Is there a recording artist who makes you smile every time you hear him on the radio … or whose song you have to stay in the car and listen to even though it’s on your iPod and in the CD player?
For me, Rick Strickland is that artist. So today is another great day because I get to listen to Rick’s latest CD and then talk to him about what I’ve just heard. I have been a fan since his Something Smooth (2005) days and he never lets me down. The new 12-track solo recording is titled Rhythm + Romance (we’ll talk about the title in a minute). It’s full of Rick’s signature four-octave range vocals, perfect harmonies, simple sophisticated songwriting and luscious instrumentation.
In other words, it’s classic Rick Strickland – a mix of brand new tunes and some that have been on the back burner for 30-plus years.
The opening track, “Over and Over,” is one of the new ones, completed just a few months ago. According to Rick, it’s getting great response during club dates.
Track two is “Something’s Gotta Give,” and it features a smokin’ alto sax solo by Butch Barnes of Murrell’s Inlet-based Sea-Cruz. “I think Rick is an incredible writer, artist and performer,” says Butch. “I love everything he’s done on this CD. To me, he’s just one of the best.”
It’s always interesting to hear how a tune is born, and this one is no exception. “It was 1985, I was in a band called the Citizens and we were playing St. Croix for a week. One morning as sat at the window listening to the street sounds and steel drum bands, I saw these two Rastafarian kids in the yard, and they were going back and forth about something, not getting along. Finally, one just stops and says to the other, ‘Hey, somethin’ got to give, mon,’ and I wrote this song. It turned out funky, not reggae, but that’s where it came from.”
“Shing Yo Ling” is up next, an “out-of-the-box” hit, that uses suggestive nonsense phrases as skillfully as anyone ever has.
Jumping ahead, track five is “Just So You Know,” a ballad that really showcases Rick’s vocals, which have a sweet raw quality for this one. I think it’ll fill the dance floor.
“Two Faces,” which is track six, is my fave, at least for now. I love the lyrics and the fast-paced vocals. The song really takes someone to task (actually, two people, I’ve come to find out), first for being the ungrateful, short-memoried nouveau riche and second for back-stabbing and trouble-making. Talking to Rick on the phone about it, I could hear Lesa Hudson in the background laughing, “Moral of story: never cross a songwriter.”
Lesa’s a hoot.
Lesa and Rick fans will be happy to know there’s another duet on this album, too. “Got to Be With You” is a lively tune that puts their chemistry and showmanship right up front. It’s a lot of fun, and sounds like a tush push to me.
Throughout the recording, Rick’s lyrics tell a story, but they’re pretty simple and straightforward. “I read a quote by John Lennon a long time ago,” he explains. “It goes, ‘Just say what you’ve got to say and put it to a backbeat,’ and that’s pretty much how I feel. I don’t want to belabor a point.”
Rick gave me some backstory on “Whatever You Do” that I didn’t know.
“I owe a big debt of gratitude to Curtis Carpenter for this. It was back in 1991. Curtis wrote an article for Headliners In Review magazine. He compared my work to Brian Wilson and Hall & Oates, and went on to say that he felt it should be Song of the Year. I got lots of session work right after that.
“Another reason this song is so special to me is that it’s the first song of mine that my daughters learned all the words to. We’d sing it together at bedtime.”
Closing track is “You’re Not Alone,” a grandly orchestrated clutch-at-your-heart ballad that slows down the pace of the album, but rachets up the emotion. It’s a beautiful tune, and when I spoke to Rick about the album, he told me that he had written it back in 1986 for Pets, Inc., an animal rescue organization.
Getting back to the CD’s title, Rick tells me, “John Hook has been a long time supporter. In fact, John and Ray Scott, before anyone else, were there for my music. Anyway, John said to me one day [Rick does a super John Hook imitation, by the way],’ Rick, I’ve thought of the absolute perfect way to describe your music – rhythm and romance.’ When we got down to brass tack and started doing the album, we decided it fit.”
Not surprisingly, Rhythm + Romance was written, produced, arranged, engineered and mixed by Rick himself. In addition, he played all guitars, bass and drums; and he sang all leads and most background vocals on the recording.
