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RICKY  FANTÉ


Ricky Fanté with Heikki Suosalo (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

  Just after one o’clock in the morning a happy gentleman left the stage.  He was happy for two reasons.  For one thing, he got married in March and his newlywed beautiful wife, Aaronya aka Ronnie, was with him here in Porretta, Italy.  Secondly, he had just finished his impressive, over 20-minute long set to a big round of applause.  The set was built on hit songs from his Rewind album.  The opener was a sharp and energetic number called Love Doesn’t Live Here No More, and it was followed by an old-school ballad named I Let You Go, which has a strong Otis Redding influence to it, so logically the passionate These Arms of Mine blended into it next.  The fourth number was a rousing rendition of his signature song, It Ain’t Easy. For the closure of the evening, Ricky Fanté invited Carla Thomas to do a hilarious duet on Tramp.  All this took place early Sunday morning, July the 23rd, and the next night Ricky sang Love Doesn’t Live Here No More and It Ain’t Easy once more.

J.D. GROOVE

  Ricky Andrew Fant was born in Washington, D.C.  Ricky: “My real name is Fant.  A good friend of mine said ‘you need a stage name - Fanté’.”  In his bios it usually reads that the date of birth is November the 4th in 1978.  “That was Hollywood.  I’m really born in 1969.”  His mother was a school teacher, and his father worked as an engineer.  “They are music lovers.  My father sings in a shower and in a car and he loved the Temptations.  My mother loved Barry Manilow, Marvin Gaye and jazz.  As a kid I heard all this soul music.”

  “Growing up in Washington, D.C. was beautiful.  I can’t complain.  I had – and I still have – my mother and father.  I came up middle class, in the suburbs.  I was very fortunate.  There was one incident, when I was nine years old – after my mother and father divorced – I saw my mother robbed, in front of me.  They took her purse, so that’s when I learned that life isn’t fair.  She had just gotten paid, and we really needed that money.  That was my first introduction to the fact that there’s good people and there’s evil people.”

  Ricky’s early musical idols included Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley.  “I also like Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke.  People compare me to Otis Redding, but when I was a kid he had passed.  It wasn’t in my era.  I like all kinds of music.  I like classical music and I like jazz – John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Max Roach... I’ve listened literally to everything.  I like opera singers.  My today’s favourites?  I would say D’Angelo.  I like Georgia.  I think she’s amazing.  Actually I had a chance to work with her.  I like Bruno Mars, I think he’s incredible.”

  “My earliest memory of singing was in Washington, D.C. watching the choir sing in church with my maternal grandmother, Mary Helen Wilson.  It wasn’t long after that, I saw Stevie Wonder perform on the Washington National Monument.  I was perhaps five or six years of age.”

  After singing in a junior choir for close to two years, Ricky became a member of a go-go group called J.D. Groove aka the Junior Division out of Forestville, Maryland.  “I had a friend named Ronnie Keyes.  He later went to Broadway to play the drums.  I’ve known him since I was eleven years old, and when we had this group I was like fifteen.  Outside of that, everyone else in the group just went off and did different things.  After that I was still in one senior high school group.”

  After high school Ricky joined the Marine Corps for four years, and after he was discharged he moved to the West Coast.  “I arrived in Los Angeles on February the 14th in 1993 with six dollars in my pocket.  My first record deal came from doing a talent contest in June-July, and I won that.  I was able to really focus and concentrate on learning the craft and start studying singers.  During that time I was listening to Little Willie John.  I thought his voice was amazing.  I was just doing demos trying to record something to get to the next level; nothing that was out on the radio or can be bought.”

  Although the record deal didn’t lead into any actual releases, Ricky soon got acquainted with an important person in his life in terms of his future career.  “My dear friend, “Dewey” Bonner, discovered me while I was performing at a club called Barefoot in Beverly Hills off of 3rd and Robertson Blvd.  He’s the same guy that gave me Fanté.  He’s like a West Coast father to me.  We found out that Suzanne de Passe, who worked with Motown, was doing this movie about the Temptations.  I originally tried to play Eddie Kendricks, but when I sang they said ‘no, you’re Marvin’.”  This led to Ricky portraying Marvin in a TV mini-series called The Temptations in 1998, and at 6’ 2” he certainly was tall enough for the role. 

