“I Feel Like Going Home” by Charlie Rich is a Pullover song for me. When I first heard it in my car, it was so powerful I had to pull over my car to listen to it.
For a long time, I only knew Charlie Rich from his “Behind Closed Doors” and “Most Beautiful Girl” era. I liked the former song as a cheesy song about having sex but was never a fan of the latter. So I pretty much wrote him off as someone who once did a pop song I kind of liked. But I was wrong.
Rich is an amazing talent who never quite got the attention he deserved, perhaps because his musical talents were so diverse and he refused to be put into one category. He has some great rockabilly songs from Sun Records. He recorded there not long after Elvis Presley left the recording studio. And he made some excellent country recordings.
His final album before his death, Pictures and Paintings, was largely a jazz album. The Silver Fox was an excellent piano player, and he wrote some great songs.
Pictures and Paintings featured Rich’s song, “I Feel Like Going Home.” It is a nice recording with a band, and the album is worth checking out. And Rich recorded other versions of the song, including an over-produced version as a B-side to “The Most Beautiful Girl.” But it is another version of the song that captures something much more.
The Origins of “I Feel Like Going Home”
First, though, it helps to understand how Rich came to write the song. In 1971, writer Peter Guralnick wrote a series of essays about some of the great performers of country, blues, and rock and roll music. The book was called Feel Like Going Home and featured a loving profile of Rich, before his “Behind Closed Doors” comeback.
At the time of Guralnick’s book, Rich was struggling in the wilderness and it had been years since Rich had any kind of success. Guralnick took the title of a Muddy Waters’ song for the inspiration for his book’s title. And the book, with Guralnick’s loving portrait of Rich, in turn inspired Rich to write his song with a similar name.
The Great Demo Version and Richard Nixon
Besides the version on Pictures and Paintings, there is another version of “I Feel Like Going Home” that cuts to your core. It is a demo version with no production and just Rich singing and banging on the piano. This version appears on the 1997 compilation Feel Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich, which is worth seeking out.
Also, it is this version that is closest to what rock critic Greil Marcus remembered Charlie Rich playing for Richard Nixon around the time of his downfall. (Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.) Marcus has called this version of Rich’s song about failure “the strongest moment of Rich’s career — a match for Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia On My Mind’ or Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ and somehow more indomitable than either.” (Greil Marcus, In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992, 207).
It is fantastic. Check out the demo version of Charlie Rich’s “I Feel Like Going Home.”
Many people mainly remember Charlie Rich for his 1970s hits “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl” off of his album Behind Closed Doors (1973). And if you look on YouTube, most of the live performance videos of this great artist are of those two songs. But most of Rich’s best work took place both before and after that album, and Rich remains one of my favorite singers because of that other work. Rich consistently did outstanding work, even if fans did not always buy his songs the way they did for his hits.
Having played piano and sang for Sun Records in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and following a brief stint at Groove, Charlie Rich — who was born on December 14, 1932 -– signed with Smash Records in 1965. His first single for Smash Records was a novelty song “Mohair Sam,” written by Dallas Frazier.
The song became a hit, ending up in the top 30 on the pop charts. Below, Rich performs “Mohair Sam” on the October 7, 1965 episode of ABC-TV’s show Shindig! Check it out.
Even at the time, “Mohair Sam” sounded like a song from an earlier era. Songs on the radio in 1965 included Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Otis Redding’s “Respect,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”
Rich would continue to have ups and downs in his careers. As he did many times during his career, despite continuing to make quality music, Charlie Rich would have to reinvent himself before finding success again in the early 1970s. Then, after a period of semi-retirement through the 1980s, he released a wonderful jazzy album Pictures and Paintings in 1992 before passing away on July 25, 1995.
What is your favorite Charlie Rich song? Leave your two cents in the comments.
Charlie Rich, who had a long career of making great music, suddenly found himself with a huge hit album with the 1973 release of Behind Closed Doors. The title track was one of the most popular songs of the time. And it was followed by the equally popular hit, “The Most Beautiful Girl.” The Country Music Association named him Entertainer of the Year in 1974. But it would be his return to the CMA Awards stage the following year that many would most remember.
The following year on October 13, 1975, Rich returned to the Country Music Association Awards show to pass the torch to the new “Entertainer of the Year.” After Rich announced the nominees, which included a bit of rambling, he opened the envelope. After picking up the dropped announcement of the winner, he set it on fire. After a brief pause, he said the winner’s name, “My friend, Mr. John Denver.”
