One of his favorite night spots
was Johnny Hobb's Nashville Palace. It was only about four miles from the house that he
and Bettye were renting; and Steve Hill's band always made him feel welcome to sing one or
two songs during the night. He felt fortunate to meet some of Nashville's most talented
While Ricky was looking for his
break in the night clubs, Bettye was telling everyone and anyone who would listen about
Ricky's talent. Linda Thompson was a business associate of Bettye's and stopped by her
house after work one day to accompany Bettye to a Chamber of Commerce dinner. While there,
she heard Ricky singing in the basement; immediately, Linda recognized something special in Ricky's voice. He was more
than happy to give Linda one of his demo tapes.
Linda is married to Jerry
Thompson, a well-known columnist for The Tennessean. She tried for weeks to get Jerry to
listen to Ricky's tape, but he adamantly refused to become involved with one of the
thousands of wannabe singers in Nashville. One evening, when the house was quiet, Linda
nonchalantly played Ricky's tape. Upon hearing the same unique quality that grabbed
Linda's attention, Jerry agreed to meet Ricky.
Jerry and Ricky hit it off
immediately, and Jerry decided to do whatever he could to help Ricky succeed. In June,
1986, he managed to set up a showcase with Ricky performing for Rick Blackburn, head of
CBS Records, and Producer, Steve Buckingham. Ricky signed an eight-album contract with CBS
that very month.
By January, 1987, he had a
band, a new album, a bus, his first single and a tour schedule beginning that spring. The
second single, "Somebody Lied", reached #1 on the music charts.
In June, 1987, Ricky was
honored to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. "I remember being so overwhelmed
the night I was inducted into the Opry. I had been listening to the Opry all of my life
and never dreamed I would ever be a member. Jack Greene and Roy Acuff introduced me as
their newest member and asked me to sing "Somebody Lied". I received a standing
ovation and was asked to do an encore. At that point, I was so emotionally overwhelmed, I
forgot the words. It was truly one of the most memorable events in my life."
Over the next few years, the
awards, #1 hit singles and platinum albums catapulted Ricky into the status of Super Star.
He had spent his entire life dreaming of becoming a successful singer, but never once did
he want to be a "celebrity". The pressures, demands and constant touring took
its toll on the young man from Virginia.
By 1990, Ricky was drinking
constantly and losing touch with his family, his friends and with himself. His wife,
Bettye, documents how Ricky was able to overcome alcoholism in her book, She Stays, co-written by herself and Andy Landis.
Tomatoes, Ricky Van's 2000 Audium Entertainment release, showcases a mature
artist at the peak of his powers. Produced by Steve Gibson, it is a
collection that displays the intensity as well as the sense of fun and the
love for classic country that have always been Shelton hallmarks.
"I really set
out to make a great album," he says of the new project. "I
wanted people to be able to say, "Hey, I like that sound.'"
songwriting community responded, and Ricky Van sees the current collection as
"the best bunch of songs I've found in a long, long time."
Songs like "Foolish Pride, with its classic country sound, and
"Who's Laughing Now," a timeless shuffle, manage to bring a strong
dose of tradition to a highly contemporary sound. "Call Me
Crazy" is int he classic Shelton tradition of hits like
"Backroads" and "Simple Man," and "All I Have To
Offer You Is Me" keeps alive Ricky Van's penchant for including an oldie
on each album. I do it for me," he says, "because I like the
old songs, and I do it for the fans that never tget to hear their old favorite
songs anymore." "The Decision," a story song Ricky Van
wrote wit Tennessean reporter/columnist Jerry Thomson a year before he
hit the big time, provides testament to his stills as a writer as well.
It is Thompson, who got Ricky Van the audition that won him his record
contract with Columbia Records, and who passed away recently, to who the album
Much of the
passion behind the album can be attributed to Ricky Van's increased role
behind the microphone as well as in front of it. "I told Steve
before we ever went into the studio," he says, "that I was looking
for the chance to be involved in the production. It turns out that's
exactly the way Steve works. So, I was able to bring to the table
ideas about every aspect of making the record. It was the most I've ever
been involved in that aspect of it, and I loved working that way."
reflected on Fried Green Tomatoes is till thrilling enthusiastic crowds, as
Ricky continues to do 80-90 dates a year across the country.
have the most loyal fans you'll find anywhere," he says with a
grin. I'm fortunate in that when I hit, I hit quick, and there were a
lot of awards and lots of visibility. Those fans have remained incredibly
loyal through the years."
They are fans who
loyalty Ricky Van earned from the beginning. In fact, he had spent years
learning his craft before the big time was ever more than a distant dream.
Ricky Van was
drawn to country music by his older brother, who enticed him into a role as a
singer and guitar player in his band by offering the 14-year-old a chance to
drive his Fairlane 289. Ricky Van accepted, and the brothers played fish
fries, clubs and living rooms, learning the basics of country music and of
putting on a good show. He supported himself with side jobs ranging from
pipefitting to pumping gas, and dreamed of a life in music.
He began taking
trips to Nashville to develop contacts and sit in with nightclub bands,
eventually moving to take his shot at the big time. One of his wife
Bettye's co-workers was married to The Tennessean's Jerry Thompson, who
took a shine to both Ricky and his voice, and secured him the audition that
won him a record deal.
What followed was
an incredible period of creativity and success. Wild-Eyed Dream, Living Proof,
RVS III, and Backroads all went platinum. Ricky Van won every major
newcomer's award in 1988, and followed with the CMA's Male Vocalist of the
Year and TNN/Music City News' Male Artist and Entertainer of the Year awards.
more. He did Christmas and Gospel albums that both went Platinum.
He wrote a children's book called Tales Tales From A Duck Named Quacker that
quickly became a favorite of children and adult alike. He moved from
hosting televised awards to appearing in TV shows like the perennial favorite
"Baywatch." his reputation secure, he became one of the industry's
must successful live acts, establishing a fan base that allows him to tour
extensively to this day.
Once a reluctant
flyer, Ricky Van faced his fears head-on and is now a licensed pilot. He
is also an active gardener and cattle-raiser, but his prime passion, of
course, remains the music that has been at the core of his existence since he
was a teenager.
"Walking on stage
is still the best," he says. "In fact, as I continue to gain
perspective on my life an career, it's even better than it used to be,
because I feel more of the pleasure of performing and less pressure. On stage
is were it all comes together for me."
It's a sentiment
his legions of fans will heartily second.