SOUL SURFERS


  Next Ricky was introduced to a multi-instrumentalist and ex-rocker named Scott Rickett, who had played in many LA rock and glam bands in the 1990s.  With David Ezrin he established a publishing company and a studio in Glendale.  “He was a surfer from Huntington Beach in Southern California, and – me being a soul guy – he came up with the idea of Soul Surfer Records (www.soulsurferrecords.com). We founded that together.  I met him through ‘DB’, Dewey Bonner.”  Not only surfing and skateboards, these days Scott is also chasing the snow for snowboard riders in the capacity of CEO of corresponding companies.  Besides, Soul Surfer Records has never stopped making music since its foundation.

  Ricky’s debut album with Scott Rickett in 2001 was logically entitled Soul Surfing.  “It was fun.  It was raw.  Not a lot of technology in terms of instrumental and vocal enhancing, but I lived that.  I lived everything on that CD.”  Eleven tracks with the total running time of close to 33 minutes, in reviews the music is described as “a powerful fusion of neo-soul and jazz-rock”, “garage feeling” and indeed “raw.”  It varies from acoustic folk-soul (Haunt You Forever, Same Old same) to experimental chants and jams (Real Love, Who Stole the Soul), to almost country (Misunderstood) and more contemporary numbers (Breaking My Heart, Change Your Ways).  At times the music bears a resemblance to what Terence Trent D’arby used to do in the late 1980s.

  Ricky and Scott co-wrote all songs with the exception of one more acoustic folk-soul tune, Right down the Line.  “That was a song by Gerry Rafferty.  When I was a kid, I used to love it, the way he did it.”  This Scottish singer-songwriter scored with Right down the Line in 1978.  On the Soul Surfing CD, It Don’t Matter is an intense, mid-tempo roller, but for pure soul music lovers the cream cut is an emotional ballad called Changes, on which Ricky sounds a lot like Al Green.  The closing song on the CD is an inspirational chant named Oh Lord.  “God for me is very important.  I live my life by trying to do the right thing.  I told my grandmother, before she passed away, ‘grandma, I want to go and sing’, and she said ‘as long as you sing for the Lord’. 

  Ricky and Scott performed as a duo in the L.A. area and Beaches for close to two years.  “In 2001 I was playing my music in a car and my neighbour heard it.  He worked at a record label, which I didn’t know, and he asked me ‘can I have this CD.  I make you no promise, but I’m going to take it to someone’.  September 11th in 2001 there was a knock on my door.  ‘My name is Peter Torres.  I like your music and I was wondering if you’re interested in talking with our director’.”

  In the early 2000s, Josh Deutsch worked as Executive Vice President at Elektra Entertainment Group, then he became Senior Vice President, A&R, at Virgin Records and since 2006 he’s the Chairman/CEO at Downtown Music LLC.  Josh became the producer of Ricky’s next CD on Virgin, and he also came up with the idea of making a new song-writing team by pairing Ricky up with Jesse Harris.  Jesse is a Grammy-award winner for Don’t Know Why, a song for Norah Jones in 2002.  

IT AIN’T EASY


  In November 2003 on Virgin they released an EP titled Introducing...Ricky Fanté, which consisted of three songs written by Ricky, Jesse, Josh and Guyora Kats and one song called It Ain’t Easy, written by Wilson Pickett, Jon Tiven and Sally Tiven.  This song had earlier appeared on Wilson Pickett’s CD called It’s Harder Now on Bullseye in 1999. 

  With Vaneese Thomas as one of the background vocalists and Jerry Hey on trumpet in the horn section, Ricky’s cover is highly emotional and gospel-infused, and it still gets a lot of airplay today.  In July 2004 the single peaked at # 36 on Billboard’s R&B Adult Airplay charts, but in Italy it hit # 8 on national charts.  Incidentally, on YouTube you can listen to It Ain’t Easy as a duet by Ricky and Isaac Hayes.  “We did a different version, more of a contemporary r&b style.” 

