Lonesome River Band’s Brandon Rickman looks back on blues

By Joey Ferber

Photo: (l-r) Lonesome River Band’s Mike Hartgrove, Jesse Smathers, Sammy Shelor, Brandon Rickman, and Barry Reed

The Lonesome River Band sound has been a staple of bluegrass music since its 1982 formation, and the band’s groove has stayed true to its roots. Brandon Rickman, guitarist and lead vocalist for LRB, was raised in the culture of bluegrass. Toward the beginning of our conversation, he recounts learning the genre as part of his Missouri family band: “Most all of us are self-taught. In that area, the bluegrass scene was a very family-friendly atmosphere. It was good to have kids around. It kept us out of trouble, and we all loved the music. Even then, I was listening to the Lonesome River Band. That’s who we all wanted to play like.” He later says, “I fell in love with bluegrass because of the feel. When you got five guys up there and everything’s clickin’ together—there’s no other feeling like that.” While LRB maintains its original sound, the surrounding musical environment has hardly remained the same.

LRB’s tenure of more than 25 years is noteworthy, yet the literal and figurative roads traveled to their success have been far from smooth.

“It was obviously a huge thing to get a chance to be a part of [LRB]. But songs in the bluegrass industry have changed,” he shares. “The genre always seems to take a turn somewhere every so many years.” To provide for his own family now, Rickman describes his past years working in the Nashville music publishing industry. With interspersed chuckles, he reflects, “You know I went from 23, 24-years-old in a band, single, not a care in the world, had enough money in my pocket. Now, I’m 39-years-old, I have a wife of 11 years and two kids… I went from writin’ a few songs to writin’ for a living.”

Rickman recalls the difficulty of maintaining lifestyle while retaining artistic integrity: “Drivin’ 35 miles to music row, then 35 miles back to write something you don’t like and to try and get it on the radio, or writin’ something you love that you’re not gonna make any money on… got to be a waste of money and a waste of time.” His advice to fellow musicians seems applicable to anyone pursuing one’s passion: “The best advice I ever got was from the first publisher I ever had. He told me, ‘When it quits bein’ fun, quit doin’ it. As long as it’s fun, keep doin’ it’—so I took that to heart. But what is fun is to go out with a bunch of good guys and play what we feel is good music.”

Rickman has stayed gracious for his successes in light of the abundant struggles. “As far as pivotal moments, Steve Martin gave Sammy [Shelor] the Excellence of Bluegrass and Banjo Award, and we got to do the David Letterman show. A big thing for me was playin’ the [Grand Ole] Opry. I don’t know how many times we’ve played it, but it’s awful special. On the songwriting side? The new format of country music. I don’t write that. I don’t care for it, to be honest. It’s a low. You feel like you write a great song and nail it to the wall, and everyone you play it for loves it, but you don’t have a chance in getting that song out because the radio isn’t gonna play that. That’s been a low. I haven’t wrote a song in…” he pauses for a quick tally. “I ain’t wrote a song in over a year.”

After a contemplative breath, he continues, “In 17 or 18 years, I ain’t never went a year without writin’ a song.” Rickman mined for gratitude again, and carries on: “So, it’s easy to get discouraged on the songwriting aspect of things. We’re gonna go in the studio in a couple months, and I’ll be getting it back out and knockin’ the dust off, but to be honest with you, I’m pretty comfortable with it… I’m very satisfied writin’ the songs that I like to write, playin’ in a band that likes what I do. I get to go out with five other guys, six when the bus driver goes, who respect what I do, I respect what they do, and they’re most awesome bunch of fellas you could ever travel with. So, it don’t matter that I’m discouraged with the songwriting or that I’ve just figured out that this is what I want to do. I feel very fortunate to be doin’ what I’m doin’.”

During a discussion on the trendy resurgence of acoustic music, Rickman took a moment to handle some business away from the phone.

Perhaps the most honest glimpse into Rickman’s humility and achievement came as I overheard him clarifying his schedule with someone on his end. Casually, he says, “Oh, we got our IBMA awards coming up next week. We’re playin’, and we’re up for four awards, I think.” IBMA stands for International Bluegrass Music Awards—the Grammy’s of bluegrass music, so to speak.

Then, as professionally executed as his playing, Rickman hopped back on the phone, picking up conversation practically midsentence, without missing a beat.

Lonesome River Band performs Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. in downtown Dayton. Nightflyer and The Repeating Arms are also on the bill. Tickets are $20. For more information, please visit LonesomeRiverBand.com or VictoriaTheatre.com.


Joey Ferber works out of St. Louis and Dayton as a musician and writer. You can hear him on electric guitar with St. Louis jazz-rap collective LOOPRAT at Looprat.Bandcamp.com and on his original theme song for the Dayton-based podcast series Unwritten at UnwrittenPodcast.com, to which he also contributed as a scriptwriter. Reach him at JoeyFerber@DaytonCityPaper.com. 


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Joey Ferber works out of St. Louis and Dayton as a musician and writer. You can hear him on electric guitar with St. Louis jazz-rap collective LOOPRAT at Looprat.Bandcamp.com and on his original theme song for the Dayton-based podcast series Unwritten at UnwrittenPodcast.com, for which he also contributed to as a scriptwriter. Reach him at JoeyFerber@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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