A conversation with Teddy Richards

Photo credits: Teddy Richards

In January, journalist Sophie Harman and singer/songwriter Tal Jones spoke to Teddy Richards, the legendary music producer:

Sitting down with Teddy Richards – albeit after some serious technical difficulties, in true pandemic fashion – I came to understand that not only is he an accomplished singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist – but a music lover just the same. From memories of his best moments to his technique in the studio, Teddy was happy to share his stories and love for the art.

As a seasoned musician with decades of experience, Teddy Richards is a true all-rounder. Teddy’s professional journey has taken him across the world, playing on tour in multiple European countries. He discusses his experience of touring very openly, recounting. It’s clear that Mr Richards is no stranger to the live circuit, having experience performing with Aretha Franklin’s band as a guitarist for 30 years. He explains that he has always enjoyed touring outside of the states the most, deeming the audiences more appreciative of his performances, as ‘they really seem to take it more to heart’, further explaining that his experiences touring within the USA can be a ‘grind’. Getting a taste of foreign countries (especially in Europe) has been a highlight of Teddy’s expansive touring career.

When asked where he draws his inspiration from; I realised, like myself, R&B music features prominently in his playlist – though interestingly that of the 60s and 70s. With a self-confessed eclectic taste in music, Teddy compares listening to one genre to “limiting the food that you eat, when there’s a world full of flavours, and music is the same”! He shares his appreciation for other genres; with a shout out to English rock band ‘XTC’, or the reggae music that his wife, who he likens to a musical “walking encyclopaedia” got him into, and the occasional country song, if it meets his criteria for “well written lyrics” that is. These fragments of inspiration pop up in his music, as can be heard throughout the likes of his 2006 album ‘Gravity’.

For this well-rounded musician his biggest achievement is a straightforward answer, it’s his performance at the Wembley Stadium ‘Mandela’s Freedom Fest of 1988’ that “is hard to beat”. After a guitarist dropped out, he was, in his words, “a last straw” replacement.

He candidly describes the moments leading up to his performance, with the likes of renowned soul singer Al Green and popular R’n’B artist Natalie Cole, of which he recalls a quiet moment backstage saying to himself that, “if you can go and do this, and you CAN do this, there’s nothing else you won’t be able to do”. For anyone who has been to Wembley stadium it’s hard to imagine a quiet moment, but for Teddy this was just the solace he needed to prepare for a powerful performance in the iconic venue. After his success in the UK, he held this sentiment with him when he later made his debut with the Aretha Franklin band in Chicago. After reminding himself that he got through Wembley, so he could get through this, his debut with the band, who he spent a further 30 years touring and performing with, remains another moment he “holds in high regard”.

A brilliant insight Teddy gave to me was his experience working with both analogue and digital technologies. As a musician whose career has spanned the transitional period between the two technologies, his experience as a live musician has evolved on account of this change. He explains ‘I’m an analogue-digital guy in the truest sense’. Although he has not yet ventured into experimenting with using digital technology to trigger sounds during his live performances, he is well accustomed to playing with click tracks and experimenting with loops in the studio. He discusses the different aspects of both live and studio performing, and assured us that he feels very much at home in both environments.

The process of creating music isn’t one that Teddy takes lightly, when I ask him about his technique, such as the age old question of ‘lyrics or instrumentals first’? He responds in depth considering all elements of a track, “I prefer sitting and putting things together instrumentally at first. I feel a song more without lyrics and as you’re building a music band melodies will start to come to you, and their lyrics will come too”. Though Teddy is not afraid of experimentation, and in the case of his work with jingles and commercials he has found some success in trying other methods. When a friend, who had already written the lyrics to a now very relevant ‘hand- washing’ song for kids, asked him for an instrumental, Teddy recalls finding the process “freeing”, though he later confesses this was in part due to less pressure with it not being one of his own songs. It’s no surprise that Teddy Richards is somewhat of a musical genius considering his mother, otherwise ‘The Queen of Soul’, Aretha Franklin, and a producer-manager mogul in his father Ted White. But Richards has successfully carved his own unique space in the industry; through his love for the art, his attention to detail, and his passion for music.

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