Jersey born and bred Reagan Richards' earliest love for performing came from her mother, a big band singer in the 1950's. Her father was a New York City fashion executive. That marriage of music and fashion would help shape her artistic life.
Starting at the age of four, Reagan was a child model in New York City; however, as she soon began tapping into her mother's old records, she quickly became familiar with many of the old standards. Patsy Cline and Connie Smith were among her favorites and became influential in her musical development.
Reagan made a move to Nashville, with all of her belongings in the back of a hearse and worked there as performing artist, as well as a session vocalist, singing demos for some of music city's top songwriters. It was in Nashville where her love for country music evolved to unbridled passion.
Fast forward and she is now receiving rave reviews as half of the Jersey Shore’s first Country duo; Williams Honor. A project with another established name on the Shore; Gordon Brown, formerly of Highway 9, Samhill and Mr. rEALITY. Like Reagan, this Jersey boy followed his heart – and career – to Nashville, where he worked & toured with some of Country’s most notable young stars; Natalie Stovall (Hitstop/Warner Nashville) and Jesse James Decker (Universal).
Still, it wouldn’t be until years later, back on the Shore, where the two would meet and fate would ensue.
Recently I had a chance to sit down with Reagan and talk everything music and more. From her childhood performance successes, modeling, to her work with Les Paul. Her quirky notoriety on Social Media and her exciting upcoming Revue Show; One Night with Reagan Richards.
I turned on the video camera to capture the interview for the upcoming Williams Honor documentary and she gave everyone a first-hand look into her life.
One Afternoon with Reagan Richards: Part 1
by Jennifer Pricci
Jennifer Pricci: [Setting up video camera...] I hope you don’t mind the camera, it doesn’t seem from your Social Media profile your too filtered. You really show us a lot of Reagan.
Reagan Richards: Well I do but I don’t. Somebody said to me one time you post a lot of fun different stuff but you don’t give a whole lot of you. And I think like with anyone, you give people what you want people to see. I’m not ever going to post; ‘Oh, I had a rotten day… I hate this...’ There are a lot of people who do that. Hey, Different Strokes for Different Folks. That’s how they use their social media. They might be in a different position than I am, and have a lot on their plate. But social media for me is a happy place, or for nice memories, a lot of laughs and a lot of nostalgia.
Obviously I reminisce about my Dad. At times it’s sad because he’s no longer here, but… Well lately I’ve doing these “alien videos.” And to me, that’s how I will vent and have my rants and they don’t seem whiney if they’re in an alien voice. Last night while driving, someone cut me off – nearly drove me off the road - so instead of just getting on and saying something nasty about the person, it’s funny for me to get my point across in that way. Humor wins always. It's a great way to be able to deal with your emotions.
JP: I know a lot of your beginnings in music came from the music your Mom was playing around the house. I mean, Patsy Cline and Connie Smith were big influences for you. What have you learned from them that we see in you; as a performer, as an artist, as a songwriter?
RR: Emotion. I say it all the time, you can be a singer and you can hit all the notes perfectly, but it’s how you’re hitting them and it’s what’s coming across in those notes. Patsy Cline, to me, you just can’t get more emotion in a voice. When you listen to those old records, no matter what she was singing, you felt it, and you were right there with her. When you start to listen to that stuff as a little kid it really connects. It was all I knew. And my God, with Judy Garland records. My Mom had Judy Garland’s box set. Judy Garland felt so much pain in her life that even in those records; you can hear the quiver in her voice when she sings. So, to me, it was never just, ‘can I hit this note?’ it was, ‘what am I saying here and how do I feel?’
Now with Williams Honor, especially when we do more intimate shows and perform our original work, that’s what I look to put out there. And I’m seeing it time and time again where people come up (to us) and they let us know they have gotten something from the songs. I truly believe it’s not solely the songs, it’s how they’re delivered and it’s your audience believing in what you’re saying. I can sing “Daddy’s Arms” from now until next week, and each time it means something to me when I sing it. And that’s really what I’ve learned from those great singers.
