woman", "Puttin' In Overtime At Home", and his last number one with "On My Knees", a duet with Janie Fricke.[1]

Decline in activity and semi-retirement

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In 1979, Rich had moderate success with his singles, his biggest hit being a version of "Spanish Eyes" that entered the country top 20. He appeared as himself in the 1978 Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way but Loose, performing "I'll Wake You Up When I Get Home".[1] This song hit number three on the charts in 1979 and was the last top-10 single of his career. In 1980, he switched labels again to Elektra Records and that fall released a number-12 single, "A Man Just Don't Know What a Woman Goes Through". One more top-40 hit followed, the Gary Stewart song "Are We Dreamin' the Same Dream" early in 1981, but Rich decided to remove himself from the spotlight. For over a decade, he lived off his investments in semi-retirement, only playing occasional concerts. In 1981, he had a bit part in the movie Take This Job and Shove It, which yielded his last charted single, "You Made It Beautiful".

In 1992, Rich emerged from his semi-retirement to release on Sire Records Pictures and Paintings, a jazzy album produced by journalist Peter Guralnick.[1] It received positive critical reviews and restored Rich's reputation as a musician, but it was his last album. In 2016, a tribute album entitled Feel Like Going Home: The Songs of Charlie Rich was released by Memphis International Records. Tom Waits, who was an opening act for Rich in the 1970s, mentions him in the song "Putnam County" from his album Nighthawks at the Diner with the lyric: "The radio's spitting out Charlie Rich... He sure can sing, that son of a bitch."

Death

Charlie Rich and his wife were driving to Florida for a vacation after seeing their son Allan perform with Freddy Fender at Lady Luck Casino in Natchez, Mississippi, when he experienced a bout of severe coughing.[7] After visiting a doctor in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and receiving antibiotics, he continued traveling. They stopped for the night in a motel in Hammond, Louisiana, where Rich died in his sleep on July 25, 1995, at age 62.[8] The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.[1] He was buried in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.[9]

Rich was survived by his wife, two sons, two daughters and three grandchildren. Margaret Rich died in Germantown, Tennessee, on July 22, 2010, and was buried alongside her husband.[10]

Discography

Main article: Charlie Rich discography

Awards

Academy of Country Music

American Music Awards

Country Music Association

Grammy Awards

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 1010/1. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ a b c Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 128. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  3. ^ "Charlie Rich: The Silver Fox With A Big Country Sound". Npr.org. September 6, 2010. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  4. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: R". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 10, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  5. ^ a b c "The Envelope Burning". Charlie Rich Jr. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  6. ^ Prachi Gupta (June 13, 2014). "Today in '70s nostalgia: Watch Charlie Rich burn John Denver at the 1975 CMAs". Salon.com. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  7. ^ "SOULFUL SILVER FOX – Sun original, country innovator dies". Memphis Commercial Appeal. July 26, 1995.
  8. ^ Stephen Holden (July 26, 1995). "Charlie Rich, 62, 'Silver Fox,' Country Singer and Songwriter". The New York Times.
  9. ^ "Charlie Rich (1932–1995) – Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  10. ^ "MARGARET ANN RICH Obituary (2010) The Commercial Appeal". Legacy.com. Retrieved August 9, 2021.

Other sources

Further reading