  On the EP as well as on the single, Ricky is backed by a live rhythm section: Chris Bruce, Jon Herington and Tony Scherr are on guitars, Jack Daley on bass, Guyora Kats on keys and Sterling Campbell, Kenny Wollesen and Steve Jordan on drums.  One of the background vocalists is Tawatha Agee, and a most remarkable thing is that they have live horn and string sections.  They even got Arif Mardin to conduct the orchestra and he also wrote the string arrangements.  “I think that was up to Josh Deutsch.

REWIND


  The Introducing EP was a taster, as all four songs appeared also on a 12-track CD eight months later called Rewind, a fascinating and truly soulful album.  “It was recorded in L.A. and New York, and we did the final vocals at Chris Blackwell’s studio in the Bahamas, in Nassau.”  Charted in Billboard at # 48-r&b and # 198-pop, the music was to a degree like a throwback to basic, rootsy soul.  I Let You Go is a plaintive ballad, which immediately brings Otis Redding to your mind, and similarly If It’s Love is a simple and haunting down-tempo song.  Why is a story-telling number with full orchestration, and similarly It’s over Now is a deep ballad with a rich arrangement.  You can still add the emotive A Woman’s Touch to that group of outstanding slow songs.

  Ricky’s own favourite is the mid-tempo Love Doesn’t Live Here No More, which was his opening song in Porretta.  Other mid-pacers include the rolling and uplifting Smile, the simple and catchy Are You Lonely Too? and a hooky ditty named Oh YeahMy Song is funky and He Don’t Love You is an up-beat dancer. 

  “I thought it was a good CD in terms of production, but I didn’t think it was a radio CD; not necessarily a lot of radio songs.  There were more songs that paid homage to the people from the 50s and the 60s.  I thought it was a good way introducing myself to the world as a singer - not like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke - but going down that path a little bit, but still trying to maintain my own sound.”


TV SHOWS, MOVIES...

  Rewind paved way for numerous appearances in TV shows.  In 2004 only, Ricky sang - mostly It Ain’t Easy - in Soul Train, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and in the Ellen DeGeneres Show.  He was also in a TV movie honouring Smokey Robinson, and he portrayed Wilson Pickett in an episode called Shoot the Moon in American Dreams.  He sang It’s over Now in a TV series called One Tree Hill in an episode titled To Wish Impossible Things.  In 2004 Ricky was also one of the artists on a compilation album called City Folk Live VII singing I Let You Go live in the studio of WFUV out of New York.

  The following year Ricky acted in such TV series as Music 101: The Green Room, Their Eyes Were Watching God and Eve.  In a TV movie named Yours, Mine & Ours Ricky sang Love Won’t Let Me Wait, and on a soundtrack for a HBO TV movie titled Lackawanna Blues Ricky delivered Sam Maghett’s song That’s All I Need, produced by Josh Deutsch.  Also in 2005 he cut the self-written, funky Shine for the soundtrack of the film Robots, again produced by Josh. 

  In 2008 on a soundtrack for a French comedy titled Seuls Two Ricky sang I Let You Go from his Rewind CD.  Ricky also sings the main title tune to Shark Tank, which actually is Barrett Strong’s 1960 hit Money, credited to Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford.  Still in 2013 in a movie called The Best Man Holiday Ricky sings Joy to the World.

STOLEN MUSIC

  “In 2009 I was trying to finish my education in terms of getting a degree to be a teacher.  Every time, when I wanted to do that, something comes up, and I still haven’t completed my degree.”  A year later lots of Ricky Fanté music videos suddenly appeared on YouTube.  Among them there were hip-hop beaters (I Want You aka You Send Me, Sweet Love to You), a rocky track (Get You out My Life), one fast track (I Will Never Leave You), one off-putting chant (I Think I Love Her), one funky mid-pacer (Love Like This), acoustic folk (Only in America) and slow songs - Can You Feel Me, Sunday Drive, Dream and the smooth Ocean’s Clean

  “Someone stole my music from me and put it on there.  It wasn’t even finished.  I didn’t want to waste my energy, so I didn’t even look into it; who did it and why was it done.  That’s the consequence of the new digital age.”

