Butch Rice's Acoustic Angst

Jeffrey Lee Puckett
(The Courier-Journal - March 3, 2000)

Some folks are driven to a life in music. They get a Rolling Stones record at age 9, a guitar at 10 and are forever lost. Nothing else matters and never will.

Or there's the Butch Rice method.

That's the one where you have to be convinced to pick up a guitar, then you take a few lessons, write a couple songs and suddenly find yourself joining a band before you even learn the chord changes to "Wild Thing." The end result, however, is the same. Rice now finds himself just as others - forever lost.

For several years, Rice has been a strong presence on Louisville's original-music scene as a solo acoustic performer. His angst prone songs, many of which center on love that is troubled, lost or otherwise screwed up, are naturals for such intimate conditions.

He'd like to make music full time but knows it's a long shot for most. Meanwhile he has a good day job, sells himself and his songs to the music industry as often as possible and writes. His debut album on ear X-tacy records, "Acoustic Pop," has been a consistent seller since it's release last year. "I'm waiting to see what happens next," said Rice, an effusive, talkative sort (kind of a silver cloud with a dark lining). "I know I'm gonna play. I could be working at GE for the rest of my life; I could not be there next year. But I know that in five years, 10 years, I'll still be playing my guitar."

Rice was born in Milan, TN but claims Louisville Citizenship based on one irrefutable fact: When he moved here, Presto the Clown was still the afternoon host on WDRB-TV. His father, Dr. Booker Rice, brought the family to Louisville in 1971 after accepting a job with Jefferson County Public Schools (he retired as deputy superintendent). The Rice family was extremely musical, but all attention was focused on the church; nearly all of Rice's relative's performed in church choirs or bands, and some were good enough to cut records. "I didn't really think about it; it was just what we did," Rice said, "Everyone on my Mom's side played or sang, but I think I'm the first secular musician." Rice sang in school choirs from middle school until he got to the University of Louisville, where he didn't enjoy the experience. He quit, and music became more of a passive, but constant, pursuit.

"A friend said, 'You're always seeing some show, buying a CD or singing. Why don't you play an instrument?' I said, 'No, I'm too old to start playing,'" Rice recalled. In 1991, the friend finally convinced Rice to rent a guitar from the Doo Wop Shop by telling him he could always return it. "So I rented a guitar and never took it back," Rice said. "I found a Beatles songbook someone had left in my garage and set about mutilating my fingers."

Rice immediately gravitated toward local influences as Domani and danny flanigan and the rain chorus. He began taking lessons from Flanigan and quietly wrote a couple of tentative songs. Flanigan was impressed enough to convince Rice to perform at Flanigan's Monkey Hour open stage. Rice got through it despite a raging case of nerves and picked up a couple of fans in Dave Ernst and Dave Ernspiker, who had a band called About Us. Shortly after the show they asked Rice to join. "In two weeks I went from my first open stage to being in a band," Rice said. "I was like, 'I'm gonna be in a band, dude! I'm gonna be in a band!'" As it turned out, the reality was a little less exciting. Although Rice had fun living out his rock star fantasies, the band split up twice over the next couple of years and for good after Ernspiker was seriously injured in a traffic accident. After nearly a year of not playing, Rice started Tuesday Sun, which enjoyed a good year before falling apart I the summer of '96. "I took that one pretty hard," Rice said. "We just faded away, no last show or anything."

During a self-imposed exile, Rice was convinced by friends that his songs didn't a band. His first solo show nearly sold out Twice Told Coffee House, and Rice has stayed single since, choosing to work on his writing. A band isn't out of the question, but Rice is more interested in learning to write a truly universal song, one that doesn't use the crutch of a broken love affair to connect with people. For inspiration, he's been looking to such idol's as the Who's Pete Townshend - and to the way music has affected him. "It's changed my life, changed the way I see myself," he said. "I'm notthat misfit kid anymore. But I know that this year, next year and 20 years from now there will be skinny kids breaking their necks trying to fit in, and I want to write music that's relevant for them, something people can relate to, because that's what music means to me."

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