Discussion: The Trouble with John Rich

We all know of John Rich. He’s the guy from Big & Richwith a silky smooth voice who has a personality that doesn’t match. He has made more than one controversial statement and has an arrogance that likely even he wouldn’t deny. However, the most significant aspect about him, in this forum of Country Universe, is his musical contribution.

As I have been listening to songs to review, I noticed that Rich has connections with at least four of the artists for my consideration. This got me thinking about how he has inserted himself into much of what we hear on country radio today. He’s written songs for and/or produced many artists including Faith Hill, Gretchen Wilson, Jason Aldean, John Anderson, Shannon Brown, Jewel, James Otto, Randy Owen and I’m sure there are others that I’ve excluded. 

When I first heard the music of Big & Rich, I have to admit that I thought it was refreshing and interesting. I enjoyed how they created their own brand of country music by intertwining rock with country. I, however, can say that my infatuation with Big & Rich and their sound is pretty much over. I don’t know if this is due to the fact that I’ve out grown it or if it’s because John Rich seems to be injecting his sound into the music of every artist he can get his hands on, which has turned into John Rich overload.

 Good producers are the ones who know how to make their artists shine. They know how to make their production compliment who the singer is as an artist. They may have a particular style, but they are capable of making it work uniquely for each of the artists they produce.

For example, Rick Rubin. Not only has he produced artists in rock and rap music, he has found a place in country music as well. He revived Johnny Cash’s career with brilliance. When Cash’s voice was still strong, he had the foresight to make an acoustic record that would accentuate Johnny’s rich voice and ability to interpret songs. Moreover, when Johnny’s voice lost the richness that everyone knew and loved, Rubin persuaded him to sing anyway and made an extremely well respected record with what he had, which easily could have been argued as not being very much at that point.

Then there’s the Dixie Chicks. The album that he produced managed to make a fiddle rock. One may hear similarities between the Cash and Chicks albums, but Rubin was able to make them sound unique to the artists. He was able to create productions that complemented the artist he was producing.

This is what John Rich does not seem to be capable of doing. Instead, he simply applies a general production to all of the artists he produces. Almost without fail, one can discern if a record was produced by Rich. People may argue that this is a good thing by suggesting that it is admirable to have a recognizable sound. While it is good for an artist to have a signature sound, it is not appropriate for a producer to adopt one.  It is the job of the producer to adapt his production to suit the artist and help to facilitate the artist’s signature sound rather than his own.

To put it more succinctly, the producer should not overshadow the artist. The point of listening to a singer is to get to know the artist, not the producer. And this is where John Rich does the artists that he produces a disservice. Sure, it can also be suggested that the artists know what they’re doing when they hire Rich to produce them. I cannot debate this point. I, however, can still maintain that the artists are selling themselves short and Rich is helping them to do so.

While it’s fine for Rich to maintain his signature sound in the music of his duo, it is unfortunate that he is enforcing his narrow production on everyone else’s albums. It is not good for the artists that he produces and it is not good for current country radio.

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14 Comments

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14 Responses to Discussion: The Trouble with John Rich

  1. CarolynNo Gravatar

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I kept wondering if I was the only one who thought that same thing.

    I feel like Rich’s focus is on promoting John Rich, not quality music. It’s as if he takes on a project just to keep his name in the lime light, and the artists he works with will end up pigeon-holed with mediocre music.

  2. Honestly, I’m not sure I detect a particular “sound” to Rich’s production. I’m not saying it’s not there; I might just not yet be attuned to it. Could you give some examples of particular songs that you feel characterize it?

    I am getting sick of Rich’s constant over-presence in all things country music. It’s starting to become a case of the publicity being bigger than the art.

  3. Leeann's Husband

    Publicity seems to be the key component in this equation. John Rich is an advertisement for the album as much as he is a producer. If you like Big and Rich, buy this album with John’s name attached to it in every commercial and interview possible! While I think that artist can be incredibly good producers (Alison Krauss for example), but they have to make it more about the artist and less about them.