Then, John Denver appeared via satellite, apparently unaware of what just happened. But when the camera returned to the stage, host Glen Campbell looked a little confused.
Why Did Rich Do It?
Many regarded Rich’s actions as a protest against giving the award to Denver. Some speculated that Rich thought Denver was not “country” enough.
That reasoning does not seem quite right, as Rich himself was not a traditionalist, having started out with rock music at Sun Records. Further, his previous year’s success came from an album with a non-traditional country “Countrypolitan” sound based on a suggestion from producer Billy Sherill.
Rich himself never made a statement that the act was one of protest. If one watches the video, one sees the more logical explanation: Rich was drunk and/or on drugs. His speech sounds slurred, he rambles at times, and he struggles to open the envelope. Further, there does not seem to be much time for reflection between clumsily opening the envelope and pulling out his lighter, as if he planned to do it all along (although maybe he knew the winner ahead of time).
Rich’s son has offered a similar explanation of the night. On his website, Charlie Rich Jr. explains how his dad was not one to judge other musicians and he also was friends with John Denver. He believes his father lit the announcement on fire out of a combination of bad judgment and believing it would be funny. Charlie Rich Jr. explains that his father was on pain medication for a foot injury and was also drinking gin and tonics that night.
He continues: “I know the last thing my father would have wanted to do was set himself up as judge of another musician. He felt badly that people thought it was a statement against John Denver.” Additionally, Charlie Rich Jr. remembers his father later unsuccessfully trying to meet up with John Denver while on a trip to Colorado. He does not know if his father ever got to explain things to Denver.
Viewers still debate the meaning of Rich’s act. One commentator has speculated maybe it was a combination of all of the theories, thinking “the gesture was partly a joke, partly the result of mixing meds and booze, and partly a sincere expression of annoyance at the notion of John Denver as a country music legend.”
Rich’s Later Career
Unfortunately, Rich’s fire-lighting act before a large audience and the country music industry helped send his career into another slump. And the CMA banned him from future shows.
Rich eventually did record some great songs again. But he never again reached the level of the hits from Behind Closed Doors. Additionally, he had some bit parts in movies.
Rich’s last record was a wonderful jazz-influenced album released in 1992, Pictures and Paintings. He died in his sleep in 1995 of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 62.
Charlie Rich is one of my favorite artists of all time. If you only know him from his hit country songs in the 1970s, you should check out other parts of his catalog.
One of my favorite songs of his is “I Feel Like Going Home,” which appears in a jazzy version on Pictures and Paintings. But I especially love the demo version that features only the piano and that voice. The first time I heard this song, I was driving in my car and I had to pull over to listen to it. Here, it is a perfect bookend to the discussion of his fire at the CMAs.
Surprisingly, Charlie Rich is not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. For more information about lending your voice to supporting his membership, check out the Charlie Rich website. He also deserves to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
On October 14, 2016, Memphis International Records is releasing Feel Like Going Home (The Songs of Charlie Rich), a tribute album of Charlie Rich songs recorded by artists such as Jim Lauderdale, Will Kimbrough, Susan Marshall, Shooter Jennings, and Charlie Rich, Jr.
What is your favorite Charlie Rich song? Leave your two cents in the comments.
For every musician who hits it big, there are many more who release an album or two and disappear for various reasons. We have written about some of those artists who have created some great music and then disappeared from center stage, such as Sinéad Lohan (leaving us for a quieter life) and Teddy Morgan (leaving us for Kevin Costner). Another one of these missing artists who we love and miss is Mike Ireland & Holler, who released two excellent alt-country albums around the turn of the century that were born out of Ireland’s personal turmoil. And then, Ireland disappeared.
Learning How to Live
Ireland, a tall bald man with long sideburns who grew up in Kansas City, did not look like the typical country musician. But the albums he created with his band Holler — Learning How to Live (1998) and Try Again (2002) — are built around a beautiful aching tenor twang that also led to appearances on the Grand Ole Opry as well as opening for Buck Owens.
Below, Ireland performs the title track from Learning How to Live on Signal to Noise. He is accompanied by the members of his band Holler — Mike Lemon, Paul Lemon, and Dan Mesh. Check it out.
Critics loved the album. In describing this 1998 album, Allmusic noted that “few artists cut as deeply with raw, honest desperation,” calling Learning to Live “one of the finest (and certainly most underappreciated) country albums of the decade.” A September 1998 Los Angeles Times review of a live show before “barely a dozen customers” compared him to Gram Parsons.
