By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A former Atmore emergency dispatcher, already well known to local and regional country music fans, has signed a recording contract with a Nashville, Tenn.-based record label that will release his first national single in January.
Ricky Crook, who has paid his dues by performing at several small venues in and around Atmore, Escambia County and elsewhere in the Southeast over the past several years, recently inked an 18-month, three-song deal with MC1 Nashville.
“We are proud to announce that veteran country music artist Ricky Crook has signed with MC1 Nashville,” said Darlene Fowler, CEO of the developmental recording company. “We are also delighted to announce that Ricky will be releasing his new single, ‘In My Truck,’ after the new year.”
Crook, who comes from a musical family, cut his teeth on the music he heard during the informal jam sessions held on the porch of his grandparents’ home in rural Escambia County when he was a child.
“It all started back when my father and his brothers all played at my grandparents’ house in McCullough,” the singer-musician said. “They all had regular jobs, so they just played on Sundays. I just sat and soaked it up.”
He added that his mother’s sister, Lavinia Lee, who lived in the Bakersfield, Cal. area, had a record on which Merle Haggard played guitar (“Last Night in Town” backed with “Lavinia’s Tune”) that received a lot of airplay in the early 1960s.
“I sort of got it from both sides of the family,” he said of his love for music. “I guess it’s just part of my DNA.”
Crook composed two of the three songs that will be released to national listening audiences under his contract, including the initial one, “In My Truck,” which features the pedal steel guitar work of veteran sideman Eddie Lange.
“When I wrote it, it was more of a middle-of-the-road song, with an option to get airplay,” he said. “We put a heavier pedal steel in to give it a more classic country feel because I didn’t want to get away from my roots, while driving the guitars and drums in the mix like more modern music.”
Joining Lange as Crook’s studio band were drummer Greg Lohman, who is best known for his work with Kellie Pickler; Will Atkins on piano; John Lee Carpenter on fiddle; and Nashville producer-musician Kevin Key, noted for his work with Mark Wills, Wade Hayes and others, who played guitar and bass.
The songs will be distributed by SONY / Orchard Music, which also handles distribution for a stable of artists that includes noted rock musicians John Mayer and Joe Walsh.
Crook played in several local bands, beginning when he was in his 20s, as a means of supplementing the income from his regular job. He also worked on honing his songwriting skills during this period.
Somewhere in the middle of the current decade, he made the decision to see if he could make a living out of making music and so far, he hasn’t looked back.
“I’m a fulltime musician and recording artist now,” he said, pointing out that he still calls Atmore home, although a lot of his time is spent in Music City USA. “I will continue to live here in Atmore and commute back and forth to Nashville for recording sessions, shows and any promotional events the label might put together. I will be booking shows in the local area as always, as well as some regional shows. I love Nashville; I feel like I’m in my element when I’m up there, and I spend as much time as I can up there. But Atmore is my home, and that works better for my family and me right now.”
He said that unless he was performing in the Nashville area, he would take the stage with The Horseshoe Halo Band, a name he holds the rights to for his fluid and ever-changing backing combo.
“My guys will still be my band, but that’s where it gets iffy,” he laughed. “There really aren’t any specific members of Horseshoe Halo. It varies, so I have a backup for each one. A friend and I came up with the band name, and that’s who plays with me most of the time. Of course, sometimes when we play festivals or fairs, I’ll have a group out of Nashville.”
Crook said that music became therapy for him when he experienced some health issues several years ago. He added that, like all musicians, the therapy continues when he’s in the recording studio or up on the stage.
“Music, especially country music, has pretty much always been an important part of my life,” he said. “I enjoy writing songs, and I love the energy of playing live shows. When you connect with an audience that shares your love of music, it’s a great feeling, something that’s hard to explain.”