When I was 10 years old, I sang on Steve Allen's New York radio show. As many know, he was the first Tonight Show host. I sang Gershwin's, "I've Got A Crush On You (Sweetie Pie)" and Steve Allen said; 'How does a 10 year old sing like that?'.
When Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Sarah Vaughn & Vera Lynn are your "teachers", you kinda can't go wrong.
JP: So when you’re writing, how do you incorporate emotion?
RR: Well you gotta start from a place, a subject. When we started writing “Mama Please” for example, it was one of those things that I took - not from my own personal experience - but from somebody close to me. We started writing about child abuse. When we wrote; ‘I heard the screams from the dark blue house on Carson Street’ that painted the picture. It’s about what you envision. Country Music is descriptive, as opposed to Rock or Pop Music. It’s not to say that Rock or Pop Music can’t be followed, but they’ll be a lot of times where you listen to a Rock song and go ‘I have no idea what that’s about. I just know I love it.’ Country Music, you have to know what it’s about. It’s about you, it’s not about me. The lyric ‘she clutched on to her little rag doll while a crystal lamp shattered up against the wall,’ well that’s about as clear a picture as you can paint. When I sing it I visualize it. I visualize a child in fear. And the emotion comes through. So when you start to think in those terms the music becomes easier to write.
JP: Yes, that’s a gut wrenching song and it really paints a picture in the mind’s eye and I’m glad you brought it up. Do you think that, even if it is a story that you’re pulling fromsomewhere else, or it’s your own story, that it’s easier for a songwriter to write when they’re coming from a place of pain?
RR: Yes. I’m going to say yes. Gordon and I are different in our writing styles. I think I tend to be the darker person. The reason why pain, for me, is easy to write about is because everybody feels it, but they don’t know what to do with it. They’re afraid; ‘should I feel this?... Should I show it?... Can my friends know…’. When you’re writing and singing about painful things, it kind of makes it ok. I mean, how many children that are victims of child abuse and are hiding what’s going on? Way too many. It almost makes it more acceptable to talk about.
“No Umbrella” - another song from the new album - is another one of those songs. It was a song that Gordon and I wrote with country songstress, Cyndi Thomson. Last summer in Nashville, we went to a writing session with her and when we sat down to write, it wasn’t a thing where we said; ‘ok, what are we going to write about?’. It was talking, listening, and sharing stories about our lives for the first two hours. At one point we talked about loss. And then the song kind of just wrote itself. The real meaning of “No Umbrella” is feeling
pain. It’s saying; ‘listen, hit me, put the umbrella down, let this rain hit me. If this is as bad as it’s going to get, Ok. I’m taking it on.’. So it’s really,subconsciously, helping people be able to feel. I mean, everybody loves music and everybody takes what they want from it, and what better way to be able to deal with your emotion than through music.
JP: “No Umbrella” you performed on Froggy 101 and you happened to video the in studio performance and post it onsocial media. It’s interesting because if you go back, and you read the history of radio, they speak of ‘theatre of the mind.’ But in this case your audience gets to see it. Now, the way you and Gordon looked at each other while you performed that song, to me, you were looking for more than queue’s. It seemed impassioned. And there is going to be an inherent chemistry there for viewers watching. How do you think that chemistry will enhance your success as a duo on stage?
RR: It’s authenticity. Gordon and I met, and there was that connection. We both have a real love for what we do. We have a love for Country Music. We met and I was like; ‘I lived in Nashville,’ and he was like ‘well I lived in Nashville too.’ So right off the bat there’s a connection. Then you start writing. You have to realize when we did Froggy 101, it was one of the first times we had performed “No Umbrella”. And all of a sudden you’re back in the moment; ‘we’re performing this song. I remember when we sat
JP: There is one Williams Honor song you haven’t yet mentioned that I’d like to ask you about. And that’s “Don’t Wanna Let You Go”. There is the lyric; ‘You’re Father would be so proud of you.’ What would your Father be most proud of?
RR: Following my dreams and never giving up. My Dad was my biggest fan. My parents never told me; ‘you have to go to college’. It was always; ‘whatever she wants to do.’ When I pursued music, specifically Country Music - my Dad was ecstatic. He was a huge Country fan. He would come down and visit me in Nashville and as soon as he’d arrive I’d take him to The Opry. He was living my dream with me. You get into this business because you love it and one thing my Dad was, was very passionate about his work. He taught me that. He would just be really proud of the fact that I’m doing something that I love and am being authentic to myself.
