Courtesy – John Richards Music

The Nashville Bridge sat down with John Richards at Fido in Hillsboro Village just before the one night only viewing of Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day at The Belcourt to celebrate John’s forthcoming release My Jazz II.

A lifelong resident of Nashville, John Richards is a guitarist’s guitarist having made the transition from Rock and Roll to Country sideman to accomplished archtop wizardry. The former President of The Nashville Musicians Union, Harold Bradley says, “Exciting would be a good way to describe John Richards. His technique appears to be born of necessity to fulfill his creative imagination…along with his musical riffs, his voice doubles the musical lines…he plays a variety of music from “Cherokee” to “Night Life” and I recommend you listen to John Richards.”

Courtesy – John Richards Music

John Richards is a Nashville native and lifelong musician who was a child protégé of his father, his musical hero. John started his musical journey on the stage of the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree in Nashville and has toured with and backed on radio, television and for live audiences: Tanya Tucker, Johnny Bush, Carl Perkins, R.W. Blackwood, Billy Ealker, Ferlin Husky, Bobby Bare, Barbara Mandrell, Mac Wiseman, Bill Anderson and many more.

He has been compared to Django Reinhart, George Benson, Lenny Breau and Chet Atkins while also winning a PBS Award for his part in the Ken Burns Jazz Series.

John was recently awarded the prestigious “Nashville Jazz and Blues Award for 2012 Guitarist of the Year” from the elite Marion James Blues Society.

My Jazz II was recorded at the famous Gene Breeden’s Studio and Produced by the well known Lloyd Townsend and Imaginary Records. The CD will be released this week.  The CD Release Party will be held at World Music Nashville, Friday November 30th at 7PM

Brad Hardisty / The Nashville Bridge: Why My Jazz II?

John Richards: It’s called My Jazz II as opposed to my Jazz 1 which was my first CD and the reason why it’s called my Jazz II is because the first one never got pushed anyway. It never had any PR.

TNB: When was Jazz 1 released?

JR: That was like 10 years ago or maybe more.

TNB: So this was a whole different period of time.

Vassar Clements

JR: Yes, but, I’ve always played Jazz so, you know it’s the reason why I carried over some of those older cuts; because they’re invaluable, for instance Vassar Clements playing on it. It was Vassar’s last session.

TNB: Did you write some cuts? Do some covers?

John Richards and Victor Wooten at Bass Camp

Richard Smith

JR: On the new CD there are some covers, but, mostly because Vassar Clements played on it and Victor Wooten played on some of the cuts too. Victor is an old friend of mine. Plus, some surprise guests as well. Richard Smith is from England, he’s playing on an impromptu version of …I was on Tom Brash’s guitar actually. I was just sittin’ there with it and we launched into “Cherokee” so we just went with it, just two players, trading bass lines and playing behind each other.

TNB: Victor can play about anything.  He plays with Bela Fleck. What’s he doing on your cut?

JR:  Victor is playing on my instrumental. It’s called “Twilight Moon.”   I have been fortunate. Victor came and played on that for me and I’ve since been at his Bass Camp and we jammed up there and played some shows and it’s like we are getting to know each other even more. It is really neat. He’s an incredibly nice man and if you wanted to know, we really come from the same head in a lot of ways.

TNB: You are both from Nashville.

JR: The Wootens; they were like army brats, they traveled all over the place. They were in California,but, I think, originally,  they are from North Carolina. I was born and raised here.

TNB:  Did you write anything on this from your own personal life experiences?

Moe Denham

JR: Well, “Pookie Is A Dude” has a lot to do with my life. A dear friend of mine kept on coercing me. He wanted me to sing about his cat. I finally gave in. He said,”Hey man you gotta write a song about my cat.” I said what’s your cat’s name and he said “Pookie!” I was like “Pookie?” ”Yeah you need to call him that, like, Pookie’s a dude” I was like “Pookie’s a dude?”  So, I gave in and wrote this song and it’s a fun thing. Also, you got the great Moe Denham playing the Hammond Organ.  He’s played with a lot of great jazz players. It’s a full cast man.

TNB: Is it all over the map as far as jazz goes?

JR: It’s everything from original stuff  and stadards, but,all of them are my arrangements. There is even a Beatles song.

TNB: What Beatles song?

JR: “Norwegian Wood,” it’s pretty cool. It was done some with a trio and some with Vassar. Some with just you know I like the trio or sometimes four or five pieces.

TNB: Did you have a main guitar that you used on the sessions?

Courtesy – John Richards Music

JR: Pretty much it was my Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor. I just plug it in and go. I don’t have a bunch of pedals.

