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You would expect to hear some very high tech music from the guy who’s the webmaster of San Francisco and so it’s a surprise to hear the acoustic sounding, piano based songs on his new CD, LET IT FALL recently released by Berkeley based Clearsong Records.

I use samples of acoustic instruments with midi and digital audio in my home studio but I don’t get involved with much computer manipulation. My background is in playing acoustic pianos-both jazz cocktail lounge and acoustic folk/rock which I’d done for many years long before the personal computer existed. Learning to record my music on a personal computer without a doubt led me to my current and really great day job working for the city of San Francisco."

A fairly new resident to the Bay Area, Richard moved to San Francisco after having spent over 15 years leading the life of a "downtown" artist and musician in New York City.

“I lived about half a block from CBGB’s Club when Blondie and The Talking Heads just started playing but I didn’t seem to know what was going on there. Anyway, I had moved to NY because I was interested in working in experimental theatre and dance not alternative rock!”

While in New York, Richard was part of a community of struggling yet vibrant downtown theatre artists. His credits from that period include grants, music prizes and awards as well as several musical scores and collaborations with many legendary experimental theater groups.
“I worked with Mabou Mines, The Chelsea Theater Center, La Mama, and several other avant-garde companies. At the same time, I wrote some scores for television, mostly for documentaries and even got nominated for an Emmy which I didn’t win."

His work with the experimental companies lead to recommendations to join the fledgling Musical Theatre Program at New York University where he received his MFA degree in musical theatre. The program consisted of a small group of promising writers who were given the opportunity to study the anatomy of the Broadway musical.

“They offered me a fellowship which I accepted and suddenly found myself sitting in the same small room with some of the great Broadway authors and directors, talking about the making of commercial musicals and commenting on my work."

After walking away with the MFA, Richard spent many years working in more commercially oriented venues, writing and developing his ideas at regional theaters across the country. His best known show from this period, A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE based on the novel by "The Last Unicorn" author Peter S. Beagle, with book and lyrics by Erik Haagensen, and published by Samuel French, has been produced at least once a year since the world premiere at the famous Goodspeed theater in Connecticut.

“What I attempted to do was to express complex and ambivalent emotions through the music. The standard wisdom in musicals is for characters to sing out their emotions that are very big but, if you think about it, are usually very simple and I wasn’t interested in that. I also don’t have a natural instinct for writing musical comedy. It was pretty obvious that my work wasn’t very commercial so I decided to go into business.”

The World Wide Web was in its infancy at that time but he quickly saw the potential for promoting and selling independent music on the Web. He taught himself html, found sponsorship from a CD manufacturing company, offered to create web sites for musicians making their own CDs and then went looking for an on-line store to sell the musicians' CDs from his web site.

“I found CDnow when it was first on the Web and it seemed to be about the only place at the time that was selling CDs. This was before realaudio or mp3 or any kind of streaming audio. A 14.4K modem was considered fast. I put low resolution wav files, pictures, my review of the CD and then wrote a link to CDnow for immediate purchase.”

Along with web site creation, writing and recording the songs for LET IT FALL continued during this period as well. Then a phone call came from an old friend working for a publisher in Berkeley desperately needing someone to quickly complete a half finished web site. He flew out west and spent several weeks in Berkeley. After getting the web site up and running, he was offered the full time job that brought him to the Bay Area.
“I was hired as the systems administrator and I had little background and honestly didn’t know what I was doing. But I figured things out quickly. It was stressful job but eventually I had enough experience to get work doing what I really wanted to do in the first place which was web site development.”

Eventually, Richard landed a job with the city and county of San Francisco as one of four webmasters. Today, he’s part of a 4 person team that builds and maintains web sites for city wide departments on the city’s web site, sfgov.org , commonly known as Cityspan.

“Actually my colleagues are all women so our joke is that I’m THE webmaster. It’s been a great experience and I’ve become a competent web application developer which turns out to be very creative and rewarding work relying on knowledge and intuition. Not all that different from writing music except that with my songwriting I’m always attempting to find something mysterious or evocative and that’s thankfully NOT part of web programming!”

The songs on this CD are clearly very personal with lots dreamlike imagery in the lyrics and strange twists in the melodies prompting one critic to describe Richard as “the lost love child of Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits.”

“That quote always makes me laugh and it was written in a Connecticut weekly back in the 70s when I was playing around a lot. This was when disco was the big thing in music and I was playing jazz piano and acoustic folk/rock. There was no such thing as a sampler or a digital piano so I had to play whatever piano was available to me and these were usually beat up, barely in tune, honky tonk pianos with cigarette burns in the wood. I used to sing Joni Mitchell songs in a lounge lizard style and I had gray fedora hat. I probably reminded a lot of people of Tom Waits as he was at that time. Actually, I greatly admire both these songwriters. I also love Bill Evans and I listen to Shirley Horn a lot who is probably my favorite singer. But my own songs aren’t really jazz. They’re much closer to songwriters like Mitchell and early Waits. It’s been said that there’s a melancholy, blue feeling in my voice and in almost all my songs which isn’t intended. But I seem to have a line into the underlying melancholy waters and it naturally appears in my music. It’s not for everyone but it’s music much truer to who I am than anything I’ve done. My first CD is completed. Now I have to find the kindred spirits out there who will connect with what I’m doing.”

There’s been a lot of news and controversy about music on the internet lately. A few musicians that have made their debut on the web are beginning to emerge as commercially viable artists throwing off a lot of the old notions of promotion, marketing and the distribution of music by the mainstream music industry. It’s unpredictable situation full of possibility for someone with Richard’s background and skills.

“I can’t do the traditional promotional activities that the experts advise. I have some chronic health problems that make it very difficult for me to commit to performing anymore. I can’t travel much because of my webmaster job and I’ve been advised that I’m a bit too old and not commercial enough for the music biz. But I can’t give up my music and I know that there’s a sizable audience out there for me. I think they’re on the web or will be soon and I hope I can find them that way. Technology has given me unimaginable ways to make music. Let’s hope it gives me the unimaginable ways to sell it.”

To get the latest news and information, and to hear complete tracks from LET IT FALL, visit http://clearsong.com.

 

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