My Dad was a great, great communicator. He could speak to a room of 10,000 or a room of two and drive a point home. He related well to others. I learned so much from him. With Williams Honor – because it’s Country Music, you really want to connect. And sometimes I feel like I’m him. On stage I’m aperson conveying a message, telling a story, and I feel like I’m him.
down and we wrote it’. And all these things come flooding back. So these things that you’re seeing are the feelings behind what we do together. And when people watch us as a duo, they feel that, they feel the authenticity.
And you’re dead on, we were not just looking for queues.
JP: So when you do collaborate – and you have already mentioned you have differing writing styles – how do you navigate working with Gordon when you are having a difference of opinion? Whether it’s about writing or a piece of production, any creative. How do you get to the other side of that?
RR: Well what’s nice is we’re both level-headed. You have to be. For example, there is a song called “Loser” on our upcoming record that we wrote very quickly. It was one of those things where the riff came to mind and the lyric, literally (snaps), rolled off our tongues; ‘Hello stranger, hey where’ve you been?’ And the melody just was right from the start. After we recorded it we went back to the studio and I said to him; ‘I have an idea… I want to do something different with the melody’. What’s great about Gordon is he will let you do it. And that’s just awesome. Fast forward a few weeks later, after playing the new version out, I said; ‘I think I want to go back and re-record it the original way’. Gordon sighed and gave a big; ‘Thank You’. You really have to learn to be able to give and take. We’re still learning. We still have these battles. I actually think the battles are healthy.
JP: It’s interesting that you say that because you’ve almost answered a question I have. And that is about – almost – inheriting a kind of stage presence. I don’t think a lot of people realize that not every singer, no matter how good they are, can “fill a room.” I’ve seen you, you can fill a room. Is that inherent? Can it be learned? Both? What is it?
RR: It’s a tough answer because, again, I never set out and said; ‘I’m going to fill this room.’ Could it be from how I grew up? Maybe. Could it be things my Dad taught me? Things I watched my Dad do? Things I saw as a kid on TV? Maybe those are all reasons. I just know I never sat down and said; ‘Ok, I have to do this’. I just did. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of times Gordon and I get ready to get onstage and we go over the material, but I don’t know what I’m going to say. I just feel what I’m saying and I’m honest with the audience.
JP: And how do you connect with your audience?
RR: You connect by being the truest you can possibly be....and taking them with you on your ride.
JP: If you’re feeling a disconnect, how might you switch things up? Right there in the moment?
RR: I’ve had it happen at times. Sometimes I’ll switch up a song. I’ll look (at the setlist) and say; ‘let’s skip this and go to this’. You have to make a lot of decisions on the spot sometimes when that happens. It happens to the best of them. You hear so many times, stories like – even – Bono getting off stage and going; ‘well that was a tough crowd’. It happens and you have to realize that’s not reflecting, necessarily, on what you’re doing. It might just be a different kind of audience.
We’ve been fortunate… One of the great shows that we did this year, we opened up for Old Dominion at The Stone Pony. We knew this was going to be a Country crowd. This was going to be people coming from all over to see this incredible national act. Getting on stage doing that show – you already know you'll have all the girls in the front planted for the headliner – and you look at your bandmate and say; ‘we have work to do. We’ve got to win these people over’. I saw right off the bat when we did our first song such a welcoming look from these 19, 20 year old girls. And I love that, you know? If you give them realness, they feel that. And I’ll be damned if they didn’t come over to the table, and want pictures. They even came to our future Paramount show and follow us on social media.
It’s a really special feeling to be able to sense people responding to you. And we really felt it that night. It was really, really great.
JP: You have some very impressive performance credits and credentials. David Gray, Lisa Loeb, Darlene Love, Joan Jett, Steven Van Zandt, Alice Cooper, Glen Burtnik, Bobby Bandiera, plus so many others. Of all of these performers, who do you think you’ve learned the most from?
