Rich O’Toole is one of the fastest rising stars in Texas. He’s playing to larger crowds each night and each day more people are discovering his music. Rich’s music is a melting pot of all the best things to have hit our scene in the last couple years. He has taken cues from his heroes and is plugging away doing things his own way. Without the support of a large promotion/management team behind him, Rich has landed several hits at the top of the Texas Music Chart. Rich had a lot to say and really opened up with some of the answers. Find out more about this talented newcomer in this edition of 20 Questions.
1. What’s new and exciting in the world of Rich O’ Toole?
Well we have a great new band! Let me talk a bit about each one. Chris Keathley is a great bass player and a hard worker; a guy that you want on your side! Barrett Hughes is a fantastic drummer. Barrett has been with me from the beginning. His influences are Stewart Copeland and Taylor Hawkins, so you know it’s going to be a great show behind the drums! Paul Eldridge is another great guitar player that is bringing a ton of talent along with a lot of alt-country influences. I believe with the team I have, the live show is in our corner and I look forward to a long career with these gentlemen.
2. Now that you’re beginning to enjoy a little bit of success do you have a ton of friends and cousins coming out of the woodwork?
(Laughs) I have always been blessed with great friends and family. The friends I have made throughout high school and college and in the music scene will be life-long and always give me great support. Along with my family, who are behind me 100%, I figured that at least one would question if I was going in the right direction in life, but so far everyone has been really supportive. That doesn’t mean I don’t get the old phone call from the guy I knew in middle school to get on the guest list when we are opening for someone big. I think everyone has that going on.
3. Name association:
-Jack Ingram- An awesome performer! Can take the stage and own it for hours
-Drew Kennedy- Great songwriter, and he has seen Whiskeytown live so I am so jealous!
-Josh Grider- Another great songwriter, he can really tell a story with his music.
-Jason Eady- A great guy!
-Ryan Turner- Great all around show, he is a great musician as well.
-Randy Rogers- Very generous! He and band are all stand-up guys and they are doing something that is new, fresh and alive. All around great music.
-Pat Green- The Man! What else can you say about a guy that got me and other kids going to concerts again? Great performer, I remember seeing him for the
first time when I was 15 at Fitzgerald’s by my house in Houston. I will never forget that show!
-Cory Morrow- We have gotten the chance lately to do a lot of shows with
Cory and he is very cool! He even drove me and the band to Whataburger in
Huntsville after the show, when a lot of guys wouldn’t even talk to the opener. And on top of that, he is one of the greats; he has helped get Texas music where it is today.
-Jason Boland- Songwriter, storyteller, you name it! I don’t know Jason very
well but I love his music! I remember in college my buddy gave me the Live at Billy Bob’s and I was hooked. The first song I ever did with a live band was “My Baby Loves Me When I am Stoned.” I have done a couple of acoustic shows with him and it is always a good time!
-Bleu Edmondson- I know that me and Bleu share the same idol and that is
Springsteen. And Bleu’s show really resembles that! He is a great songwriter and I am really looking forward to his new album.
4. So many great musicians have come from the College Station scene, what do you attribute that to?
I guess there’s something in the water. (laughs) A&M has always been an agricultural school, and with agriculture comes country music! Plain and simple, to me I see College Station as a home base. A den for live Texas music. There are some Thursdays and Fridays where there are over four different major acts playing on the same night – not even Houston has that going on!
5. Related to that question, it seems as though each of the Aggie musicians have their own flavor. Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett are distinctive legends while Dub Miller is a very verbose songwriter’s songwriter and Roger Creager blossomed into a rowdy showman. What do you think your hook is and what parts of each of those other guys have you included in your own career?
Everyone you have named is incredible. The reason I got into songwriting was after hearing Robert Earl Keen’s “No Kind of Dancer.” To this day, it is one of my favorite records. I would say that my hook would have to be entertaining and songwriting; I love to write music and perform. My writing is quite different, it is full of annoyingly catchy tunes along with deep-meaning, sad ballads. Sometimes you’re happy and sometimes you’re sad; I’ve always wanted my music to reflect that. I developed this kind of writing from listing to REK albums. There are deep songs as well as fun tunes on there.
I don’t think you have to be serious all the time. But when it comes to the live show, I always want someone to walk away thinking, saying to them selves “Why did Rich sing louder in that one part? Is there deeper meaning to that? Do I need to go back and listen to the record again?” To me a live show is your test, your quiz on what our music really means to you. We all know that every artist knows their own music, but can they act it out live? Can they make you feel it, and look in their eyes and know why they left there lover or whatever it may be? So I guess my hook would have to be putting emotion behind the music, because I want to make people feel what I wrote in the live show.
We have been very fortunate it enough to get to play with Roger Creager a couple times a month and in the last six months I have learned so much from him. Roger is a fantastic showman, songwriter, leader and musician. He runs an organization how it should be run. He and his band: Matt, Stormy, John, Huff, Manny, Brent, have all taken us under their wing and taught us so much about the business, music, and life on the road. It is something I will never forget. I think I kind of took the same route as Dub and Roger and that was really getting A&M behind the music and learning how college towns relate to the Texas music scene. I think Lyle and Keen and Roger and Dub have been great role models on starting as a songwriter in College Station. You could not have asked for anyone better.
6. You have quite the extensive collection of guitars. Give us a list of the coolest ones in your inventory and what’s your favorite?
When I turned 21 my mother saved her money and bought me a 1972 Gibson 335, the same guitar that BB. King plays. It’s awesome! It has an old Galveston dock brown color to it and plays like a champ. My mom was so proud of this purchase and it made turning 21 that much sweeter. For my graduation from A&M my father and I split the cost of a 1964 Gibson Hummingbird. I found it in Austin and the moment I played it it had to be mine. It has a tone of finish cracks and the white inlay has turned yellow from all of its honky-tonk days but it sounds so good. I always play it when I have an acoustic show; it is by farmy favorite.
