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Rick Shea is keepin' it real
By Naughty Mickie

I'll admit that I was in a bit of awe as Rick Shea eased his lanky frame into a chair in the Mexican restaurant where we decided to sit for our chat. I've known about Shea and his talent for years, but had been unable to corner him for an interview until now. The funny thing is that I thought, with his reputation, that he would be a lot harder to schedule time with than he was and, perhaps, a lot more egotistical.

Shea's own discography boasts six albums, the latest is "Bound for Trouble" on Tres Pescadores. This 2005 effort is actually remix and remaster of his 2000 release, "Sawbones," with three additional cuts. He toured and recorded with Dave Alvin for six to seven years and worked with Alvin on his Grammy-winning album, "Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land" (Hightone Records). Shea also played with REM for the "Man on the Moon" soundtrack and has recorded and played with Katy Moffatt. He is currently working with James Intveld.

It wasn't finding time between all his gigs to talk that was the challenge, it was talking him down from the roof... literally. Shea was working on the roof of his home in between rain storms and worked with me to select a meeting time that wouldn't interfere. This set the precedent for what I was soon to learn-- Shea is one of the most down-to-earth, humble, real musicians who I have ever met.

Over a bowl of chips and a couple of tall cold ones, Shea told me he played trumpet at age nine and guitar at 12. His father, a career officer in the Air Force, played clarinet in big bands, so Shea grew up listening to a wide variety of music. Between several different schools, he attended about two years of college, studying mainly English and some music.

"It was pretty sporadic," Shea admits.

Although he is a career musician, he works semi part-time at the Fret House, a music store in Covina, California.

"I play music a lot, I work with a lot of different people. It's mostly what I do. Up until I started at the Fret House, it was all that I'd do," Shea explains.

He likes his "day job," as the store is flexible with his schedule and allows him to make his gigs, even last minute ones, without any problems.

I ask Shea about his sound.

"I really am a country singer, but I don't always go out of my way to sell myself that way because some people will make the wrong association because I don't feel that what I do has anything to do with commercial country music," Shea replies. "What I do is based on country music from the 1950s or the 1960s, a lot of other music that is more folk-oriented or rock-oriented. I'm not in a hurry to classify myself or call myself a country singer, but it really is what I am. That's the way I sing, hat's the way I write the songs."

Shea's guitar work, for which he is often most recognized, may be even harder to categorize, as demonstrated by his work with artists ranging from REM to Katy Moffatt. He laughs when I offer this thought, telling me that he is surprised that he is known for his guitar playing (although this is how I first came to know his name).

 "I'm really fortunate, the people I've been able to play with," Shea changes tack. "One of the most important things for me is being able to play with other great musicians."

He is also a good musician in his own right. I prod him to share his writing technique.

"I'm always thinking about it so a song can come from a lyric idea, a musical idea. I usually have several songs that I'm working on at any one time and sometimes a song will appear full-blown," Shea says adding that some of his songs have taken years to write.

We discuss the music scene.

"There's always great music," Shea states. "My kids have introduced me to a lot of music that I probably wouldn't have heard otherwise. I continue to always hear great music. I think that there's a lot of music that's being made for commercial considerations and maybe more so today than at other times in the past. It can seem like that's all that's out there, but I know for a fact that there's a lot of great music out there."

But is it harder for a country guy to get gigs with the trends of today than in the past?

"It's a difficult thing to do, but I don't know if it's any harder than it's ever been," Shea answers. "It's always been a difficult thing to do and I think when you start to do it you find that out pretty quickly if you don't know that already going in. Your reasons for doing it have to be so that you're passionate enough about what you're doing to continue to face something like that."

"It's like I tell my kids whenever they talk about anything like this." Shea goes on, "I tell them on a personal satisfaction level, there's nothing I could imagine doing that would be greater, but I said making a living and financially it's really really tough and you should never kid yourself about that. I don't encourage or discourage them from anything they want to do, but I just try to give them a point of view from what I know."

Shea continues, telling me about his recordings, "It's all pretty much small level, grassroots. The good side of that is I've been able to make exactly the albums I wanted with every record. I'm in a small budget, so I don't have a lot to work with, but within those limits, I can make any sort of an album I want. You bring more people up to it and more money, there's more considerations and other people out there have their point of view what it should some like."

Shea works hard at his craft and also does a lot of his own management duties, such as contacting clubs for shows and pushing radio stations for airplay. The Internet has simplified some of his tasks, making it easier to get the word out not only nationally, but worldwide.

"When I was doing this 15 years ago and there wasn't much of an Internet and all of this had to be done with phone calls and by the mail, it was much more difficult," Shea says.

And his work is paying off, as "Bound for Trouble" has done well on the indie charts,it stayed at #8 for two months on the Freeform Americana Roots Charts, and is getting airplay on indie folk stations. It is also available for purchase at major record stores, such as Tower, and online at Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

Shea is already working on an album of new material which he hopes to release by the end of the year. He also has his sights set on more touring.

Still, this country boy has time for his family, wife Susie and children Jesse, 16, and Matthew, 23.

"I love to hike, I love to camp. I used to have a lot more hobbies before I had kids," Shea grins.

His sons both play guitar. Matthew has played in bands throughout school and is now pursuing an engineering degree at UCSB. Jesse is in high school and is very involved in music and in and out of different bands.

The chips are gone and our glasses are empty. Shea has pushed his chair back from the table and now uncrosses his long legs. I lean forward with one last question-- I want to know how he feels straddling that fuzzy edge between being a local and national artist.

"It's what I do," Shea tells me in his easy-going manner. "It's a wonderful thing, I know a lot of people and I've been able to meet a lot people and tour and play with some great people who were musical heroes of mine. But I'm not a very show business guy, so Covina is pretty comfortable to me."

Learn more about Rick Shea at or catch one of his weekly shows at the Arcadia Blues Club, visit

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