To call Richie Kaye’s musical background “eclectic” is not to flippantly employ a cool word to portray a somewhat wide range of interests; it’s the only appropriate way to describe the influences on this “singing performer with a guitar.”
He grew up listening to everything from opera, to the Rat Pack, and jazz of all kinds, including the jazz-rock fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Ranging farther afield, a youthful interest in everything “exotic” led Richie to Chinese, Japanese and Indian music.
Despite that wide range, he also has fond memories of classic country music, remembering being mesmerized by magical performances from Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash on their respective TV shows.
After many years performing mostly music from the “American Songbook” (mainly as a duo along with saxophonist Tony LaVorgna), and after relocating from the New York City metro-area to Houston, Texas, Richie found himself drawn to the charms of country music. He was refocusing on solo gigging, finding himself in need of a deep source of performance material, and as it turned out, his rich baritone voice was perfectly suited to the the genre.
He recalls how country asserted itself in his musical life: “…I’d had quite a few requests…Someone would say ‘You have a deep, rich voice like Johnny Cash—can you sing this song?’…Well, that just exploded with ideas. After I learned 30 or 40 numbers, given the audience reaction, I decided to stick with it…” A deep dive into country’s back catalog set the stage for Richie’s most recent songwriting.
His second album in the genre (released in May) is called Plush Life, the title of which Richie says reflects a luxurious musical texture. The album features 13 original songs penned by Kaye, and also marks his debut with the New Old-Timers. These session pros include Jody Cameron on pedal steel guitar; Sam Kuslan on piano, organ, guitar and vocal harmonies; bassists David Craig and Rankin Peters; drummers Steve Allison and Walter Cross; and Kevin Carter on fiddle.
The songs mirror traditional themes of the classic-country genre: from heartache to hard-luck stories, with plenty of binge drinking in between, but Kaye also highlights its romantic and humorous sides.
“I wanted to create something that had a strong sense of its ancestry, so it would smell and taste like the classic country that I love, with themes that are similar to what you hear from Nashville and Bakersfield—refreshed and going in a slightly different, jazzier direction, but still being respectful to the past.”
By Dan Walsh