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Charlie Rich (December 14, 1932 - July 25, 1995) was an American Country Music Singer/Musicianmarker. A Grammy Award winner, his eclectic-style of music was often hard to classify in a single genre, playing in the rockabilly, jazz, blues, country, and gospel genres.

In the latter part of his life, Rich acquired the nickname The Silver Fox. He is perhaps best remembered for a pair of 1973 hits, "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl". "The Most Beautiful Girl" topped the U.S. country singles charts, as well as the pop singles charts. .

Early life

Though he resided in Benton, Arkansasmarker most of his life, Rich was born in Colt, Arkansasmarker to rural cotton farmers, beginning a professional musical career while in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1950s. His first musical group, called the Velvetones, played jazz and blues and featured his fiancée, Margaret Ann, on lead vocals. Rich left the military in 1955 and tried to farm five acres in Tennesseemarker. He also began performing in clubs around the Memphis areamarker, playing both jazz and R&B. It was during these hard times that he began writing his own material.

Early Recording Career: Late 1950s & 1960s

Rich was a session musician for Judd Records, which was owned by Jud Phillips, the brother of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. After recording some demos for Sam Phillips at Sun Records that Phillips didn't find commercial enough, and too jazzy, legend has it that he was given a stack of Jerry Lee Lewis records and told: "come back when you get that bad." In 1958, Rich became a regular session musician for Sun Records playing on records by Lewis, Johnny Cash, Bill Justis, Warren Smith, Billy Lee Riley, Carl Mann, and Ray Smith. He also wrote songs for Lewis, Cash, and others.

His third single for the Sun subsidiary, Phillips International Records, was the 1960 Top 30 hit, "Lonely Weekends," noted for its Presley-like vocals. None of his seven follow-up singles was a success, though several of the songs became staples in his live set, including "Who Will the Next Fool Be," "Sittin' and Thinkin'," and "No Headstone on My Grave." These songs were often recorded by others to varying degrees of success, such as the Bobby Bland version of "Who Will the Next Fool Be."

Rich's career stalled, and he left the struggling Sun label in 1963, signing with a subsidiary of RCA Records Groove. His first single for Groove, "Big Boss Man," was a minor hit, but again his Chet Atkins-produced follow-ups all stiffed. Rich moved to Smash Records early in 1965. Rich's new producer, Jerry Kennedy, encouraged the pianist to emphasize his country and rock & roll leanings, although Rich considered himself a jazz pianist and had not paid much attention to country music since his childhood. The first single for Smash was "Mohair Sam," an R&B-inflected novelty-rock number, and it became a Top 30 pop hit. Unfortunately again for Rich, none of his follow-up singles were successful. Rich was forced to change labels, moving over to Hi Records, where he recorded blue eyed soul music and straight country, but none of his singles made a dent on the country or pop charts.

The Height of His Career in the 70s

Despite Rich's lack of consistent commercial success, Epic Records signed Rich in 1967, mainly on the recommendation of producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill helped Rich refashion himself as a Nashville Sound balladeer during an era when old rock n' rollers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty were finding a new musical home in the country and western format. This new "Countrypolitan" Rich sound paid off in the summer of 1972, when "I Take It on Home" went to number six in the country charts. The title track from his 1973 album, Behind Closed Doors, became a number one hit early in that year, crossing over into the Top 20 on the pop charts. This time his follow-up did not fizzle, as "The Most Beautiful Girl" spent three weeks at the top of the country charts and two weeks at the top of the pop charts. Now established as a country music star, Behind Closed Doors won three awards from the Country Music Association that year: Best Male Vocalist, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year. The album was also certified gold. Rich won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and he took home four ACM awards. RCA's resident songwriter, Marvin Walters, co-wrote for three years with Charlie producing four recordings including a very popular "Set Me Free".

After "The Most Beautiful Girl", number one hits came quickly, as five songs topped the country charts in 1974 and crossed over to the pop charts. The songs were "There Won't Be Anymore" (Pop #18), "A Very Special Love Song" (Pop #11), "I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore" (Pop #47), "I Love My Friend" (Pop #24), and "She Called Me Baby" (Pop #47). Both RCA and Mercury (Smash was a subsidiary of Mercury which was absorbed into the main company in 1970) re-released his previously recorded material from the mid-1960s, as well. All of this success led the CMA to name him Entertainer of the Year in 1974. Rich had three more top five hits in 1975, but even though he was at the peak of his popularity, Rich began to drink heavily, causing considerable problems off-stage. His destructive personal behavior famously culminated at the CMA awards ceremony for 1975, when he presented the award for Entertainer of the Year, while visibly intoxicated. Instead of reading the name of the winner, who happened to be John Denver, he set fire to the envelope with a cigarette lighter, before announcing the award had gone to "My friend Mr. John Denver." Some considered it an act of rebellion against the Music Row-controlled Nashville Sound. But many speculated that Rich's behavior was a protest against the award going to Denver, whose music Rich had considered too "pop," and not enough "country." Others, including industry insiders, were outraged, and Rich had trouble having hits throughout 1976, and only had one top ten with "Since I Fell For You."

The slump in his career was exacerbated by the fact that his records began to sound increasingly similar: pop-inflected country ballads with overdubbed strings and little of the jazz or blues Rich had performed his entire life. He did not have a top ten hit again until "Rollin' With the Flow" in 1977 went to number one. Early in 1978, he signed with United Artists Records, and throughout that year, he had hits on both Epic and UA. His hits in 1978 included the top ten hits "Beautiful Woman," "Puttin' In Overtime At Home," and his last number one with "On My Knees," a duet with Janie Fricke.

Reclusive Era & Death

Rich struggled throughout 1979 having hits with United Artists and Epic. His singles were moderate hits that year, the biggest of them on either UA or Epic was a version of "Spanish Eyes," which became a top 20 country hit. Rich appeared as himself in the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie, Every Which Way But Loose, in which he performed the song, "I'll Wake You Up When I Get Home." This song hit number three on the charts in 1979 and was his last top ten single. In 1980, he switched labels again to Elektra Records, and released a number twelve single, "A Man Just Don't Know What a Woman Goes Through" in the fall of that year. One more Top 40 hit followed — the Gary Stewart song, "Are We Dreamin' the Same Dream" early in 1981 — but Rich decided to remove himself from the spotlight. For over a decade, Rich was silent, living off his investments in semi-retirement and only playing occasional concerts.

In 1992, Rich released Pictures and Paintings, a jazzy record that was produced by journalist Peter Guralnick. It was released on Sire Records. Pictures and Paintings received positive critical reviews and restored Rich's reputation as a musician, but it would be his last record. One of his opening acts in these years was Tom Waits, who mentioned him in the song "Putnam County" from his album Nighthawks at the Diner with the lyric: "The radio's spitting out Charlie Rich... He sure can sing, that son of a bitch."

Charlie Rich was traveling to Florida with his wife from Natchez, Mississippimarker, where he watched his son perform with Freddy Fender at a local casino, when he experienced a bout of severe coughing. After visiting a doctor in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and receiving antibiotics, he continued traveling until he stopped to rest for the night. Charlie Rich died in his sleep on July 25, 1995, in a Hammond, Louisianamarker, motel. He was 62 years old. The cause of death was a blood clot in his lung. He was buried in the Memorial Park Cemeterymarker in Memphis, Tennesseemarker.

At the time, Charlie Rich was survived by his wife of 43 years, Margaret; two sons, Allan and Jack, and two daughters, Rene and Laurie.



Academy of Country Music

American Music Awards

Country Music Association

Grammy Awards


  1. [1]Charlie Rich - The Envelope Burning

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