Rick Shea, Flying by the Seat of His Pants
In addition to profiling DJs for this column (I am open to suggestions BTW), I also like to include some artists that I admire and feel that need to be recognized more. People like Rick Shea.
Bill Frater: What got you started in the music business and when and why?
Rick Shea: I always wanted to play music, even when I was very young and didn’t know at all what that meant. For years after high school I was like the king of the temporary job because I didn’t want to commit to anything too serious. I knew I wanted to play music and was trying to figure out how to do that. I was always playing music wherever and whenever I could, open mics, with friends, and before too long I was playing in bars and making a living at it.
I just released my 10th album, The Town Where I Live, and I’ve been playing a lot of shows lately in and out of town. Early on I played a lot in country bars and honky-tonks, there was still quite a few around, and I could make an OK living. But as those places seemed to disappear I was moving more into songwriting and recording and more serious sorts of projects. I’ve toured the US and Europe for many years and still play shows regularly in Southern California, where I live. My albums get very good reviews and pretty good airplay (airplay is tough for independent artists). I also record and play with other artists, like Dave Alvin, who I toured with for a number of years and played on his Grammy winning album, and with Wanda Jackson, who I’ll put a band together and play shows with at least a few times a year.
What do you do now?
I mostly play music for a living, my own shows and albums, but as I said I also play with other people pretty often, which helps pay the bills. I also do sessions in my home studio and on call, and work in a local guitar store called the Fret House part time. As far as a description of what I do, flying by the seat of my pants is pretty good.
How do you describe your music and or songs to someone who’s never heard you?
Country/country rock/folk/Americana/singer-songwriter all could fit. I try to name and talk about an artist that I think that person might be familiar with and that I feel like musically I have things in common with. The country label is a little tricky. I’m very much a country singer in how I approach a song, but people often make the wrong association when I use that label. I don’t have anything at all to do with current commercial country music and I wouldn’t even know who any of the artists are. My introduction was through Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, and Hank Williams, and what I listen to now is mostly old folk and blues artists.
What was the first artist or album that got you into Americana or roots music?
Probably it started with Bob Dylan, The Buffalo Springfield, and The Flying Burrito Brothers, but I pretty quickly started listening to country radio, this was quite a few years ago. My friends and I were kind of music nerds in high school and we were always looking out for something new and different. From there I think I discovered Doc Watson, Tom Rush, Jimmie Rodgers, and older folk and country artists. Since then I’ve just continued to try and explore all American music and its roots, wherever that leads.
Who are your favorite artists of all time?
Merle Haggard would have to be at the top of the list; the songs are all so good but also the playing and singing. He covered so much ground artistically, from Irma Jackson looking at an interracial love affair in 1972 and Tulare Dust about the dustbowl and migrant workers to all the great barroom and honky-tonk classics he wrote and that still get played every night. Emmylou Harris did a lot to introduce a non-country audience to Gram Parsons, The Louvin Brothers, and many many others. She probably doesn’t get the credit she deserves. But as far as albums I can listen to over and over, Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding is a favorite, I still love all the Carter Family recordings, Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is pretty great, and I never seem to get tired of Merle Haggard’s Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World.
What does Americana music mean to you?
For me it’s very broad and covers most of the music on my iPod, from Skip James and Lydia Mendoza to Buck Owens and Nick Lowe, I just don’t see that much difference.
Where do you see Americana radio, or radio in general, going in the future?
Hopefully bigger audiences for Americana radio; I think it’s what a lot of people are looking for but just haven’t found yet. For radio in general I don’t really know. I know more people are streaming music and listening to satellite radio and that allows them to be more selective, which I think is probably a good thing.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
I’m not too good with new as you might have guessed by now. I like a lot of what I’ve heard from Shakey Graves, and John Fullbright is pretty great, I’m not sure if either of them really qualifies as new though. Do you have any more questions about older artists? I might do better with those.
What are your most memorable experiences from working in the music industry?
Well a lot are probably not repeatable but I have gotten to play with a lot of really great artists and a lot of my musical heroes over the years, and I’ve been able to play music for my whole life so far, which has been pretty nice. I consider myself very lucky and very fortunate. I did see George Jones at The Nugget in Reno while I was high on mushrooms, and Tina the baby elephant was the opening act – that was memorable.
What projects are you working on next?
I’m recording a song for a Terry Allen sculpture that will be at The Contemporary in Austin, Texas. It’s a bronze cast of a 1953 Chevrolet Coupe that will have music playing from inside the sculpture. Terry asked me to contribute a song, along with a number of other artists, I’m really proud to be a part of it. I’m also finishing an album for a friend of mine that we started earlier this year. I had to put it on hold so I could finish and then start promoting my own album. And in the meantime I’m continuing to play shows locally and out of town as much as I can.
What inspires you or what keeps you going?
I feel as good about playing music as I ever have, maybe better. There’s nothing like that connection with the audience, when they’re really with you, that’s what it’s all about. And honestly I really feel like I’m still getting better at this all the time.
What are your most proud accomplishments?
I have to say my kids and my family, but after that it’s just that I’ve been able to do this, what I wanted to do, for a lifetime, even though I had no idea how to get started and no idea where it would all lead. But also the friendships I’ve made from playing music, that’s something I didn’t think about or expect when I was younger. I’ve met and become good friends with some of the coolest and most interesting people I could have ever imagined, some that play music and some who come to the shows, and really that’s maybe the best part of all this.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests you wish to share?
I watch too much news and politics, especially lately, and I go offroading with my two boys when we can. I’ve got an old Jeep Wrangler they’ve helped me work on.