Posted December, 2002
Born - 14 December, 1932, Colt, AK
Died - 25 July, 1995, Hammond, LA

This month Charlie Rich would have been celebrating his 70th birthday.

I love Charlie Rich. To me he's one of the greatest country singers, with a soul-drenched voice who was even able to out shine Billy Sherrill's strings, and that's saying something. Charlie Rich was a brilliant but complicated artist who enjoyed a spell of massive worldwide acclaim but was probably happier, playing a jazz set in a darkened Memphis club. He possessed a wonderful voice, was an accomplished pianist and was a great songwriting to boot. Apart from that he looked pretty good too!

His story is well known, it's what was inside his head that no-one knew. He was a misunderstood singer who didn't really understand himself. He was cleverer than your average Sun artist and was a bit of a musical snob, always feeling that the style he was recording at the time was not really what he wanted to or should be doing. When he was cutting rock 'n' roll at Sun he felt he should be doing jazz, the same when he was hitting big with his countrypolitan stuff. This constant mind-struggle, together with his laid back manner, meant that his wife Ann Margeret had to constantly push him to sustain his career.

She was working hard from the beginning, the force that got him to Sun records where he wrote hits for others like Break Up, The Ways of a Woman in Love and I'm Comin' Home. He recorded some great stuff himself like his first single, Whirlwind, Who Will the Next Fool Be?, Sittin' and Thinkin and Midnight Blues. His only hit for the label came with Lonely Weekends, a rolling number that nearly gets spoiled by some overactive backing vocals.

He signed with the newly-established subsidiary of RCA, Groove in 1964 and had a minor success with his first single, Big Boss Man, but again couldn't hit with a follow-up. He was incorporating his jazzy sound to a gentle rock-country beat but the label soon folded and he joined Shelby Singleton at Smash Records. At Smash he cut some lovely Memphis soul, with a grits and gravy feel, scoring first-time out with the Dallas Frazier r'n'b ditty, Mohair Sam. He cut in a simlar vein for Hi Records but failed to chart.

Next up came Epic Records where he was remodelled by producer Billy Sherrill who saw the possiblity of cutting Charlie in a smooth ballad style. The hits started to come, and for the first time in his career, continued to come regularly, even getting bigger. Set Me Free, Raggedy Ann and I Take It On Home appealed to the nation but it was with the release of 1973's Behind Closed Doors album that Charlie became a household name. The title track was massive as was one of its follow-ups, The Most Beautiful Girl which spent three weeks at the top of the country charts and two weeks at the top of the pop charts. That year Charlie won three awards at the CMA's for Best Male Vocalist, Album of the Year and Single of the Year. He also won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. He won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award in 1974.

A Very Special Love Song, I Don't See Me in Your Eyes Anymore, I Love My Friend, A Field of Yellow Daisies, My Elusive Dreams, Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High) and Since I Fell For You continued the success story. He wasn't really built to be a massive star though and this, coupled with his aggitation at the sameness his material was starting to suffer from saw him turn to the bottle. At the CMA awards in 1975 he was to present the Entertainer of the Year award but instead of reading the name of the winner (John Denver) he just set fire to the certificate. He'd just written himself a get out of the Top Ten certificate and began a downward spiral, chart wise. Perversely, it helped his music, as he was able to move away from the orchestrated slush and cut some things a bit closer to his heart. The gospel album, Silver Linings was a high spot, before he moved to United Artists then Elektra. He soon lost interest and moved into semi-retirement before returning in 1992 with the stunning Pictures and Paintings which he cut with journalist Peter Guralnick producing for Sire records. His recut of Feel Like Goin' Home is one of the most astonishing examples of human emotion I've ever heard. You can hear him breath as he retreads his life through music. Sadly it would be his last record as he died from a blood clot in his lung as he was travelling to see his son in Florida with his wife.


American Music Awards Favorite Male Artist 1975
American Music Awards Favorite Single 1975
American Music Awards Favorite Single 1974
CMA Album of the Year 1974
CMA Entertainer of the Year 1974
Academy of Country Music Album of the Year 1973
Academy of Country Music Song of the Year 1973
Academy of Country Music Top Male Vocalist 1973
CMA Album of the Year 1973
CMA Male Vocalist of the Year 1973
CMA Single of the Year 1973
Grammy Best Male Country Vocal Performance 1973

Recommended Listening:

  • Feel Like Going Home: The Essential CR - Columbia/Legacy. The best career overview - absolutely stunning double CD.

  • Fabulous Charlie Rich - Koch. A straight reissue of the late 60's album, which pound for pound could be the greatest album of his career. Mixing tender ballads and some groovy Memphis soul, it's a classic.

  • Lonely Weekends - Sun Box - Bear Family (not extensive, surprisingly for BF, but most of CR's Memphis stuff is there).

  • Big Boss Man: The Groove Sessions - Koch.

  • Complete CR on Hi Records - Hi.

  • Complete Smash Sessions - Mercury.

  • Silver Linings - Epic.

  • Pictures And Paintings - Sire.

  • The 70s countrypolitan stuff is on various cheapo best of's, but there's been no 2fers or Bear Family box (I Still Believe In Love should be a dead cert), so our vinyl can't be retired off yet!

    -Shaun Mather

    Also See:

    Following the posting of the above Charlie Rich article I received a lovely e-mail from Kim Wagerman, which he has agreed to be shared here.

    "Hi Shaun
             When I saw Charlie in 1981 I was 18 years old and totally in HEAVEN!!! I went with my sister who was not a fan, but she really enjoyed the show. I went to the 6:30 show and during the show he kept drinking a Coke and of course smoking his Salem cigs. Charlie did his monster country hits ... Behind Close Doors, The Most Beautiful Girl, A Very Special Love Song..etc.. but he also did several of his earlier hits ... Lonely Weekends, Big Boss Man, was a great show.
             Charlie didn't do much talking or trying to connect with the audience ... it seemed like he was doing a job and was just waiting for the whistle to blow ... I will be honest about that. After the show he left and didn't return ... I really wanted an autograph, so I asked his guitar player if he was coming out to sign autographs and he said "NO" ... so I asked him if I could have the Coke can he was drinking out of and a cigarette butt ... He gave the items to me and of course I took a big swig of the coke and to my suprise it was spiked with WHISKEY!!!! I still have those 2 items ... treasures to me. So if Charlie was drinking at the first show, I am pretty sure the second show was about the same!!!
             You are right about today's singers who to me doesn't give Charlie the credit he deserves. Bob Dylan and Billy Bob Thorton really love Charlie ... I will quote Billy Bob. "Charlie was a sweet S.O.B."!! So true. You are so right when you said the song "I Feel Like Going Home" was raw emotion of human feelings ... that song is one of my favorites. Even if Charlie hadn't wrote and sung that song..that song is just a truly great song.
    Kim Wagerman, Indiana."

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