Jun 7, 2023
His ethereal music makes for one magical, introspective ride
In a sea rife with performing and touring musicians, most don’t realize there are also composers swimming around out there who aren't necessarily looking to tour venues and play live music but to find the right TV show, documentary, and/or major motion picture to showcase their work. Perhaps one of the most popular soundtrack composers of the 21st century is Bear McCreary, who has scored everything from television (The Walking Dead, Black Sails, The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power) to movies (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Cloverfield Paradox, Knights of Badassdom) to video games ("God of War," "Call of Duty: Vanguard"). Recently, I had the chance to meet a composer in North Alabama who creates such hauntingly beautiful music, it makes you feel like you might just be listening to a potential soundtrack for some of the most intimate parts of your life. His name is Rickey Mitchell, and his work is as unique as he is … it’s even reminiscent, at times, of one of my favorite bands, Pink Floyd.
We all know the type of music—that ethereal, ambient, emotionally charged flow that drives a particular scene in a film or theme of a documentary production, even a character’s identity and understanding of the world around him or her in a series or show. It’s that music in the background that compels you to focus mindfully on artistic detail. We often don’t pay too much attention to the music in the background, but there’s a good reason we should: Without it, those rich, quality nuances used to draw in an audience and help propel an art form forward would be noticeably absent. And that’s what Mitchell’s music does: It gently draws your artistic gaze to hone in on the tiniest bit of detail, detaches you from the busyness of your mind, and breathes new life into your world as it takes you on a full introspective ride.
Mitchell has been playing music his entire life. Originally from Kenosha, Wisconsin, he currently residents in the Muscle Shoals-area of Alabama. He’s an extremely talented composer attempting to break not into mainstream music but into major motion pictures, documentaries, independent films, and television.
Mitchell achieved one of those goals back in the early Nineties when Magic Johnson retired. NBC picked up one of his songs to accompany the sports highlights that spanned Johnson’s career.
“A fan actually pitched one of my compositions to NBC for a Magic Johnson documentary. You can hear my song ‘Deep Cut’ from my first album ‘Money Talks, Beauty Screams.’ It’s playing during a lot of the sports highlights. So, that’s how that happened. I hope to one day score epic films or anything Steven Spielberg produces,” says Mitchell.
A lifelong composer and musician, Rickey shows no signs of slowing down or giving up on his dreams, and after getting a sneak listen at his upcoming new album, I’d say he’s got a bright future full of opportunity just waiting for him. His music makes you want to shut out the world and ponder your deepest thoughts and feelings. Mitchell is one super cool dude making some very intriguing music with some very notable people. Here’s what he had to say about his influences, his new album, and what’s next for him in his creative endeavors.
MaM: Rickey, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. We really dig the tunes you shared with us from your upcoming album. How long have you been playing music?
RM: Thank you for having me! I began playing music in 1969 at four years old. I was heavily influenced by the 1968 comeback NBC TV special of Elvis, but the desire to pursue music came from my cousin, C. Gaby Mitchell. He was and still is an incredible musician and screenwriter. He wrote for the films Blood Diamond and Get Low. He’s one of my biggest supporters who helps me navigate the industry.
MaM: What would you say your style is?
RM: My style of composition and finished product is usually labeled as art rock, a type of neo-classical composing not typical of current mainstream music heard on the radio today.
MaM: Well, it’s very interesting and engaging. What instruments do you play?
RM: I play piano, mostly, but I began as a percussionist. The natural gravitation to piano was seamless for me.
MaM: After hearing you play piano, I’d say “seamless” is the perfect way to describe your efforts. Who would you say have been your biggest influences?
RM: Where writing is concerned, I’m most influenced by Keith Green, early Elton John, Billy Joel, and the band Kansas.
MaM: Ooh, nice. They’re all such great songwriters. I dig some Kansas! Tell us what has your music career been like? What motivates you?
RM: Music as a career has been a labor of love. It’s the joy of creating that motivates me. I create everyday.
