I am a simple man.
And I like Ricky Van Shelton and the music he made in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I don’t hear too many people discuss Ricky when they talk about the greatest country artists of all time. Even the mention of Ricky Van Shelton gets a few confused looks from country fans today. It’s quite the shame because looking back on Ricky’s career you start to realize the impact he had on country music.
Starting in the late ’80s Ricky churned out some classic country music with a precision in vocal ability never really done by anyone else. Ricky was a bit of a throwback to the Nashville Sound days of the ’60s, but he had the traditional undertone as well. Ricky fit right in with the music country fans were after during his peak.
Let’s take a look back on Ricky’s career and reminisce about the music he gave to country fans.
The Legend of Rick Van Shelton
With 12 number one singles, five platinum, and four gold albums Ricky Van Shelton has the hardware to make any budding country singer envious. Today Ricky isn’t often cited by artists as being an influence, but I feel with a little highlight of Ricky’s career there may be more influence from Ricky than most think.
Ricky Van Shelton History
Ricky seemed to have the typical rural upbringing. He was the youngest of five kids. The family lived in Virginia. Ricky was a country boy growing up according to the history section on his official website. He spent time outside as much as he could with friends. As with many young boys he spent time exploring the woods around the area where he grew up.
Music was a love of Ricky’s from a young age. He took to country music later in his teens and eventually decided to pursue music as a full time passion in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Around the mid ’80s he and his wife moved to Nashville. She worked to provide for the couple as Ricky spent time working odd jobs, spending time at local clubs networking and singing.
Ricky also spent time in the couple’s home working on his vocals. I find this very interesting, but it seems Ricky spent much time honing the way his voice would sound. It’s interesting to read the story of how a favorite singing artist spent hour after hour singing and singing until his voice sounded just right.
As fans we often assume our favorite artists are born with certain vocal abilities. The truth actually seems to be most artists have to spend countless hours working on the way their voice sounds. They match their vocals to those of their heroes and add a little bit of their own touch to each note.
Ricky’s voice developed into a strong baritone with a rich sound that stands out even today on the radio.
After reading about the way Ricky crafted his voice I remembered stories of how actor Nicolas Cage worked to make his voice unique. He thought it would someday be a key to his ability to stand out on screen. And it seems to have worked.
Even today’s biggest country artists have worked on their voices. If you listen to the early vocals of Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney you’ll hear a big difference from the way they sound today.
It’s essential to adapt in the music or performing business and the best ones always have the ability to stay relevant.
In 1986 Ricky was signed by CBS-Columbia Records. Ricky was quickly put into the recording studio and out came the first single Wild-Eyed Dream. The track reached the top 25 on the charts. After that came Crime of Passion, which reached the top ten on the country singles charts.
Crime Of Passion remains a popular song on classic country stations today. I really wish there was a country video channel on TV that played only the classic videos of the ’80s and ’90s. I’d probably watch it every morning before I got into writing.
Anyway, Ricky really came to prominence with his third single Somebody Lied. The track became Ricky’s first of twelve number one songs.
Run of Hits
Somebody Lied kicked off five straight number one singles for Ricky. That’s quite the run for any artist and it’s not a feat often achieved by even the biggest of stars. Despite all of his success five number one singles in a row is not something Kenny Chesney has achieved. Tim McGraw has been able to accomplish the feat once in his career. Keith Urban has not accomplished that many number ones in a row and Garth Brooks was able to do it one time.
Also starting with his first album Wild-Eyed Dream Ricky was able to see his first four studio albums reach platinum status. This was another major feat for an artist back in the ’80s and early ’90s. In total Ricky has five platinum and an additional four gold albums making a certified 7 million albums shipped throughout the United States.
Secret to Success
With all the success Ricky had during his run it makes you curious about what it is that made him so well off in the country world. I think it goes back to those days of time spent honing his voice. Ricky’s vocals are distinct. There is the manly sound; the rich character behind every note he sings. It’s appealing to listen to and you find yourself trying to replicate it as you sing along.
I’m a big believer you have to be work harder than everybody else if you want to have success in life. It seems this was the case for Ricky Van Shelton during the ’80s and ’90s. He spent years in the early ’80s working to craft his vocals so they were the best he could make them. The result was the incredible run of hits he had during his career.
What set Ricky apart was his ability to sing a country song better than nearly every other artist at the time. He was wanted by fans and by music executives. And one of life’s keys is to be wanted. When you’re wanted by people you’ll find success, money, and in the right cases respect.
I’d say Ricky was able to find all of those and more as a result of his hard work.
Ricky and his major label parted ways sometime around 1994. His sales had been on the decline and it seemed he even lost a bit of interest in recording and touring.
This is the usual case with most country artists. The industry is fleeting. People and executives are always looking for the next big thing and by 1994 it had been 8 years since Ricky first came on the scene – an eternity in the country music world. Ricky and his label moved on and it left a few people wondering what the future would hold for one of country music’s legends.
Ricky continued recording and released an album in 1998 and another in 2000.
2000’s Fried Green Tomatoes turned out to be the last studio album to date from RVS. In 2006 he retired from touring and one of my own regrets is never being able to see him live. Maybe someday he’ll get back out on the road, but things must be alright in his world if he’s moved on from performing and recording.
According to his website he lives in Tennessee with his wife and family. The have a ranch where they work and raise cattle and a family. Ricky is in his late 50s now and must be happy with living a different and in some ways probably better life.
Shelton came to prominence in the late ’80s as the one of the best vocalists in country music.
His songs were some of the biggest hits in an era of change in country music. Ricky’s songs were a throwback to the days of the Nashville Sound. The peak of Ricky’s career came as he charted five straight number one hits startin in 1987. This run of top hits is rarely topped or met by his peers.
Throughout his career Ricky was able to find songs that suited his vocals and those songs always seemed to have a great melody for people to enjoy. His songs remain popular on radio even today some 20+ years after their release.
I think people will remember Ricky most for the songs he shared with country fans. There were of course a few periods of dispair including Ricky’s own admittance to alcoholism – although he later became sober. Ricky also grew tired of the music industry toward the end of his relationship with his record label.
In spite of it all Ricky was able to out work most others in the industry and as a result found success as one of the greatest country singers of all time. His voice still sounds pure and special on radio.
I can listen to his greatest hits album and enjoy every song. There really isn’t anyone on today’s country radio that sounds anything like Ricky Van Shelton. Perhaps that’s because Ricky is a true one of a kind in country music.
We may never see another one like him.
That’s alright I suppose.
At least we have his music forever.