RR: Les Paul.
JP: Ha. I didn’t mention Les because I was getting there. But ok, let’ talk Les Paul.
RR: I'm not taking one ounce away from all of these people you mentioned – they’re all amazing people.
JP: So what was it like to work with Les who was such a pioneer? Such an icon?
RR: When I first started singing with Les, he was 90. My Mom had sung with him years ago. She was a big band singer. While I was growing up, my Mom would say to me; ‘I’m gonna take you to meet Les Paul’. At a young age I don’t think I realized who he was. Fast forward I had my own agenda; I moved to Nashville, I wanted to do that. And in 2005 I came back – really just on a vacation from Nashville to visit my family – and I said to my Mom; ‘you know what? I think I’m going to take you up on it. Let’s go meet with Les’. So we go and she talked to him and she says; ‘well my daughter sings now’. He immediately wanted me to come sing with him the very next week.
After my performance that night he said; ‘you’re officially part of the Les Paul musical family’. And there were many honorary shows and special events that year that I was able to take part in. I sang on and off again with Les, well, until he died. So for about 4 years I was privileged to share a stage with that genius of a man.
Here is what I learned from Les. Les Paul didn’t have to do anything anymore. He didn’t have to perform two shows, at 90, 91, 92 years old. People knew what he did. He was a legend, not just with guitar but with multi-tracking, with everything. And what I learned is; ‘this is why you do it’. He was there because he loved it. He was there because he liked talking to people. He was one of the funniest people I ever met. If something would happen, he’d react, real quick on his feet. And that’s what I learned, I got the most from him because until the day he died he did what he wanted to do. With pride and commitment. Even though he was Les Paul, and doesn’t have a thing left to prove to anyone – he gave his very best, every day, all day. Because he loved it. And he was committed to giving the people the best show possible. And to me, I couldn’t learn a greater lesson.
JP: When we do what we love there’s going to be great success, but there’s also going to be nonsuccess. How do you deal with those?
RR: We’re human. We can get down about the nonsuccesses. And you have to keep in mind; disappointments are going to happen. Shows you think are going to take place don’t. Deals that you think are going to close don’t. You just have to realize that, something else is going to come along. And I’ve been so fortunate that in my years of doing this there has always been something else. I’ve been disappointed, God, countless times. But I’m sitting here right now, and I’m in a very happy place – and that’s not to say I wasn’t disappointed last week or there won’t be disappointment next week. But the big picture really has to come in to play.
JP: Well, something that is going to happen that is very exciting is on August 7th you have your show One Night with Reagan Richards at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club. Tell us a little bit about what we can expect.
RR: You know, growing up, I was the kid that – and I hate to say this because, it’s funny, there’s a little back story here. We used to go down to Long Beach Island, my family and I. That was “the shore” where we’d go. And everybody would be going to the beach, and I would go into my room and I would listen to all my tapes, and my parents would go; ‘you’re not going to the beach?’. Nope. I would wave to them from the window as they went to the beach and there I was with my Walkman. Listening to songs. Learning all of them… note for note. I think I almost became the people I was listening to. I remember one house we rented had bunk beds, and I would stand up on the ladder and I would pretend like that was my grand entrance, coming down onto the stage, and I would stand there and I’d sing. I became that rockstar on the stage. That little room was my stage. And like anybody, I had all the different people that I loved. All different kinds of music. Madonna. Beatles. Guns’N’Roses.
So August 7th is that. It’s me on those bunk beds. There’s going to be down home Country, there’s going to be sick rock’n’roll. Aerosmith. Nirvana. KISS.
Alanis. It’s all going to be there. Again, all of those people that I mentioned – it goes a bit back to what we were talking about before – feeling what you’re singing, feeling that emotion. And these singers, these bands, they gave you that emotion. My God, Kurt Cobain, you don’t feel more than he did. So it’s really going to be fun to get to express myself, and kind of become them for a moment.
And just rocking out. With a full band. A full incredible band. We got the best of the best who are going to play with us that night, and some really great surprises. It’ll be a lot of fun.
