Multi-talented S.C. musician Rick Strickland is a one-man band. To say he’s a prolific songwriter just hints at his lyrical stamina. His soulful stylings are out of this world and and – with a four-octave range – his vocals reach even further. Add to that technical savvy, masterful guitar work and a producer’s ear, and you have an inkling of what Rick brings. He can do it all, and he usually does.
That said, this new recording is a departure. It showcases the entire Rick Strickland Band. Titled
Hangin’ Out, the brand new 12-track album (released on April 20) is a collaboration of the entire group, and Rick Strickland is very much the proud papa.
“The idea was for everybody to have their fingerprints all over this. I didn’t want to get in the studio and tell them what I wanted to hear. I just gave them little acoustic guitar/voice demos and said, ‘There, do what you want with it.’ And they stepped up with ideas I would never have even thought of.
“For ‘I’d Rather Be Your Friend,’ the big ballad, my original thought was to have the band in the whole song. But Lesa suggested starting with just the guitar, then bringing her in and then the rest to build. It really makes the song.”
Lead vocalist and keyboard player Lesa Hudson, a songwriter in her own right, is also responsible for some distinctive orchestration on “I’d Rather Be Your Friend.”
Rick explains, “We’re holding these two chords and she kind of does these classical rolls through them that provide the song the tension and release that makes it interesting … Lesa has a million great moments on the CD.”
Lead vocalist and keyboard player Lesa Hudson adds, “For me, I love the harmony and Rick’s take on the harmony arrangement.”
Harmony is key to the Rick Strickland Band, both in an out of the studio. “This experience was all about the group,” Lesa continues. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t just Rick’s project, it was all about everybody.
“What sticks with me is the whole process … the talent, the people. This is my seventh CD, but the first I’ve recorded with live musicians … It really comes through in the recording.”
This is definitely a cohesive, single-minded band, but there’s room for individuals to shine, and shine they do.
Says Rick, “Don [Hamrick] really shows his butt through the whole thing, and being a drummer myself, I love it. On ‘I’d Rather Be Your Friend,’ his first entrance is the second verse, and he’s barely playing on the rim of the snare drum and just before bringing the snare in on the precourse (where 99% of dummers would do a bombastic drum fill on the toms), he instead just lightly touches on the head of the snare drum before bringing it in officially. It’s so artful and restrained.”
“Alive Til 95” is a kick-ass soul tune with lead vocals by bass player Debbie Anderson and Rick.
“I had a band called the Citizens back in ‘85. This was written for them, but I thought it was be great for Debbie to sing, and she nailed it! I had never heard her sing lead until we got into the studio … and she can nail it! To see our Cupcake sing like Mavis Staples …” Rick’s voice trails off here. He’s genuinely proud of his band mate.
That’s a running theme of our conversation, as he recounts the studio sessions, which, by the way, were executed in about three days.
“‘Gonna Come a Day’ is a sassy duet with Lesa Hudson and Rick Strickland on lead vocals.
“Lesa and I wrote that in the car on our way somewhere, to a gig, I think. We got most of it down on the way and finished the lyrics on the way back. It’s another really good example of Don’s brilliance.”
The admiration here is mutual. “It’s an honor for me to be in this band,” says drummer Don Hamrick. Words almost escape him as he tells me about the recording sessions.
“The collaboration in the studio … the intent … the chemistry … The ideas we had just meshed like a dream come true. I’ve had recordings where you spend weeks working with a click track, but this … this is real. This is us playing. What we did in the studio is exactly when we do onstage.
“Sometimes you can lose the chemistry when you try to make it too perfect … We rehearsed, but we allowed the chemistry to come through. For ‘Let’s Take Our Time,’ I was playing cajón. I thought it was a run through, but when we listened, it was right on the money.
“It’s a wonderful experience to record that quickly and still have the quality.”
Chatting with Debbie Anderson, it strikes me as ironic that the woman who can ‘sing like Mavis Staples’ is so soft spoken and shy even. She tells me that this is her first time recording instrumentation, that she’s an understated bass player; she keeps the tempo, keeps the pace. But then suddenly, she makes me laugh out loud.
“I started playing bass when my church needed a bass player,” she says. “So I put on some Lynyrd Skynyrd and taught myself.” Goes to show, you should never underestimate the shy ones.
Listen closely to “Hey What You Say.” Debbie came up with a subtle bass line that adds a lot to the song.
Keyboard player Art Benton is a session veteran. “I’ve been doing studio work sing the 60s, and it was amazing to see how this group with little studio experience ripped through everything.”
I wondered if he had a favorite tune on the Hangin’ Out CD.
“Maybe ‘Little Diva.’ Technically speaking it’s got vocals, piano part, drum track, flute, syncopated piano part all going on at once. I love it.
“It’s great to work with a drummer who can hold his meter and be colorful at the same time.”
CD credits: Rick Strickland (lead and background vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, producer, mixing); Art Benton (keyboards and accordian); Debbie Anderson (lead and background vocals); Lesa Hudson (lead and background vocals, keyboards); Don Hamrick (drums and percussion); Kevin Smith (engineer); Six+1 Studios (recording); Songwriting: All songs written by Rick Strickland except “Gonna Come a Day,” written by Rick Strickland and Lesa Hudson. CD cover design Lesa Hudson. CD cover photography Jim Allen.