Unfortunately, though, Learning to Live did not sell well for the Sub Pop label. It sold only around 2,500 copies in the first four years, while Ireland played shows to small audiences (even though he also got to play the Grand Ole Opry). But it was an unfair result for an album wherein the singer-songwriter poured so much of his soul. To understand how Learning How to Live came about, one must go back several years.
Holler’s Beginnings and Mike Ireland’s Heartbreak
Long before Mike Ireland put together his band Holler, he played music while in college in Columbia, Missouri. There, he teamed up with singer-songwriter Rich Smith and formed a band called And How.
Several years later, the two reunited to form a band called The Starkweathers. In the early 1990s, The Starkweathers were starting to garner some success with a 1994 EP release. The group’s country-punk sound featured Ireland’s harmonies with lead singer Smith. Below is the band’s song, “Burn the Flag.”
The Starkweathers had formed out of an impromptu performance of friends at Ireland’s wedding. But his relationship with his wife would ultimately lead to the destruction of the band too.
Just as the band members were starting to put more time into their music and after Ireland quit his day job teaching English composition, in October 1995 Ireland found out that his wife was having an affair with his band partner Smith.
After the discover of the affair, the band broke up. Rich Smith left the music business for awhile, working in a music store, before he would later try to start a new band, The Broadsides.
So, Ireland not only lost his wife, he lost his band and his friend. As Ireland later explained, “So suddenly I was without a wife or a house or a band or a job or a best friend. And it was pretty devastating.”
Creating Music Out of Pain
He thought his life in music was ending. But Ireland poured the pain of his personal life into writing new songs. His life, which now sounded like an old country song, led him to find a connection to a more traditional country sound, incorporating honky-tonk and Billy Sherrill-like countrypolitan styles. The result was his 1998 debut solo album, Learning to Live, which features ten original compositions and two covers.
The album leads off with a song, “House of Secrets,” a song about a man burning down a house holding his wife and her lover. It is an angry song that only could have been written by a man who genuinely felt betrayed.
Other highlights on the album included a cover of the murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio.” Ireland also recorded a song Chimesfreedom ranked among the most depressing Christmas songs ever, “Christmas Past.”
As noted above, Learning to Live did not sell well. But in 2002, he released a second album with Holler, Try Again. The album features some bigger arrangements on songs like the honky-tonk title track, “Try Again.”
Ireland’s sophomore album is still tempered with reality. One of the highlights is Ireland’s excellent cover of Charlie Rich’s “Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs,” which was written by Rich’s wife Margaret Ann Rich.
But Ireland was much happier around the time of this album. So, many of the songs show some rays of hope. “I’d Like To” is one of the songs on the album also featured in a bonus disk version.
Disappearance From the Music Industry
As of today, that seems to be it for Mike Ireland & Holler. Many who have heard Ireland’s music find a deep connection to it. At least one writer has called Ireland’s second album a “masterpiece,” while another called his first album “timeless.” But unfortunately, not enough people have heard his music.
It is unclear what Mike Ireland has been doing since his last album came out in 2002. The most recent mention of him seems to be of a December 2005 Mike Ireland and Holler show at Mike’s Tavern in Ireland’s hometown Kansas City.
Yet, there seems to be no news on the Internet about him in more than a decade. Another musician who played drums with Holler, Matt Brahl, went on to play with a number of bands, including The Hardship Letters, Potter’s Field, The Naughty Pines, and The Liz Finity Affair. Other band members included Michael Lemon, Paul Lemon, and Dan Mesh (who went on to play with Howard Iceberg and the Titanics).
A rare clue to Ireland’s whereabouts is that someone commented on a YoutTube video, claiming that Ireland is semi-retired. But it is unclear how that person got the information.
I wonder if Mike Ireland’s exit from the music industry might partly be related to the fact that his music career was so intimately connected to a sad time in his life. I can imagine that playing his songs of heartbreak brings back painful memories. Additionally, every interview with him always included some discussion of his wife’s affair.
Perhaps Ireland no longer wanted to bear that wound so publicly. Other artists have created great works resulting from pain. But, for example, when Frank Sinatra documented his relationship with Ava Gardner in In the Wee Small Hours, that album became just one part of a vast catalog. For Ireland, both of his albums remain connected to his heartbreak and his recovery.
Hopefully, Ireland is somewhere still singing and writing songs. I hope we will hear more from him, but I also hope he is happy.
Even if the two albums are all we will ever hear from Mike Ireland & Holler, I’ll cherish those albums. Maybe his disappearance from the stage is him just teaching us again that “Some Things You Lose.” Ah, but sometimes the journey is worth the pain of our losses.