Lyrics may be the most important part of a good country song. The words coming through an artist’s song is a very big contributing factor to whether that song will catch on or not.
Jamie Richards has perfected his songwriting formula, writing songs that mean something to him and delivering them with a smooth country vocal.
Showing versatility with both great up-tempo tunes and excellent ballads, Richards’ albums take listeners on a journey from start to finish. Now, get a chance to hear from Richards himself about some of his most popular songs, his writing process, his journey from signing a major label contract to being a number one artist in Texas, and more!
Pro Country: When you were four, you said that you sang on top of your mother’s piano at a gospel show.
Jamie Richards: Yeah, my mother was a gospel singer and a piano player. I would stand on the bench next to her and sing when I was three or four years old, so I’ve been at it for a good while. We did that several times a year, probably two or three times a month we would perform somewhere.
PC: What effect did having music in your family have on you?
JR: Well I definitely believe that without having that start, I never would have been in the music business. I have two brothers and sisters, and they all sing, but they never went on with it like I did and made a career out of it. It’s really all I ever knew. I was a carpenter for a long long time too; about twenty years. When I got to Nashville, I was probably late 20s, and by the time I got a writing deal and my first record deals, I was close to my late 30s. So I kind of worked construction when I was in Nashville for the same company for almost the whole time, so I feel like I’ve had two careers.
I had a record deal on RCA, and also Capitol and Curb, it just never did pan out at any of those places. We never did get any singles out to radio, but we recorded some material. It just didn’t happen at the time, so when I got an offer from Texas, I took it. I stayed in Nashville for three or four years, and then I moved to Oklahoma, where I’m from, and started touring heavily.
PC: At what age did you start think you wanted to make and perform music for a living, and when did that become a real possibility for you?
JR: When I was 16 and 17, I started playing some local bars around Shawnee, Oklahoma, and I think that I was making $35 per night, and that seemed like pretty good money at the time, probably about as good as I could have made doing an hourly job, and it was a whole lot more fun. So I guess it was probably as a teenager that I thought I would take from there and get as much music accomplished as I could.
When I got to 26 or 27, I moved to Nashville. I had played full-time up until then in Oklahoma, and had done some odds-and-ends other jobs too, then for another 10 years, I worked in construction, then finally got a writing deal at Curb. I had some record reals previous to that in the early 90s; 1992 with Capitol Records. I had Mark Wright, who was a well-known producer who had worked with Mark Chesnutt and Clint Black. We cut some sides with me, came to Oklahoma to watch me perform a show in my hometown. He flew in to see that, and he was trying to get me going.
A few years later, I went in and played for RCA Records, and he gave us a budget, we went in and cut some sides, but that never ended up working out. Then I went to Curb as a writer/artist. We cut a lot of songs, but they weren’t mastered for records. They let me out of the record deal and signed me to a five-year publishing deal, and that’s what got me off of having to do anything but music, so from 1999 until now, music is all I’ve done.
PC: You said you were playing a lot of shows back at home- over 100 per year, what did you take away and learn from that experience? Did it help shape your sound in any way?
JR: I definitely think it did. Sometimes there were only 10 people in there (laughs), they weren’t always great shows, but I definitely believe it did. I think it’s showing up now in my career. I think when people hear me now, they think “that guy’s not faking it, what he’s singing about, that’s real.” I write songs about real things- a lot of sad songs and a lot of slow songs, I don’t just stick to a catchy three-minute tune, I like all kinds of tunes, including those sad country songs.
I do that, and I’ve built a fan base up- more so in Texas because Oklahoma doesn’t really have any honky tonks left, maybe just a handful, but Texas still has a lot of places to play, so that’s why I’m down there.
PC: When you were a writer at Curb, was it kind of strange to be writing for the masses and for the radio instead of maybe writing things that you wanted to write?