  4. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Alison Krauss would have been a good example for me to use as well. She produced both Nickel Creek and Alan Jackson and those records sound entirely different from each other and her own.

    Dan,

    When I listen to the albums of James Otto, John Anderson and Shannon Brown, John Rich’s production is all over them. “Ain’t Gonna Stop” (James Otto), “High Horses” (Shannon Brown) and “Easy Money” (John Anderson), just to name three songs, all have seemingly almost identical production.

  5. LynnNo Gravatar

    I second everything you said Kevin. The thing that worries me most about John Rich producing everyone in sight is that he is always talking about expanding the boundaries of country music to the breaking point and then pushing beyond. I don’t think he understands how to push the limit but keep it country. His ostentatiousness and ego is also at odds with a style of music that is all about keeping it real. (IMO, we can’t take the Vegas out of country fast enough) I simply cringe at the thought of country music in the future sounding like one long Big and Rich cover of “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

  6. LanibugNo Gravatar

    I have to say that there are things that I like about John Rich, some songs that he has written, etc. and I do like some of Big & Rich’s music, but I can say that I do not own any of their albums — but he was doing a radio interview this morning on my local station for that thing they are calling Nashville Star and talking about how they are going to make the winner a mega star because he is going to be behind them and I wanted to scream at him — look at Julio—

  7. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Actually, Lynn, I’m gonna have to take the fall for this piece.:)

    Lanibug, I agree. There still some things I like about John Rich. He certainly does have talent. I just think his ego gets in the way of art all too often.

  8. I just don’t like the guy. His statements about gay marriage were the last straw for me. I generally don’t have any personal feelings for music artists and just enjoy the music I like, but he has been very vocal and it was a huge turn off for me. I thought about checking out Nashville Star with Billy Ray but I refuse to watch it with him on the show. Musically, I think the biggest problem with him producing so much that hits the radio is that it’s just not that great, so the mediocrity is spreading.

  9. I had wondered about the same ‘self-promotion thing on Roughstock. It’s interesting to think about it for sure. it’s just sad that an artist like this needs to input his stamp on everything.

    Am I the only one wo thinks that Big Kenny being ‘laid-up’ this year was to get away from JR for a bit? He is the one with the “Love Everybody” mantra in B&R and you don’t see him out there producing records.

  10. LynnNo Gravatar

    Sorry Leeann! I still concur with your piece!

  11. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I think the key to John Rich is to simply take him with a (large )grain of salt and understand that like many entertainers (Esquerita, Little Richard, Dolly Parton, Tiny Tim, Liberace) John Rich is prone to excess.

    John Rich is able to control his excesses and the fine work he did on John Anderson’s last album is proof that he can stay out of the way, given sufficient reason. As for as his personal beliefs, I simply don’t allow that to influence my musical taste. If I like the music I buy it, if I don’t like it then I won’t buy it.

  12. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Paul, I thought John Anderson’s album was good, but I still heard more of Rich’s influence than I would’ve preferred from an Anderson album. I think I would have liked it even more if it weren’t for those missteps. I had really been looking forward to the album and was a bit disappointed by it, though have enjoyed it more on subsequent listens.

  13. CFNo Gravatar

    Ah, John Rich. What a guy. I have mixed feelings about him, but I know he has a tendency to say dumb things and his productions do sound pretty much the same I agree.

    I remember when I met him after a concert at the tour buses with some other fans and he was there in his bathrobe and had a beer in his hand. I had him sign one of my shirts I bought (Brooks & Dunn were on there lol), and he had his hands full, so he handed me the beer to hold. What he didn’t realize was that I was like 17 and he just handed a minor some alcohol lol. I thought that was kinda funny. He seemed pretty cool during that time, but I’ve lost respect for him over the years.

  14. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Roger–

    Don’t worry, you are much better off for skipping this year’s Nashville Star. It is an embarrassment to country music, a real lost opportunity.