That’s no way to treat a Grammy winner.
Tony Rich was a big name among music-industry insiders even before his debut album, “Words,” was released in January 1996. A former staff writer for LaFace Records, he had written hits for Boyz II Men, Toni Braxton, Michael Bolton, Pebbles and Johnny Gill.
So, when “Words” spawned the platinum-selling “Nobody Knows” (which reached No. 2 on Billboard’s pop chart) and Rich subsequently won a Grammy Award for best R&B album, naturally he would have more clout, right?
Unfortunately, no, says Rich.
“When I won the Grammy, it wasn’t like I had this huge acceptance amongst my peers in the music business,” Rich said recently. “It wasn’t like I got numerous calls from people saying congratulations. It was really like a cold-shoulder feeling.
“Winning a Grammy is like being in the military and you earn a stripe. You expect and you would think you’d automatically get respect for it. From some people, you do. But it scares some other people on a way serious level. Having that much success on your first record is really, really funny, because it’s beyond your control. People have a perception of you that’s much higher and they don’t know how quite to treat you.”
For whatever reason, Rich was tagged as difficult to deal with, and then his manager was hired by LaFace. Though it featured an appearance by Eric Clapton, Rich’s follow-up album, “Birdseye,” got lost in the shuffle – and never charted. A year later, Rich asked for and was granted his release from his LaFace contract.
It was hard for Rich to enjoy his newfound freedom. He was going through some personal turmoil.
“I got married, divorced, remarried and divorced again,” he said. “We had our son between our first and second marriage. All that was going on in between records – so I was experiencing a lot of things in a short amount of time.”
Now a father of three, Rich says when things got bad, he could always count on his children to keep him grounded.
“Becoming a father, I can definitely say that it added to my focus, as far as my sense of urgency of what I did,” he said. “When you have kids, you have these mouths to feed – they depend on you for a lot of things. They want you to be strong, especially the father.
“I remember becoming very, very serious, because you become an example. I wanted to be really good at what I do, and you start living your life for someone other than yourself. I’ve got these beautiful kids, and you lean on them for the happiness. They’ll look at you like, ‘It’s not that bad, Dad.’ “
It really wasn’t that bad, and through it all, Rich never stopped writing and recording. When the time came to piece together his third album, “Resurrected,” he pooled songs from his vault that fit best.
A chip off the ol’ Prince block, “Resurrected” was released on July 15 via Compendia. Featuring standout tracks “Red Wine,” “Traveling Alone,” “Free” and “Future Daze,” the album is sonically eclectic and brimming with introspective lyrics – just as Rich intended.
“Putting out a record is like putting out a book,” he said. “A novelist wants to make sure to convey the message they want people to get out of those hundreds of pages. ‘Resurrected’ was my message. Not ‘I’m going through a resurrection,’ but ‘I’ve been resurrected.’ I wanted two, three songs to represent each period of my life when I wasn’t really visible, not showing up on the radar screen in music.”
With major labels in shambles, thanks to mergers, a recession and the proliferation of song piracy on the Web, Rich didn’t care to get back on that treadmill. He feels right at home on Compendia, which has given new life to such established-but-overlooked artists as Joan Osbourne, Merle Haggard, Ivan Neville, Terence Trent D’Arby (now Sananda Maitreya) and the late Robert Palmer.
“I know when I lay down to sleep at night,” Rich said, “they’re gonna work this record – and they’ll do it for about 12 months. It’s not a few weeks and then that’s it.
“When you deal with an independent, your profit margin is better. Therefore, your threshold for sales is different. … They have lots of different ways of selling records and they’re always exploring. They don’t just depend on radio or video.”
Rich is glad to be back in the game, doing what he does best: creating music for the masses.
“Once you put a record out, you connect with people,” he said. “You become a voice for them. Some of the things you say and express in your songs, they can relate to them. Maybe the song will encourage them to do things they never thought of doing. That’s what I love about what I do.
“Can you imagine what life would be like without music? Imagine watching something as simple as the news without music – or a movie without music. Music is everywhere and in everything. Music carries you from one experience to the next. A song can take you back 10, 15 years and more.
“Every time I hear Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely,’ I immediately think back to when I was 4 years old, standing in front of my mom. She’s putting my scarf around my neck, putting my gloves on, making sure I don’t have anything on the corner of my mouth and sending me off to school. Music is powerful. It really is a soundtrack to your life.”
ON THE WEB: www.tony-rich.com.
BWF (before we forget): The Tony Rich Project album discography – “Words” (LaFace/Arista, 1996); “Birdseye” (1998); “Resurrected” (Compendia, 2003).
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