“For me the story comes first, the musical setting follows and an acoustic guitar seems like a good place to start, but sometimes you do need to plug in the Telecaster and put a little grit on things. I’ve always liked the analogy that your songs are kind of like your children and for me I guess that means a few of mine may need to go to reform school”.
60 miles east of Los Angeles where the urban sprawl starts to thin out and the desert starts to take over sits the old railroad town of San Bernardino. In 1978 when Rick Shea was growing up there, dozens of honky-tonks and truck stop bars still lined the outskirts, tough places where the remnants of California’s golden age of country music still drifted through like the hot winds.
“I started playing folk and coffeehouse gigs after high school and sort of fell into the country music scene…as a sideman and a singer I worked 6 – 7 nights a week. It was rough sometimes but a good education, that’s where I first heard a lot of those old songs – Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell and Buck Owens – every night.”
Shea has managed to parlay that tough but real education into a successful career as a solo artist, with five critically acclaimed albums and appearances at the Strawberry Festival, the Tucson Folk Festival, the Canmore Folk Festival, the Freight and Salvage, McCabe’s and many of the other folk, rock and acoustic venues in California and the West.
Shea is a deeply evocative singer and a formidable guitarist. His songs are almost cinematic in their scope and embrace everything from norteño and border rock to the more traditional folk and country music of California that he grew up with.
Due out in July 2009, “Shelter Valley Blues” is the title of Rick’s latest album. Recorded at his home studio outside Los Angeles, Shea plays acoustic, electric, steel guitar and mandolin and is joined by guests including Heather Myles, Moira Smiley and, from Los Lobos, David Hidalgo and Cougar Estrada. The mood of the album swings from the hard country of the title track to the Irish-tinged folk of “Ty Robby” to the Rockpile meets Tex-Mex romp of “Sweet Little Pocha”. Shea covers a wide spectrum of styles with confidence and ease yet always maintains respect and reverence for the music that reflects a career playing at venues from dusty San Bernardino honky-tonks to Madison Square Garden.
“Staunchly independent…represents the best of California music,” Jonny Whiteside/LA Weekly
As a sideman, Shea has worked with everyone from roots rock kingpin Dave Alvin to folk chanteuse Katy Moffatt to indie rock legends R.E.M. As a member of Dave Alvin’s band, “The Guilty Men”, Rick toured the U.S. and Europe for 6 years as an opener and multi-instrumental sideman, playing everywhere from Hollywood to Austin to Madison Square Garden and played on most of Dave’s albums during that time including the Grammy winning Public Domain.
“He has a storyteller’s sense of detail and more, a sense for which details to leave out,” Jim Washburn/OC Weekly
After three solo albums and two collaborations, “Trouble and Me” (2002) with fiddler/singer Brantley Kearns which Dirty Linen called “stunningly good” and an album of hard country duets with Patty Booker, “Our Shangri LA” (2004), called “nothing short of a masterpiece” by Shaun Dale in Cosmic Debris , Shea says he’s enjoying playing again as a solo artist.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I do, music to me is a very direct and pure form of expression that can reach across time and place. The songs I go back to are the old ones, the ones where you feel the connection 70-80 years later like you were in the same room, that’s what gives me goose bumps.”