JR: Yeah, I think so. I probably should have marketed myself more towards radio (laughs). I pretty much wrote whatever I was feeling at the time. We would have meetings at Curb in the morning, and they would say “This band is looking for this kind of song,” or “this band is looking for that kind of song,” so they kind of lead us in that direction; they kind of told what all of the Nashville acts were looking for, so sometimes I did gear my writing for those people.
A lot of the time, I ended up doubling back and writing for myself; maybe better songs that I felt more soul or more inspiration to write, or songs that I had were about the way I was brought up to live, instead of trying to write for Rascal Flatts or others. I did get some cuts- a Hal Ketchum, Ken Mellons, Kevin Fowler, and people like that cut some of my songs, but I never really got a big bunch of cuts. I got one here and there, but never a big single, I guess it just wasn’t destined to be (laughs).
PC: Did you take anything away from those experiences with Capitol, RCA, and Curb that really stood out to you and has helped you?
JR: No doubt. I wrote so many songs back then, I wrote a couple hundred songs in a period of about four years, and a lot of those songs have become songs that I’ve put out in Texas, and they’ve done really well. Without that big load of songs, I probably wouldn’t have had that success.
I also got to write with some of the greatest writers- hall of fame writers like Jim Rushing, Rory Burke, Don Pfrimmer, Paul Craft, Larry Cordle; some really great writers who were older than me and taught me a lot about writing. I got a lot out of my years in Nashville, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today in Texas without that.
PC: When you released your first album, you had almost immediate success with “Don’t Try to Find Me.” How validating was that for you to have that success so early in your career, especially after your time at RCA, Capitol, and Curb?
JR: For sure. That was in 2001, and I didn’t write that song, but I remember Anna Lisa Graham co-wrote that song with a guy named Tony Martin, who is a big writer, and she played me that song and I thought it was a great one, so we cut it.
But yeah, that song definitely got in the top 20 immediately, and I started thinking to myself, “Well, there’s a lot of people in Texas who are going to know who I am,” but I’ll tell you what, I was wrong (laughs). It takes a while to build. I probably had to have six singles out before people really started knowing who I was. It takes a while down there, as it does anywhere, unless you have so much money and they can just push it out nationwide, with a big video and being played on a bunch of radio stations. Without that, you have to build it yourself. Even if you have hit records, it still takes touring and a lot of grass roots efforts.
PC: Can you talk about the writing process behind “Last Call”?
JR: There was a guy named Wayd Battle, he was pretty young at the time we wrote that one, probably early 20s, and I had my staff writing deal at Curb. Later down the road, he ended up playing and writing some stuff for Jamey Johnson, and even ended up in his band. He was kind of a red-headed guy, played guitar left-handed, wore a bandana- just a really good guy.
Anyway, he had the idea, he saw a wrecker that said “First call after last call” on the side of it, which got me thinking that we should try to write it about a girl, so we did. We sat down and wrote that and a lot of that stuff- I had a roommate at the time, and he was going through a hard time. He would call his girlfriend at three in the morning and start asking her if they could get back together. The next morning, he would always say, “Why did you let me call?” So I kind of used him and that experience a bit for some of the lyrics, but it came together pretty quick. We probably wrote it in a couple hours, which is way faster than I usually write. Usually, it takes a few different writing sessions for me to get something done, maybe more. I don’t generally write songs super fast, but that one came pretty good and quick.
PC: Why do you think it has connected with people and continued to be a fan favorite so many years after its release?
JR: I think the groove or something, because when you kick it off, you can see people just flooding for the dance floor, because it’s one of those songs that people react to dancing. They did that even when they didn’t know the song. I’ve noticed over the years that most people won’t dance to a song they really haven’t heard; like if you play a new song, even if it has the same groove as “Amarillo By Morning,” they won’t dance to it because they know it (laughs). “Last Call” seemed to be a song that everyone picked up on pretty quick. Every time I play it now, it never ceases to amaze me that when I play that song, it gets the crowd every night, and I never get tired of singing it, it’s one of those where I really like the song too.
PC: After that success, your next album, “Drive” came out and you had your first number one with the song “Drive.” After you achieved that level of success, did you feel any pressure- internally or externally, to achieve that level of success again with future singles?