If this is the first you’ve heard about Rick Strickland, visit my blog, DarielB – Flying Under the Radar. I’ve got three different posts about him, four if you count the last Lesa Hudson story: CD Review: Rick Strickland Island Soul (Sept. 9, 2008); Rick Strickland Melds Musicianship in New 7-piece Band (April 21, 2009); Rick Strickland’s Lucky Number ‘Seven’ (March 29, 2010); Lesa Hudson: Laid Back In a Driven Kind of Way (July 11, 2011).
Track list: 1. Over and Over; 2. Something’s Gotta Give (featuring Butch Barnes); 3. Shing Yo Ling; 4. Moth to a Flame; 5. Just So You Know; 6. Two Faces; 7. Got to Be With You (duet with Lesa Hudson); 8. Whatever You Do; 9. If You Don’t Want Me; 10. Mr. Heartache; 11. Experience; 12. You’re Not Alone.
Players: Rick Strickland (guitar, bass, drums, lead and background vocals); Art Benton (keyboards for all but Something’s Gotta Give and You’re Not Alone); Lesa Hudson (vocals on Got to Be With You; background vocals on Just So You Know and Mr. Heartache; keyboards on Something’s Gotta Give, Just So You Know,Two Faces, Whatever You Do, and Mr. Heartache);Jeff Poteat (keyboards on You’re Not Alone); Butch Barnes (alto sax solo on Something’s Gotta Give); Debbie Anderson (background vocals on Just So You Know).
Note to Fans of the Rick Strickland Band: On Friday, Sept. 23, the band is presenting a free Fan Appreciation Concert, 6 – 10 p.m. at the Avista Resort Ballroom, 300 N. Ocean Blvd., North Myrtle Beach, S.C. I understand there will be some great surprises. Seating is limited, so get there early! Free parking on either side or across the street!
“Well, there’s Art Benton on keyboards and then there’s . . . me,” he answered.
You see, it was just about a year ago that I interviewed Rick about his new Rick Strickland Band when he told me, “We’ll be going into the studio almost immediately after [the band’s debut]. We are excited about putting a band album out. It’s gonna be great.”
So what gives, Rick?
Turns out Rick is so excited about the band’s sound, he decided – along with the group – that because his own studio was set up for a single musician/engineer, they should wait and do it right. “I didn’t want to be overdubbing vocals. I want the band in the studio together, and we’re definitely going to do that, but for right now I have a new solo CD.”
Rick did the drum programming. He played all the bass, lead guitar and rhythm guitar parts. He also sang all the lead and background vocals. And wrote all the tunes.
The multi-talented musician also created the orchestral arrangement and then taught it to Art one part at a time.
The 12-track recording is titled Seven. Why Seven? This is Rick Strickland, remember, and I’ve learned there are surprises around every corner.
“You know, this is my seventh solo album,” I can hear him grinning over the phone. “ My band has seven members … my wife Gail really did figure out these things. My favorite Beach Boy album is Pet Sounds, album number seven. My favorite Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, their seventh. The photo we used for the CD cover … was shot from out on the water and when we looked at the image, there was number seven on the pilings!
“And don’t even get me started on the biblical references.”
I’m happy to report, however, that the disc isn’t limited to seven songs. The 12-track recording has the classic Rick Strickland sound his fans love to love. Seven is a mix of old and new, with the main theme being relationships – getting together, staying together, breaking up, second chances, leaving, longing and love. Track one, “I’ve Got Your Back,” is a funky soul tune that will be the first single released to to deejays and radio stations. By the way, this is also one of Rick’s favorites. Picking up the pace a bit is track two “Fever,” penned back in 1980 and just as much fun today. Up next is “Life Boat,” great for a slow shag or cha cha.
“I’ll Give You More” is a sweet promise as only Rick Strickland can. Track five, “I Wanna Know You,” showcases a classic Strickland melody, but it was a lyrical surprise to me: “I wanna get to know you, before we do the physical thing.” Sweet, old-fashioned concept. I’ll be surprised if this isn’t one of the album’s most popular cuts.