7. You’ve scored several hit singles despite not having the backing of a connected management or booking company. You just persisted with good songs and hard work. Talk about how frustrating it’s been to achieve success but not necessarily the respect you deserve.
You’re telling me! This year has been such a battle, but I knew that if I was going to do this for a living it was going to be tough. You are right, we have not had not had a “mega team” behind us as other artists often do. Our radio promoter Angela-Marie Lampton of SFE has been a big help; teaching me about how radio works and giving me advice. She has also helped out so much with our day to day activities when I am on the road. I don’t think I could have done any of this with out her!
When I did first start this journey I was fortunate to have had help with booking from KB Talent. KB Talent in the beginning really helped me out a lot and got me on my feet – they are great friends and I would not be where I am today with them. Recently I have been blessed this year to be picked by Mustang Music Group. Matt Peveto and the crew are awesome, and I look forward to a long relationship with the company. But, before all that I have had to fight; getting on shows, bugging other bands to let me open – it has been a lot of hard work, but it was worth it, and me and the band are still grinding away to just get out there. Every now and then we don’t get the respect we deserve from other bands or fans or whatever, but that just
makes it fun, it just makes you work that much harder.
8. Describe your live show and each of your band members.
I love entertaining first and foremost. And, when I say entertain I don’t mean a clown circus, I mean rock and roll. Getting up there and giving your 110% and making everyone feel like you were worth the ticket price. Our live show is music from the album, a few covers but mostly originals, and lots of movement, no statues in this band.
9. Favorite memory about the following towns/clubs:
-Adair’s- Awesome hamburger: one of the best in Dallas.
-Woody’s-Great atmosphere. Jordan Mycoskie let me where his hat on stage, which is a big honor in Fort Worth!
-Executive Surf Club-I always go way over my bar tab when I am there, must
be a Corpus thing
-Gruene Hall- John Dickson letting me know I was on the ski trip before I sound checked, and just being on that stage was an honor. I remember playing “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger and the place going nuts, people dancing from end to end, amazing sight.
-Lubbock- Playing to 2 people as Reckless Kelly was performing next door, I
am a huge Reckless fan so I didn’t really mind!
-Austin- Opening for The Randy Rogers band at Midnight Rodeo, biggest indoor
crowd I have ever played to!
-San Angelo- The first time I got to meet Robert Earl, we opened for him at
the river stage. I had waited my whole life to meet him.
-Houston- FIREHOUSE, wild crazy nights at the Firehouse!
-Stephenville- Gotta love Bostock’s.
10. You started out playing at The Tap every Tuesday night for a good while. What was the best part of getting all that live experience?
Man, I think I am still hung-over from playing that gig. The Tap was a blast and something about being on that stage gave me the courage to go out and play music. The fans showing up every Tuesday, and John and Adon pushing me to pursue music full time. They would always tell me that I reminded them of when Cory had the same gig, it really gave me confidence to pursue music.
11. Following up on that, weekly gigs like that lend themselves to annoying cover requests from people who aren’t really there to hear the music. What’s the one cover song you used to play back then that you regret ever pulling out of your hat? And what is your favorite cover to play?
(laughs) Of course there were the drunk people yelling “Freebird!” but I never really minded playing covers, if people wanted to hear something, I would play it. But back then and still today I would cover Ryan Adams, he is such a great songwriter and an inspiration to the music I write today.
12. Who does the best version of “Front Porch Song”?
Robert Earl Keen hands down I like Lyle’s version, but Keen is the man!
13. To be in this business, you have to spend a great deal of time on the road. What is the furthest you’ve driven to get to a gig in a 24 hr period?
Lubbock to Houston…same distance as Houston to Destin, Florida!
14. Like so many of us, prior to picking up the guitar for a career, you were focused on baseball. Who are your biggest baseball heroes?
Mark Grace. He is one of the reasons the record is called Seventeen after his baseball number. Mark was a throw-back player. He played the game the way it should be. I believe that the music scene and baseball are closely related. There are the minor leagues and there are the majors, and you have to give your soul to the game!
15. One of the odd jobs you held in the past was at a sporting goods store. You were fired from that job for playing with the equipment a little too much in your down time. What’s the story behind that?
I just flat out loved sporting goods to much, they would always catch me swinging a bat or playing catch. One day they pulled me aside and said, “Rich you’re a hard worker, but you love this stuff too much, sorry but we have to let you go.” (laughs) It was kind of sad because I lost my employee discount and that was the reason I got the job in the first place!
16. You must have several musical heroes. Is there any single career you’d like to emulate? Additionally, are there any career patterns you’d like to avoid?
I would love to follow the careers of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis and Ryan Adams, those 3 guys kind of sum me up. I would like to avoid being a one hit wonder. I would like a long and smooth career.
17. If you were a member of the Rat Pack, which one would you be?
Frank…he was a baller!
18. Rapid fire:
-Favorite place to eat on the road? Waffle House!
-Playstation or X-Box? Playstation
-Texans or Cowboys? Texans
-Billy Madison or Randolph Dupree? Billy is the king
19. Favorite George Strait song?
“Ocean Front Property”
20. What are the essential differences you see between the music you and your peers are producing with that of the establishment?
Music is free. It is anything that you want it to be. If you want fiddle and steel guitar on a track go for it. If you want overdrive during a tune, roll with it. The music that my peers and I produce is described with one word “freedom.” Music is free, no boundaries…that is the way it should be.