JR: I don’t think I did. “Drive” was another song I wrote with Wayd Battle. That song, they didn’t even want to release it as a single. The promoter was telling me that it was too slow, and I would tell her that I didn’t agree. Sure enough, it was my first number one. I’ve gone through a handful of promoters, but there’s a guy now that’s working with me out of Nashville named Rick Hogan. He’s an absolutely phenomenal radio guy. Out of four singles on my latest record, he’s gotten me three number ones and a number three, so he’s really kicked it up a notch.
PC: You had those three singles from “Latest and Greatest” go to number one, 16 years after your first album was released. What does it mean to you to have that kind of longevity?
JR: I think it mean that if I wasn’t putting out good material for all those years, that I would be long done. You might have a couple of hits with something that’s fun and not very meaningful, but eventually, I think you have to write some stuff that moves people. I love lyrics and all that stuff, and I think that’s been the main difference with me- writing good lyrics that hit people in the heart. It’s seemed to work well for me in Texas, the phone is still ringing and people are still wanting to come see me, so I’m fortunate, because the music business really goes through a lot of artists.
PC: You’ve been based in Texas and Oklahoma for most of your career, but have managed to attract fans from all over the world. Is it surreal for you to hear from people in other countries who enjoy your music?
JR: It is, it really is, because I’ve never been bankrolled by a whole lot of money or people spending millions of dollars. The music business is just that, it’s a business. I’ve been lucky enough to remain in it and make a good living with it. To get to go to France three times to play, Spain, to get to go over there and play music and people know your music, it’s pretty crazy. I’ve even gone down to Mexico, pretty deep into Mexico, and even they knew my music. They have radio stations down there that play old school country, and so does France, and they love it. They don’t really dig the newer stuff.
PC: You’ve said before that you have a “cradle to the grave” philosophy with your music, can you explain that philosophy?
JR: I think I said that in an interview. I think what I was talking about was just remaining sincere about what you’re doing and staying on the same track and not trying to go with this fad and that fad; to stay with the fact that I’m a country singer, I like country music, I like good lyrics, that’s what I do, and I’m going to keep doing that.
PC: To piggyback off of that, what do you think about the state of mainstream country music today?
JR: You know, it is what it is but to me, in my mind, it’s a long way from country. Once in a while, I’ll hear a song come out of Nashville and think it’s really good, but for the most part, it’s not country to me. I just hope that younger people don’t lose the definition of “country” and think that some of that stuff is actually country, and I know that they are losing it. I even see it in Texas, there’s some bands that don’t have any country in them whatsoever but they’re still on country music radio. It’s getting better for the for more traditional country guys in Texas, I think they’re coming up to the forefront a little bit more than they were in the last five or ten years. And don’t get me wrong, some of the stuff on the charts I like, but it’s not really country. I just hope there’s always a place for the real stuff, and when people hear it, they know it, and say “that’s what country is.”
PC: How do you think a guy like Cody Johnson, whose newest single went to number one on iTunes in all genres, can help right the ship a little bit and show a wider audience a true country sound?
JR: Definitely. I know Cody, he’s doing pretty country stuff. It’s all about timing, if you’re that guy and you have that look and have that song and hit the right moment; he was the guy in that moment, and he’s doing great. I think he helped bring country back around, for sure.
PC: What are your plans for the near future?
JR: I’ve got a new single that we’re going to put out probably within the next month. It’s actually an older song that was on an older album. I’m gonna do a lot more writing in this coming year, I’m hoping to get a whole album out in 2019- 10 or 12 songs, that’s the plan. I haven’t been writing a whole lot I need to get on the stick and do that. I also have some pretty cool shows coming up. I just booked one today down in Galveston 450,000 bikers down there, if you can believe that. That’ll be the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for. When I was in France, one of the shows was 13,000- it was a big festival and I had never played in front of that many people before. I’m looking forward to this one!
*Feature image courtesy of Jamie Richards’ Facebook Page*