  Besides acting, very little was heard of Ricky between 2004 and 2016.  “I was raising my kids.  After Rewind, in Italy – or even in the United States, especially in the south – they wanted to focus on the music like I had before.  I could have, but I was just kind of tired... literally tired, physically tired.  My daughter was born in 2004, when Rewind came out, and I didn’t want to lose an opportunity to raise my kids.  That was my sacrifice, a major sacrifice.”

GOOD FORTUNE


  On the recording front, Ricky got together with Scott Rickett again and in early 2016 on Soul Surfer Records they released a CD titled Good Fortune.  Besides Ricky and Scott, on the cover of this 13-track CD there’s also a third man.  “He’s the DJ.  His name is David Bailey.  He does the scratching.”

  In many ways Good Fortune is a throwback to the Soul Surfing days in 2001.  Again the music varies a lot and this time there are even aggressive chants with hip-hop elements like My Addiction and Kind of Love. Among uptempo cuts there’s one rocky beater called Good Fortune and a driving dancer with hit potential named Good TimesNo Reason is a poppy mover and Whatcha Doing Today is a jazz-infused shuffle.  “I like No Reason and Whatcha Doing Today, which I wrote about my wife.  It’s the last song I wrote for the CD, and it was literally for her.”

  There are at least four songs that were stolen from Ricky in 2010, when he was working on them, and fortunately now we can hear them in their finalized form.  I Think I Love her is not off-putting anymore, but instead a Michael Jackson type of a dancer.  A smooth message song named Oceans Clean is included, as well as the Prince-inclined Get You out My Life.  One more association: the melodic Fall from Grace bears a resemblance to what Simon & Garfunkel used to do in the 1960s.

  The two tracks that tend to stand out in the course of time – for this listener, anyway - are Only in America, which is a laid-back, acoustic and melodic folk-pop song, and a smooth floater named Coolest Girl in the World, which is the first single off the set.

  “I have strongly considered and pondered the thought of living in Italy, because in America my kind of music isn’t promoted.  I’m pretty much reserved, introvert, a family man, so I’ll literally start looking for some type of good situation here, whereas I can deliver and perform.  The situation would just have to be an ideal situation... still in the works.”

  “I’m currently working on a new album that will feature a more eclectic sound while still keeping the base of the sound as soulful as possible.  I’m at a point in my life that I feel blessed to have my children and my wife in my life.  Besides my love of God and music, this is my greatest joy.  We live in extremely crazy times now.  I’ve learned to appreciate the simple things in life... ‘it’s not about what you do, it’s all about who you are as a person’.”

(Interview conducted on July the 22nd and October the 12th in 2017).


Ricky with his wife Ronnie (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

ALBUM (and EP) DISCOGRAPHY

Ricky Fanté & Scott Rickett:

SOUL SURFING (Soul Surfer Records) 2001

Breaking My Heart / Changes / Right Down The Line / It Don’t Matter / Real Love / Change Your Ways / Haunt You Forever / Misunderstood / Who Stole The Show / Same Old Same / Oh Lord

Ricky Fanté:

INTRODUCING... RICKY FANTÉ (Virgin 7243 8 38882 2 1) 2003

I Let You Go / It Ain’t Easy / Smile / It’s Over Now

Ricky Fanté:

REWIND (Virgin 7243 5 84403 0 0) 2004

I Let You Go / It Ain’t Easy (On Your Own) / Smile / Why / Are You Lonely Too? / Love Doesn’t Live Here No More / It’s Over Now / He Don’t Love You / My Song / It It’s Love / Oh Yeah / A Woman’s Touch / VIDEO: It Ain’t Easy (On Your Own)

Ricky Fanté & Scott Rickett:

GOOD FORTUNE (Soul Surfer Records) 2016

Intro / I Think I Love Her / Coolest Girl In The World / My Addiction / Good Fortune / Kind Of Love / Whatcha Doing Today / Good Times / No Reason / Oceans Clean / Get You Out My Life / Only In America / Fall From Grace

© Heikki Suosalo





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