Q&A with singer/songwriter Randy Lee Riviere, delivered an album with today’s blues/rock anthems as well as Americana’s rootsy vibes

"Don’t give up. If you make a few bucks, record an album! If you get the slightest of ideas, stop and get it down. iPhones are awesome in this regard. If I had one of these my whole life I’d have about 5,000 more songs in my catalogue! Music is work. It’s just like everything else: you get out of it what you put into it. Not to give up on the dream. And try to enjoy the ride."

Randy Lee Riviere: Blue Sky, Roots Music

Randy Lee Riviere is a moving target. Once you think you know who he is as a recording artist, you hear something seemingly out of the character you’ve envisioned in your mind. Your initial description may have been ‘folk rock’ in the Neil Young tribe. Then you may say, no, he’s a country - outlaw/country artist, see Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash ...then it may be southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, Blackfoot. Or maybe the Beatles, the Kinks, The Moody Blues.  Marty Robbins? Ian Tyson … sure! ZZ Top? Absolutely. And on it goes. As you listen to the last 20 or so years of his work … through his years as “Mad Buffalo,” spanning four albums: A Good Bad Road, Fool Stand, Wilderness and Red and Blue, then onto his solo Randy Lee Riviere work and his 2021 album, Wyoming, you’ll hear all these musical gyrations.

(Randy Lee Riviere / Photo by Dawn Riviere)

Singer/songwriter Randy Lee Riviere will be released his new blues/roots-rock album, Blues Sky (October 20 release date), produced/engineered and mixed by Grammy-winner Kevin McKendree, on Wilderness Records, and recorded at McKendree’s Rock House Studio in Franklin, TN. Riviere, who splits his time between his Montana farm and a home outside of Nashville, has delivered an album that fits right at home with today’s blues/rock anthems as well as Americana’s rootsy vibes. Kevin McKendree assembled an all-star cast of musicians, who play true to the blues/roots sounds of the new album to back Riviere (acoustic guitars, vocals): Kevin McKendree - electric guitars, keyboards, vocals; Kenneth Blevins - drums; David Santos – bass; and the McCrary Sisters (Ann, Regina and Freda) - backing vocals. All songs were written by Randy Lee Riviere and Kevin McKendree (except “Needles,” written by Riviere).

 

Interview by Michael Limnios     Special Thanks: Randy Lee Riviere & Mark Pucci Media

How has the American Roots Music influenced your views of the world and your ways of life?

Great music, music that strikes me, gives me pause … really makes me want to make more of it! Some of it can undoubtedly be described as roots music. 

My favorite music usually says something … says something about issues, emotions, the state-of-being of someone. Simple things. More complicated things. Somebody’s view of where they are on this planet, and what’s going on there at that time. Someone sitting there with a guitar and just telling the truth. Saying this ‘is who I am, this is how I’m feeling right now, and it’s the truth’. How we’re impacted by world events … wars.  Is this music connected to our roots as a people, our roots in nature, our roots as a nation? I hope so.

Lots of different music has influenced me, however, across many different genres. I think the melting pot of all that maybe could be called roots music; it certainly has created a vibe in me that could be considered my roots put into music. 

The land is where my personal and musical roots can often be found together … when I have something I’ve been thinking about, something that has impacted me, I’ll often use landscape-themed metaphors and deliver these thoughts with music. 

This is very ‘Native American’ really. For instance, instead of saying ‘fall has arrived!’ many natives historically might describe ‘fall’ as ‘the season of the ripening berries’. I know of no better use of metaphor than the way these people often use natural processes to communicate. Are Native Americans a big part of our roots that can help produce roots music. Absolutely. 

An example of what I’m talking about here can be found on the Blues Sky album: “Just One More Time”: 

Tell me why the river’s so wide

Do I try again, to get to the other side?

Just one more time

Push Fate aside

 

There’s been a big rain up ahead

The current is strong

But these legs have gone weak

My old horse is gone

But I never took a hand line

Not one time

Songs often come to me in this way … what’s on my mind processed through natural metaphor and delivered through music. Nature’s impact on me is a huge part of my roots.  And I write music about it.

Music that comes from Musicians/songwriters that might be considered roots people that have impacted this American: … if Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Band, The Byrds, Graham Parsons, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Billy Gibbons can be called roots musicians and songwriters, then I certainly have been impacted by roots music. 

Does some of this stuff make me a ‘roots’ artist? I like to think I live and think down around where the roots are (lol). Maybe I should follow this sentence with … ‘but I’m not dead yet’! I honestly struggle describing genres, obviously, but am trying to, and undoubtedly failing horribly. But I don’t think much about it really.

"Great music, music that strikes me, gives me pause … really makes me want to make more of it! Some of it can undoubtedly be described as roots music." (Photo: Randy Lee Riviere)

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from? 

I like my music to be raw. Dirty, organic, with grass stains all over it. Mainly, I think music needs to be true. And it has a lid and needs to breathe.  

I’m a country boy, really … from the beginning. I have a farm to this day … with hogs, sheep, chickens, a horse … and a Grand Pyrenees dog to ‘protect’ them.  Basically, he just barks a lot. This is my ‘other life’ … a lifestyle that has certainly produced some musical creativity along the way.

