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
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
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!
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.
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, Break-Up..it 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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