TNB: How did you get started playing guitar in Nashville?

JR: I always had an interest in music. My Dad and my Uncle used to have these jam sessions three or four times a year.  My Uncle lived in Florida and he would come into Nashville and the families would get together and my grandmother and all the women would cook up this great food and we cooked up a bunch of this great music and every year when they would do one of these things I would be wanting to play and I’d want to get right in the middle of it, but, I didn’t have a decent enough guitar until I was about eleven. It was a decent flat type. I was like strumming along with them and my uncle turned to my Dad and whispered, “You’ve been showin’ him some chords, haven’t you?” Dad said, “No, I haven’t been showin’ him anything.”  My Uncle says, “Well, he’s playing the right changes for what we are doing.” So, my Mom saw that I really loved it and everything and told Dad, “Ok. He wants it. Now, you know he doesn’t want to go play baseball.” Dad didn’t want me to get involved in the business unless he saw that it is what I really wanted.  And I’ve always appreciated him letting me find my way. He was a great guy and a great mentor for me. He was a jazz lover too.  I mean, he knew people like Hank Garland, Grady Martin and he ran a shoe shop. He would call me to the back where he had his little radio going all day long and he’d be like “John!  C’mon here and catch this lick.” I learned a lot of licks that way. Jerry Reed, Grady Martin licks. He had me back there as fast as he could to have me learn that way. I mostly got ear training, but, it served me pretty well.

TNB: What was your first professional gig?

JR: Probably, with a combo after I had been playing three months. We had a group called The U.F.O.’s and we were doing Ventures music and “Louie, Louie,” all the songs of the day. We opened Madison Square Shopping Center, right in front of the marquee for the movie theater. That was my first big gig.

TNB: So, did you get into Rock and Roll for a while, or did you get into Country?

JR: My trail started with Roger Miller who was a doing that “bluh, bluh, duh, duh.”  He would play a little lick at the same time. I was always looking for a little lick because everything was always so new to me. I was open to hear what I could hear and learn. That Roger Miller lick grabbed me and I started doing that little lick and it wasn’t very long after that when I heard Jerry Reed. I was a teenager when I started hearing Jerry Reed and Dad started doing the same thing, he said “Come here! Check this out. Check out this guitar player.”

TNB: Jerry did a lot of nylon string guitar stuff.

JR: There is a big story with all of that. Because, I got really voracious into Jerry Reed stuff, but, I didn’t know that he tuned for a lot of stuff that he played. I didn’t know if he was overdubbing or what, so, I learned how to play verbatim in standard tuning. I would be in the same key. One day I had heard, I always had my ear to the ground, about some new music shops and somebody I knew told me about this new music shop that opened up. They had all these handmade guitars and stuff that were way beyond glorious. These were like the finest handmade classical guitars and flamenco guitars made. The ones you only hear about and I was sitting there and I was getting to play these things. They kept bringing them back, bringing them down. They would have them way up on the wall, like Ramirez; beautiful handmade guitars. I used to love the work on flamenco guitars. They had beautiful knobs.  They weren’t even knobs. They were works of art and pearl sometimes, I mean just gorgeous. They had all this gold work that went up on the side and around the sound hole. Jerry Reed got me hooked into playing classical guitar.

TNB: So you learned how to do that style?

photo – Brad Hardisty

JR: Yeah, I was playing one guitar in particular and this tall gentleman comes by and I noticed he was kind of coming by now and then. I was just sitting there probably playing for like an hour. Finally, he came by and said, “Man you sound like Glen Campbell!” I was like doing Jose Feliciano, “Light my Fire” and all that stuff.  And he said,” Yeah, you sound like Jose Feliciano too.” I said, “Thank you sir, but, my real idol is Jerry Reed.” He said, “Well yeah? Hit me a lick!” I went into a lot of it and I was doing it in standard tuning and he just cracked up and he said, “You know, Jerry is a friend of mine.” I was like “Jerry’s a friend of yours, huh.” He was like, “I’m going to call him and tell him about you.” That’s when I found out for the first time that I doubted someone’s word, because, that was like me being Elvis for some teenage girl or something. He got on the phone for like a fifteen minute conversation with this man so I played a little bit louder just in case it was Jerry. I wanted him to hear what I was doing somewhat. Then, he gets off the phone after just having a “bang-up” conversation. He said “It’s settled, Jerry wants to meet you.” I was like, “Jerry wants to meet me? That’s terrific.” Then he says, “Yeah and he’s going to call ya.” I said,”He’s going to call me.” I kept saying this in my mind… okay. He convinced me enough that when I got home from school, I would sit by the phone. In those days there were no coda phones. If you didn’t catch the phone, you just missed the call, period! There was no way to know who called you ever. So anyway, this one particular day my Mom was going down to Madison Square Shopping Center, going to Shoney’s which was the highlight of my… I mean Shoney’s was it in those days as a kid. If she mentioned Shoney’s my ears lit up. But, I said, :”Mom you know I normally would go with you, but, I think I better stay here and wait for a call from Jerry.”