JP: You’ve been a part of great collaborative shows around here. Glen Burtnik’s British Invasion shows. Bobby Bandiera’s Rock ‘N Soul Revues and Hope Concerts, Jon Bon Jovi’s ensembles. What is the biggest difference between being part of an ensemble and leading an ensemble?
RR: God, Bobby and Glen have been so good to me. They’ve really given me such great material to perform. I’d say the biggest difference is I’m customizing my own show. When you’re in a show like the ones you mentioned you do a lot of listening. You take direction; ‘This is what you want me to do? I will do it.’ But in One Night with Reagan Richards I’ve hand-picked all of the songs and, wow, there were about 60 songs to start off with. And I had to cut it to 27 songs. And where do you draw the line? So you start to think about the people playing with you, what would work best for them. It’s not just about me, it’s about your band. Where are they going to shine? So when I’m performing with Bobby or Glen, those are the things that I don't have to think about. With my own show, there is a lot of thinking, a lot of planning involved. And it’s a lot about structuring the flow. Glen and Bobby put together unbelievable shows that flow so amazingly. The cohesive path is so important. And I’m fortunate to have learned so much from Glen and Bobby when it comes to that.
JP: What are you looking forward to most?
RR: Channeling these people. Making these songs come alive with this kick ass band. I love the feeling I get when I sing this material. One night, I don’t know how it came about; Gordon and I were rehearsing and suddenly it became Cyndi Lauper night. Just out of nowhere. Now, I like Cyndi Lauper but I never really covered. But when I started singing, I just kind of became her. We went into “True Colors” and it was a moment. Gordon told this story at a show and the audience got a great kick out of it. So at the end of the evening he turned to me and said; ‘well now you have to do your Cyndi’. So he started playing “True Colors.” And shit, at the end of the night people said; ‘If I closed my eyes, I would have thought that was Cyndi singing it’. And now it’s become a kind of staple in our show. And I really need to footnote this by saying; ‘yeah, it’s great to be yourself. But no. When I’m singing Cyndi Lauper, let me be Cyndi. I’m going to be Cyndi.’ And that is just really fun for me.
So One Night with Reagan Richards, I’m going to be channeling Kurt. Channeling Alanis. Channeling June Carter. Channeling Axl Rose. It’s fun to do that. I wanted it to be “One Night with Reagan Richards” because, yes, I am the vehicle, but I’m also paying homage to these great artists.
JP: I really appreciate you sitting with me this afternoon and I’d love to keep going if that’s ok?
RR: Fire away…
One Night with Reagan Richards is taking place Friday, August 7th at 8:00pm (doors 6pm) at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club at 1200 Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park. Tickets are available for purchase at the McLoone’s Supper Club website or by calling the Event Office at (732) 774-1155. For more information you can also visit the Official Facebook Event Page.
About the Author
Jennifer Pricci, a Jersey Shore music enthusiast, has been a contributing writer covering area musicians for many Jersey-based music and entertainment publications; including Night & Day, Chorus & Verse and New Jersey Stage. Her work has also appeared in the Asbury Park Press and New York Daily News. A self-admitted name-dropper, Jennifer’s articles tend to cover those she holds in high esteem -- with a goal of paying homage to local talent in addition to enticing and educating readers. For this reason you’ll rarely find a negative review written by Jennifer; as her passions tend to undermine her smarts. Which she knows has both pros and cons.
On the performance side, Jennifer has appeared as part of a barbershop quartet at Carnegie Hall, The Alamodome in San Antonio, the Superdome in New Orleans. The Times Union Center (formerly Pepsi Arena) in Albany and more.
Jennifer Pricci is a Marketing Professional with 15 years of broad-based experience combining both brand and agency side successes; perhaps most notably driving the campaign that secured sponsorship for ClearChannel’s iHeartRadio Theater Presented By P.C. Richard & Son in New York City. In 1999 Jennifer founded her own marketing agency; PHANTOM POWER, a fully integrated marketing firm serving the needs of local musicians and small and mid-sized businesses throughout the Tri-State.
#SharpNotes is a PHANTOM POWER Marketing online publication.
For more information about Jennifer Pricci and PHANTOM POWER Marketing visit www.phantompowermarketing.com.