Celebrating Charlie Rich

Charlie Rich would have celebrated his 90th birthday today. Charlie died in his sleep of a pulmonary embolism on July 25, 1995. He was only 62 years old. In Robin Brunet‘s book “Red Robinson: The Last Deejay“, I shared some of my memories of Charlie:

“I had been a Charlie Rich fan since 1960, when he charted his first million seller, ‘Lonely Weekends.’ Over the years he charted forty-five hits on various labels, but his great success began at the legendary Sun Records Studios in Memphis. As every fan knows, he was also a great pianist and songwriter.

Charlie was all but ignored when Les Vogt and I booked him into Vancouver’s Purple Steer nighclub twice over a period of two years in the late 1960s. We couldn’t get him any press. Nobody wanted to interview him. As far as Bruce Allen and I were concerned, he was at the height of his musical skills. In fact, Bruce showed up on many nights just to enjoy watching him at the piano. I did too, incidentally. Rich would sit at the piano upon which a bottle of scotch had been placed, and as the night progressed the bottle became emptier and his playing and singing actually improved. Charlie Rich was a very shy man, and the liquor made him stronger. Certainly, the several hundred people who watched him perform at the Purple Steer each night would agree that he delivered an unforgettable musical experience.

Charlie Rich’s music credentials were impeccable: he first played jazz and blues with his own group, The Velvetones, in the mid-1950s while serving in the US Air Force. But of course the world remembers him best as a rockabilly and country singer, and in 1973 ‘Behind Closed Doors’ put him on top of the country and pop charts at the same time.

A few years later, he returned to play a sold-out Coliseum in front of sixteen thousand people. He and I were backstage before the show, and someone knocked on the door and said, ‘Mr. Rich, the media is here waiting. You haven’t talked to anyone from the media yet.’ Rich replied, ‘Tell ’em all to f*** off. I’m here with my friends who have always had time for me. Where were these people when I played the Purple Steer? Not one of these bastards would come and talk to me.’

Years ago, I found myself sitting with Sun Records owner Sam Phillips at the Cleveland airport. He said, ‘Red, I’ve discovered some great talent over the years: Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and of course Elvis. But the greatest all-around talent I ever discovered was Charlie Rich.’”