“Why You Wanna Pick On Me” is the kind of tune you blast on the highway and sing along at the top of your voice. It’s a pure toe-tappin’, shoulder-shakin’ romp through a relationship. Fun.
The next track, “Faith,” written in 1988 has special meaning to Rick and his wife. “My wife really had to love me a lot to marry me. I was dead broke and for our first Christmas together, I didn’t have money to get her anything. So I wrote “Faith” and that was my first Christmas gift for her. She likes my eccentricities,” he laughs.
“I Forgive You” is about staying in a relationship when you know better. “I’d rather hear your lies than try and live without you.” You can shag through your tears.
“Forbidden Fruit” is for anyone who fantasizes about stepping out on their sweetie, but resists the temptation. The next track is “Addicted.” Rick’s talent on guitar and his soulful vocals are evident on both of these tunes.
In “Back To Square One,” we get to hear a little of that falsetto voice we’ve come to expect from Rick Strickland. It’s never enough.
“If Our Love Must End” is about taking the high road when you’re afraid the object of your affections is moving on. Okay, I’ll be a grown up, but it’s not what I want.
The band is starting to include some tunes from Seven into their live show. Seven to be exact. Rick said, “I came to rehearsal with a list of songs I wanted the band to learn, and Lesa Hudson said to me, ‘Do you realize how many you’ve included? Seven!’
Seven is due for release in two or three weeks. The seven-piece Rick Strickland Band will be at the Spanish Galleon in North Myrtle Beach for the Kick-off to KHP’s Summer Concert Series on April 16 and then again at HOTO’s in Cherry Grove on April 25. Visit Rick’s website at rickstrickland.org or join the band’s Facebook fan page.
Oh, one last thing I forgot to mention: how many grandchildren does Rick Strickland have? Seven.
Rick Strickland is a prolific, sometimes obsessed songwriter. He tells me he writes a song most every day. In fact, when he and wife, Gail, sat down to document his total tally of tunes, it came to some 2,500.
“And some of them are pretty good,” he laughs, “so I shouldn’t ever run out of pieces to record.”
Good thing, because in August 2008, the award-winning musician decided to bring to life a long-time dream and form a totally new band. A seven-piece band.
A sessions player for more than 20 years, Strickland has recorded with and opened for some of the country’s top acts, including Carl Perkins, Todd Rundgren and B.B. King. He has also produced over 50 albums in a wide range of musical styles. His work has made it to the silver screen (Modern Love/1990) He has composed two productions for the Columbia City Ballet. He has performed at the Georgia Music Awards, backing Tommy Roe, Joe South and Ray Stevens. He was Billy Joe Royale’s musical director for three national tours.
In 2007, he received a CBMA award for Solo Album of the Year for ” Something Smooth, and in 2005, he took home Songwriter of the Year. Also in 2005, “Something Smooth,” the single was No. 1 on the beach charts for the entire year.
Rick had been so successful with his three-piece group, I wanted to know what motivated this major change.
“I had a great response to the trio,” agreed Rick, “But I started thinking about what else I could do. My attention span isn’t all that long! My wife got tired of listening to me talk about it and finally said, ‘Hey, you have access to some great players. Let’s make an A list.’ So we did. And they all said yes!”
The newly incarnated Rick Strickland Band includes Rick, of course, on lead vocals and – on occasion – guitar, bass and drums, (but he is best known for his four-octave vocal range). Lesa Hudson is on keyboards and vocals; Debbie Anderson, vocals and guitar; master of the B3, Art Benton on keyboard and vocals; Gary Bruce on guitar and vocals; Chris Grant, playing bass guitar; and Ken Lancaster on the drum kit.
The successful singer/songwriter isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, however. His new band continues to nurture its R&B roots, building on Strickland’s 20-year history as a singer, musician, composer and producer.
“We’re really leaning toward the soul side of the genre, all of us. But what’s different for me, in particular, about the new band,” explains Strickland, “is the interaction between human beings … instead of overdubbing.
“When we perform tunes from Island Soul [Rick’s 2007 CD], there’s more air around them now. The harmonies are perfect, but there’s more ‘give.’ We’re still going to deliver my ‘signature’ vocal harmony, but we’ll be showing off a little more in instrumentation.
