On Dec. 1, 2018 Rik Emmett performed in the U.S. for the last time. The sold-out performance ended with the Triumph classic “Suitcase Blues,” a lament about a lonely touring musician in his dirty hotel room drinking alone.
Earlier this year Emmett released a slew of new music on his website. “The Bonfire Sessions” is a four-part musical collage of original material that features Rik and his guitar. Each part contains six original songs, parts one and two are available now and parts three and four are on their way.
“I retired from being on the road, but I haven’t retired from being creative,” Emmett noted during an hour-long phone interview last week.
“This project was a pure way for me to express my creativity. As opposed to worrying about selling concert tickets or being on the radio. I just wanted to write songs in a way that would get the message across.”
The songs tackle a wide variety of subjects and cover a range of styles, including a full volume of instrumentals. It’s an eclectic set of songs that you can sing-along with or will make you tap your toes.
“It has that end of camp feeling where you have the big bonfire and someone says ‘bring your guitar Rik, and we’ll sing some songs.’ It has a reach the end of the road vibe to it.”
Rik is far from the end of the road as this collection of songs demonstrates. It’s a project that Rik has wanted to do for a very long time.
“Here I am this 66-year-old guy that has a website where I can put up songs for download, and this is kind of an album. It’s just my guitar and voice, and it’s an album I have wanted to make since I was 10 years old and listening to Bob Dylan.”
“My kids are grown up, and I am enjoying being a grandfather and I am going to make the most of this chapter of my life, and I don’t want to mess it up by chasing the same things I did in previous chapters” Emmett noted.
That has been the story of Rik’s career. After a long tenure in one of the most popular rock bands on the concert circuit and on FM radio, Rik started a solo career in 1990 with “Absolutely,” an album that was an extension of his work in Triumph. The second solo album, “Ipso Facto” appeared in 1992 and began the move towards a solo career that was not defined by any style or genre.
“ ‘Ipso Facto’ is a schizoid record. The original album I delivered was more R&B and softer, and even had some jazz guitar pieces. The record company wanted the guy in the leather jacket with the Les Paul. I didn’t see the point, rock music had moved on and bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden were on the charts. The guy with the feathered hair from MTV that used to play arenas, that wasn’t going to fly. I was trying to grow as an artist and they didn’t want to let me.”
Rik relented and added a couple of “rockers” on the album, including the songs “Straight Up” and “Bang On.” It was a watershed moment that sent the rest of his storied solo career in motion. That ended Rik’s “guitar hero” chapter, and from that point forward he became the kind of singer-songwriter that he knew was inside of him.
“When I was in Triumph, the drummer managed the band, so that meant I was only going to be half of the band. I would choose half the direction, sing half the songs, and I was evolving away from that. Eventually I had my own record label and was able to do my own thing and I released an album full of classical guitar pieces.”
“I would go to coffee houses and sing Paul Simon and James Taylor tunes. I would have been an eclectic guy if I hadn’t been the guy that could play rock tunes and sing like Led Zeppelin. It gave me a paycheck, but by the end of the 1980’s I was over it, and within a few years I could be as eclectic as I want.”
You can download Rik’s new collections of songs at Rikemmett.com. Next week we will continue the conversation with Rik, and we will discuss his perspective of that final show at The Riv in 2018.
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.