TNB: How old were you?

photo – Brad Hardisty

JR: I was fourteen. Anyway, I didn’t want to do anything that would keep me from being able to race to that phone. At the time, that was back when they had these long, long chords so you could put it in any room in the house, but, you had to have a really, really long chord. And it went all the way down the hallway to my parent’s door where their bedroom was. I could just race down the hall and I was like, “Oh shoot! I got to go to the bathroom!” I was like ready then the phone rings so I go running down there to grab the phone and you know how when you have been around someone for so long you  kind of pick up their mannerism and there speech? I had never heard this voice in my life. He said, “John?” I said “Jerry?”  He said, “No this isn’t Jerry, but, this is Jerry’s manager and Jerry wants to speak to you.” So then he puts Jerry Reed on the phone and Jerry said, “Well son, I hear you sound like me.” I said, “Well, I try to Jerry.” Jerry said, “Well hit me a lick! Do you have something on tape where I can hear it?”  I said “Well, I just happen to have a little reel to reel.” I had recorded “Oh What A Woman” or “Guitar Man” or something. Jerry said, “That will do. Let me hear that!” So, I put it on and it sounded like Jerry Reed on a 78 because my voice was like three times higher and anyway I played this thing and I heard him on the other line and he was just cracking up! He was like, “Son, I gotta meet you. You gotta come down to my office.” Jerry’s office was at Columbia Records. It was called Vector Music. That was his publishing company. I got into Jerry so much that I went down there, I had just bought a guitar that was like a three quarter size Decca that I bought with paper sales, because, I used to be a paper boy when I was a kid and I wore these kind of hats when I was a kid. That’s why I brought it back. That is another story. Anyway, I brought this guitar and I didn’t have a case for it. I had on sneakers, blue jeans, A Hooker Header yellow racing jacket with big red stripes with embroidery that said, “I love my Hooker Headers.” Also, a fishing hat like Jerry wore. The guitar was thrown over my shoulder and his manager came to the door and said, “You gotta be John.” I said, “Yes sir! That’s me!” He said, “Well, Jerry’s there so go on in.” It was really an amazing thing because something happened later that would make me never forget meeting him that day. I will never forget he had on this turtleneck with a very low collar and he had sleeves rolled so they kind of “belled” out. It was kind of a light blue sweater and then he had on electric blue pants. He was putting when I came in he had his set up in there. He said, “Well son, come on in here.”  We sat down. He said, “Well, play me something. Let me hear ya.” So, I started playing one of his tunes and he said, “Well, son, that was really good! I like that, but, this is the way I actually play it and he tuned down my little Decca and played his tune on it and then he would give it back to me and he would say, “That s the way I play that.”  I was like, “Oh! You tune for those things.”  “I tune for a lot of the stuff. “ We spent, like, I mean it seemed like forever, like, three hours together doing that back and forth, me playing him a song and them him showing me how to do it right. Before I left that day, they gave me practically all of Jerry’s albums.  The last one that he gave me had the same exact outfit that he had on the day I met him, so, I will never forget it. And he signed it, “Keep cookin’ Jerry Reed.” The name of the album was Cookin’.

TNB: That was the outfit he was wearing when you met him?

JR: Yeah, so, I never, never, ever forget what he had on that day.

TNB: So, from then on you were hooked.

JR: Oh yeah! I got voracious on Jerry Reed! I used to play at Ernest Tubb Record Shop and if I wasn’t doin’ some kind of Country rebellion then I was like, just playing Jerry’s stuff. He influenced me so much. Now, earlier, I mentioned Roger Miller, so, when Jerry Reed started the scatting, he used to scat, but, he wouldn’t he be doin’ it while he was playin’ his licks. I learned to do that from Jerry Reed and then it came in handy when I got into George Benson, because, I was already scattin’.

TNB: George Benson was doing the Wes Montgomery thing.

JR: Except, Wes Montgomery didn’t sing or scat.

TNB: He didn’t, but, style wise, he had a lot of Wes Montgomery.

JR: Oh yeah, Wes influenced a lot of people.  Wes was just a monster jazz guitar guy. The octave thing was great, but, his bebop was just amazing. He was great; a great player.

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

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