Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Singer/songwriter Kim Richey is one of the most highly acclaimed “insurgent country” acts to grace nineties country music. Traversing the wake of the New Country movement with such well-honed songwriting credentials as “Nobody Wins”—a mega-hit co-written with country artist Radney Foster—and the successful singles “Things We Said” and “(Believe Me Bab) I Lied” for Tricia Yearwood, Richey has also parlayed her pleasing soprano and her status as an “artist” into two critically praised albums that blur the lines between pop, rock, country, and folk music. Her stylistic mix was characterized as a “jangly, driving style of country rock,” by New Country magazine, while Country Music’s Geoffrey Himes cited Richey’s strong Beatles influences and noted that “it’s the way her tunes always move to the unexpected note, the unpredictable chord, that gives the songs their emotional charge.”
Richey was born in rural Zanesville, Ohio, in 1956, and, after her father died in a swimming accident when she was two, Kim, her sister Karla, and her brother Chris moved to Dayton with their mother, a telephone operator, and her second husband. While many country artists cite a love affair with country music that dates back to the cradle, Richey admits that the soundtrack to her youth was actually top 40’s pop; some of her favorite records as a kid growing up were Janice Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic.” She was fortunate to have an aunt who owned a record shop, where Richey had the run of the 45’s bin. The singer credits that experience with making songs carry more weight in her eyes than personalities.
Richey took up the guitar during high school and formed a folk music trio that played at a local Dayton restaurant. She became truly serious about her music after enrolling at Bowling Green’s Western Kentucky University in the early 1980s and meeting up with a fellow student named Bill Lloyd. She and Lloyd started a band where Richey sang harmony. His influence on his singing partner was enough to jump-start her songwriting efforts, and she still cites Lloyd—along with Joni Mitchell and Steve Earle—as one of her main influences.
After the band broke up and Richey completed her degree in environmental education at Ohio University, she travelled to Colorado, South America, Boston, Europe, Washington state and, periodically, Nashville, taking odd jobs as a dishwasher, cook, bartender, or animal protection advocate. Meanwhile, prior to forming the popular country duo Foster and Lloyd in 1986, Lloyd released Feeling the Elephant, a collection of Beatlesque pop demos that he had recorded between 1983 and 1986. The haunting last cut off the album,” Everything’s
Born December 1, 1956, in Zanesville, OH. Educa tion: Attended Western Kentucky University; Ohio University, B.S. in environmental education.
Began performing in a folk trio, c. 1972; moved to Nashville, 1988; signed with Mercury Nashville, 1994; released self-titled debut album, 1995.
Awards: Grammy nomination, in 1996, for the song “Believe Me Baby (I Lied).”
Addresses: Record company —Mercury Records, 66 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203.
Closing Down,” features one of Richey’s first recorded vocals.
Richey first met the other half of Foster & Lloyd—Radney Foster—while living in Bellingham, Washington, in 1988. “I walked onto Foster & Lloyd’s bus and stood there slack-jawed while Bill Lloyd introduced me to this tall, blonde woman who sang like an angel,” Foster would later recall in the liner notes to Richey’s self-titled debut album. “I didn’t know then that Kim would blossom into a brilliant singer/songwriter. I didn’t know that she and I would write the number one hit ’Nobody Wins’ and that people would stop me in airports and tell me how the song had changed their life or saved their marriage.”
Later that same year, with Lloyd’s encouragement, Richey moved to Nashville to make a living as a singer/songwriter. Performing at Tootsie’s and gracing demo recordings with her poignant soprano, she quickly gained a reputation, both as a sophisticated songwriter with a way of depicting a broken relationship, and as a backup singer who could interpret songs with style and improvise taut harmonies. But her songwriting talent had taken a long time to develop. “I wrote what I thought country music was without having much background in it,” Richey recalled of her early 1980s songsmithing efforts in New Country. “I was trying to write what I thought was a country hit. It was phoney. But I finally learned how to write what I feel and what I think is good, and not what someone else thinks is good.”
Richey was signed by Mercury Nashville in 1994 and quickly began working with producer Richard Bennett—whom Richey specially requested because of his work on Steve Earle’s groundbreaking Guitar Town album—on her first release. Bennett’s guitar-driven production and tasteful mandolin and steel arrangements meshed well with Richey’s vocal delivery. The 1995 album Kim Richey contains 13 tracks, including the singles “You’ll Never Know,” “That’s Exactly What I Mean,” “Just My Luck,” and “Letthe Sun Fall Down,” all which deal with emotional entanglements. “Once a song is written, even if it’s personal, writing is when I’m closest to it,” the singer/songwriter explained in Country Song Roundup, discussing the highly personal aspect of her art. “After living with it for a while, it can become ‘a song’ and not tear you up every time you do it. You know you’ve written a successful song when it touches someone and listening makes them feel they’re not the only one in the world going through it.”
After releasing her first album, Richey went on the road, opening for Tricia Yearwood and Mary Chapin Carpenter and getting increasing exposure before mainstream country audiences. She also headlined shows, building her repertoire, testing new material, and gaining converts to her almost genre-bending musical approach from camps as diverse as pop, rock, and blues. Her ultra-tight touring band, which included bassist Andrew Mazzone, guitarists Angelo Petraglia and Kenny Vaughn, and drummer Billy Beard, would perform their respective roles on her next album, where they would be joined by artists like Newgrass mandolinist Sam Bush and Joy Lynn White and Mandy Barnett on background vocals.
Under the production guidance of acoustic guitarist and fellow songwriter Angelo, Richey’s second album, 1997’s Bitter Sweet, replaced the “jangly,” plugged-in sound of her first album with a less edgy mix of acoustic guitars, banjos, mandolin, and accordions. The new sound suited the passions underlying many of the albums songs, including ‘“Fallin’” and “Why Can’t I Say Goodnight.” The absence of reverb and other studio trickery, as well as the tried and true accompaniment by Richey’s touring band, gave the new album a more relaxed, spontaneous, personal appeal. Richey’s pop background comes through on the seventies-inspired “I Know,” “Lonesome Side of Town,” and the Joni Mitchell-esque “Straight as the Crow Flies.” There’s also a natural intimacy in tunes like the rockabilly-sounding” To Tell the Truth” and Richey’s banjo-driven, pick-yourself-up-and-keep-going anthem “I’m Alright.” Hailed as “a benchmark against which the rest of the year’s country albums may be judged” by Q magazine reviewer Mark Blake, Bitter Sweet was described by Interview critic Henry Cabot Beck as an album “filled with passion and pain that… turns private woes into public anthems without missing a beat.” And in the words of Billboard reviewer Timothy White: “Richey entices you with sad and unembellished music that reveals an original spirit—and then she ensnares you for keeps by making you consider all the noiseless sensations that no songs can ever contain.” Richey herself notes of her craft that “music is a time-travel device that preserves memories, puts you back in the right place, or makes you get sad in the dark so you can feel better. It almost gives you a friend.”
Kim Richey, Mercury Nashville, 1995.
Bitter Sweet, Mercury Nashville, 1997.
Billboard, December 28, 1996.
Country Music, July 1995, p. 26.
Country Song Roundup, October 1995, p. 21.
Interview, February 1997, p. 70.
New Country, May 1995, pp. 41-42.
Q, April 1997.
Spin, May 1997.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Mercury Records press materials.
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