Classic Tracks: Charlie Rich "Behind Closed Doors"

Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Barbara Schultz


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Charlie Rich had made the rounds. He’d joined and left several labels by the time he signed with Epic in 1967 on the recommendation of producer/executive Billy Sherrill. He’d worked as a session musician, playing piano for Judd Phillips’ Judd Records, and then for Judd’s brother Sam at Sun Records and the Phillips International label, where he also wrote and recorded a few cuts of his own, including the Elvis-esque hit single “Lonely Weekends.” And he’d done “Big Boss Man” for RCA/Groove and “Mohair Sam” for Smash Records.

But what characterized the first decade or so of Rich’s career was not so much his successes as the difficulty he had in finding a musical home stylistically. Rich’s talent for playing jazz and R&B-style piano didn’t necessarily fit at the hit-making country and rock ’n’ roll labels in the South at the time. He was just a bit smooth for then-current tastes. In fact, Sam Phillips was reputed to have rejected Rich on first listen, handing him a stack of Jerry Lee Lewis records and saying, “Come back when you get that bad.”

But Rich found that musical sweet spot with Sherrill, whose “countrypolitan” production seemed to fit the singer just right.

“To me, those Charlie Rich sessions were so special,” recalls Lou Bradley, who engineered and mixed the album Behind Closed Doors. “Particularly on the Kenny O’Dell song ‘Behind Closed Doors,’ all forces came together for him and for that song.”

As they had done many times before, Bradley and Sherrill recorded Rich live with a band of A-list Nashville session musicians in the famed Studio B at the Quonset Hut built by legendary Nashville producer Owen Bradley and his brother, guitarist Harold Bradley. Lou Bradley (not related to Owen and Harold) says that working with Rich marked a turning point in the way Sherrill worked with singers in general, for better or worse.

“It started before this particular session, on a session when we did another Kenny O’Dell song, ‘Take It on Home,’” Bradley recalls. “Charlie was a piano player, and he would sometimes sing and play. If [Hargus] ‘Pig’ Robbins was on that session and Charlie wanted to play and sing, Pig would move over and play Rhodes or organ, or drink a cup of coffee. But most of the time, Pig played the piano and Billy felt that Charlie ought to be by the piano anyway, so we moved him down there. There was a real good spot at the other end of the room for vocals, but I knew this was the hand I was going to be dealt.”

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