“I love the collaboration among the players; they’re not just executing what I say. You know, when I first heard Lesa and Debbie at a music festival, it was their vocals that struck me … and why I called them.
“Well, turns out Lesa is also a songwriter AND she’s classically trained on the piano. She’s got a solo CD out with a single that’s currently No. 15 on the Christian-Country charts. And Debbie, besides being one of the best harmony singers around is a very solid rhythm guitarist.”
What about Art Benton, I wanted to know. I knew from an earlier interview that Art played keyboard on Island Soul and I knew he had played with a group called the Pallbearers, who had two national hits on Fontana and Delphi Records.
“Art is the best keyboardist I’ve ever worked with. He’s equally at home in the studio or on stage. He is an incredibly tasteful and sensitive player who has a knack for fining the sweet spot in any arrangement.
I used to play a solo gig at Brinsen’s in Charleston, near Folly Beach,” Rick went on to tell me. “Art kept showing up and leaving me business cards. He was repairing dialysis equipment next door (We call him MacGyver, by the way). He kept giving me his card, but I was kind of cynical. When the Something Smooth CD came out, I was with 120inc and Mike Farver kept telling me we needed to do some live gigs. I needed a keyboard player. I had Art’s latest card, but before I called him, I happened to ask Steve Wiggins [five-time Grammy nominee, lyricist and lead singer for Big Tent Revival] if Art was any good. ‘Hell yeah,’ came the response. Art Benton is the B3 player from Heaven.’ Well, that was three years ago, and we’ve been working together ever since.”
Guitarist Gary Bruce is known regionally for his work in bands like Second Nature, Mama’s Home Cookin’, The Blue Chip Band and Fresh Air.
The guitarist said, “I’ve known Rick since about 1975. We always had a good chemistry going and talked about playing together, but sometimes these things don’t work out right away. Other commitments get in the way. We’ve been able to work together over the past couple years, and, when he called about the new band, the time was right. I was still playing with Fresh Air, but ready to make a move.”
Says Rick, “I was working with White Witch, fresh from playing bass on tour when I met Gary, so we’ve known each other a long time now. Gary, like Art, is great on stage and in the studio. That’s Gary doing the acoustic guitar solo for “Best Love” on Island Soul. He’s also one of the most sought after guitar teachers in the southeast. He perpetually has a waiting list of 50 to 100 potential students.”
Drummer Ken Lancaster has played with R&B group, North Tower, the Okaysions and Nashville’s Clifford Curry. Strickland says, “Ken has an incredible sense of meter, sort of like a human metronome. Playing with him and Chris [bassist Chris Grant] is like sitting down in a big easy chair.
“I first met him the year I won the solo album award. He was working with the PA company doing the awards show.”
Ken adds, “I was a stagehand. I wanted to get in with a band, so I was listening to all of them, and I gave Rick my card.
“‘You’ve got good timing,’ Rick told me. Well, a year or so went by, and I saw him again. ‘You’ve got good timing, ‘ Rick told me again, only this time I auditioned. Rick is awesome. I’ve been in the Charlotte area, but I’m moving to Charleston next month. I love what we’re doing.
“I love eighties metal and beach music.”
Did I just hear right? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
Ken is laughing on the other end of the telephone, “I can’t help it. I’ve always loved the metal stuff but I relate to beach music. It reminds me of family times at the outer Banks when I was a kid. I’m infatuated with the whole beach scene. I even shag a little”
The latest addition to the group is bass player Chris Grant, who Rick says is “smooth and solid, but has chops when the song calls for it.” Chris toured and recorded for several years with N.C. blues legend Skeeter Brandon, who passed away just over a year ago. He’s also worked with Big Bill Morgenfield, son of Muddy Waters, and blues guitarist Jimmy Thackery.
The new Rick Strickland Band is making its debut on Saturday night, April 25, at the Spanish Galleon in North Myrtle Beach during S.O.S. Spring Safari, the annual ten-day celebration of shag dancing and beach music, the regional sub-category of the R&B genre.
“We’ll be going into the studio almost immediately after that,” said Strickland. “We are excited about putting a band album out. It’s gonna be great.”
I have to agree.