I also had a strong religious background back in the day from my mother. Maybe this is where “Cold, Cold, River” came from … it still blows my mind that this gospel song just showed up. The McCrary Sisters really made this tune shine. 

And there was quite a bit of school and work, work, work for lots of years. All of these experiences drive who I am as a songwriter. How could they not?

My music is quite diverse really, and I think people would describe it this way when looking at it through a wide lens. It’s like Blues Sky. So much ‘Blues’!  What’s up with that? I am finding this Bluesy approach to be a cool way to carry ideas. But there are lots of different flavors on this record … different subject matter, some contradicting. I do like to look at things from all angles. I think each tune is really an ecosystem within itself.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

It’s not just one thing really, although ironically a tune “Just One Thing” is on my “Wyoming” album (lol). The release of Neil Young’s “Harvest” record in the early ‘70s had a big impact on me. His rawness … guitar notes ringing in a seemingly aimless manner but made so much sense to me. His lyrics were just vague enough … his falsetto voice. It felt like the truth. The Southern Rock onslaught as well, starting with Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. Allen Collins and Billy Gibbons are my guitar heroes from the beginning of time. I played lead guitar in those days.

I’ve had the great fortune of playing with some wonderful players over the years. I won’t drop any names; I hate that. I will however drop one name: that’s Kevin McKendree … the producer of “Blues Sky” and my last record “Wyoming”. Kevin is brilliant musically; I had no idea he played so many different instruments. As a producer, Kevin works hard to find the truth in you and help you capture it sonically. On Blues Sky, he really dove in by playing a score of instruments, himself, and bringing in great musicians (Kenneth Blevins and Dave Santos) and the truly wonderful McCrary Sisters. I’m in love with them, I just have to come out and say it. 

"My music is what’s in me that’s influenced by myriad forces outside the machinery of what’s going on in the music world today. Last thing I want to do is be involved with some esoteric process. Writing music for music’s sake." (Photo: Randy Lee Riviere)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss my old Quadreverb amp. My 73 LP Deluxe, 77 Gibson Firebird, old Melody Maker. I miss my 67 El Camino and Craig Power Play …

I miss all those garages we played in. The decks hanging off homes out in the country where we could just turn it up and up and up. Those country gigs … I miss the freedom of all that. Not giving a shit. Jumping in the van off to the next $25 gig. 

I miss those places The McCrary sisters so kindly took me back to. The places Kevin took me back to. I love and read a lot of American history. I miss those bands/songwriters, some still living and working thank goodness, that marked the times; The Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Cream, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Hank Williams, Townes Van Zant, Bob Dylan, The Band, The Byrds, Graham Parsons, Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter, Neil Young … and on and on. These vibes will be carried on through time. I’m convinced and grateful for that. 

What are the lines that connect the legacy of American Roots Music from the Blues and Folk to Country, Americana, and beyond?

I’m not really qualified to answer this question I don’t think. But it’s a good question. I just don’t think I’m the right guy to try to answer it. I pick up the guitar, and whatever shows up is what it is. I haven’t studied musical history too much. I don’t want to get caught up in the machinery of it. This is the main reason I don’t listen to what’s going on in music today very much. That’s sadly true. It’s really easy to get caught up in what someone else is doing … you hear someone’s sound that strikes you and you fire up the ambulance and run after it. My music is what’s in me that’s influenced by myriad forces outside the machinery of what’s going on in the music world today. Last thing I want to do is be involved with some esoteric process. Writing music for music’s sake. Writing music to adhere to some genre’s ‘true faith’ … it can just become this cult you know. I’m a songwriter. I write about what I see and feel … songs driven by whatever comes out of my mind and guitar. Definitely influenced by the times, but not to be part of these musical roots. I don’t even think about that.

"The land is where my personal and musical roots can often be found together … when I have something I’ve been thinking about, something that has impacted me, I’ll often use landscape-themed metaphors and deliver these thoughts with music." (Randy Lee Riviere / Photo by Andrew Geiger)

What is the impact of Roots Music on the socio-cultural implications?  How do you want the music to affect people?

You can look back and see and hear so much of this. Lots of it described above.  Great question.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am..." How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

I think I’ve addressed this pretty well above. But I will talk a bit about “Cold, Cold, River” on my new “Blues Sky” album. This song; where did this come from?  I’ve never done anything close to a Gospel tune in my life. But it must be true.  It might be my early exposure to faith via my mother and the Baptist Church. I mean, I was baptized twice! Guess I thought I needed it again. My mother was quite involved with the church and drug me by the ear into there until I was like in the 8th grade. She taught Sunday School and was quite the devout Christian. Lots of Old Testament fire and brimstone stuff, let me tell you. “Spare the rod spoil the child” kind of stuff. Getting the McCrary ladies on this song just sealed the deal for me. Now I understand why I need to get my ass back to church!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Don’t give up. If you make a few bucks, record an album! If you get the slightest of ideas, stop and get it down. iPhones are awesome in this regard. If I had one of these my whole life I’d have about 5,000 more songs in my catalogue! 

Music is work. It’s just like everything else: you get out of it what you put into it.

Not to give up on the dream. And try to enjoy the ride.

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(Photo: Randy Lee Riviere)

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