MaM: Over the years, have you worked and/or played with anyone of notability?
RM: Most of my career, I’ve been blessed to play in [studio] sessions with some great players. The most notable is Jerry Donahue, who is an American guitarist primarily known for his work in the British folk-rock scene as a member of Fotheringay and Fairport Convention, as well as a member of the rock guitar trio The Hellecasters. But as a rule, most of my last 30 years have been spent writing.
MaM: I understand you have a new album on the brink of release. What can you tell us about that?
RM: I do. My first album released in 1991, so this second album has been a long time coming. It’s called ‘Midnite at the Pianotorium’ and is eight tracks of pure, original progressive art rock with a few surprises. It features a good bit of people, too, like Will McFarlane, formerly of Bonnie Raitt’s band, on guitar; Kirk Bowie Russell, of An Abstract Theory band, also on guitar; Kevin Reed, also of An Abstract Theory, on drums; Tyler Ross, of Grace & Tony band, on bass; Danley Murner on cello, bass, and synth axe; Al Barrow, formerly of Magnum from the UK, on bass guitar on the title track; Jessica Rothstein on vocals; and Kimi Samson on violin and viola. Kimi is easily one of the best musicians I’ve ever known. No one else plays like her; she is sublime.
‘Midnite at the Pianotorium’ releases June 25, 2023, at midnight. The goal is to entertain and hopefully catch the ears of those who hear this music or music of the like in a film, documentary, or major motion picture. The album will be available locally in The Shoals area at Vinyl Junkies Record Lounge, as well as on the web through Amazon for CD purchase and download.
MaM: It was very kind of you to let us sample some tunes from the new album. We loved “Afternoon at Ghost Bridge” and I understand you had an important co-writer on that. Would you please elaborate?
RM: The song was inspired by a trip I took to Ghost Bridge in Florence, Alabama, in January 2004. I had never been. I pondered all the urban legends as I walked across the bridge--just me, my friend, and her dog. I ventured back to my studio and by mid-April, I had finally worked out the sequence for my Korg Triton with a CD burner and 16-track capability … out came ‘Afternoon at Ghost Bridge.’ … I think I needed the time working in the studio and absorbing all the stories I heard and feelings I felt that day. It was magical. [But] the bridge is no more. It was demolished in 2013.
I wrote ‘Afternoon at Ghost Bridge’ with my friend Phil Keaggy, who is an American acoustic and electric guitarist and vocalist with more than 55 albums under his belt and more recordings in both the contemporary Christian music and mainstream markets. In 2007, Keaggy was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and in 2010, he was ranked #43 in Gibson’s list of the ‘50 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.’
Phil and I met in 1986 in Los Angeles but have never worked together until now. Phil is a world-renowned guitarist—one of the best who has ever lived. It was an honor to work with him and I hope to continue working with him. We remain close friends.
MaM: It really is a beautiful song. And speaking of “Afternoon at Ghost Bridge,” I believe now is the perfect time to debut it to the world!
RM: Yes! I agree. This is the actual world premiere of ‘Afternoon at Ghost Bridge,’
written by me and Phil Keaggy. (Select the track below to listen!)
MaM: Well, Rickey, we think you’re one cool dude who is long overdue on some press coverage, so thank you for allowing us to nose around in your business and learn a little more about you! Before we go, though, inquiring minds want to know what are you watching when you aren’t composing?
RM: (laughs) I’m a composer first and foremost, but I do watch movies every single day. The best movie I’ve seen in a decade is Where the Crawdads Sing. Also, I highly recommend Till, an excellent film about a southern tragedy.
For more information on Rickey Mitchell, you can find him on Facebook. And don't forget to check Amazon at midnight on Sunday, June 25 for the release of Rickey's new album "Midnite at the Pianotorium!" You'll be glad you did. That album is worthy of kicking back in your best Dude sandals with a White Russian and letting the world (and all your troubles) melt away.
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