Richard X. Heyman, photo by Nancy Leigh By Deb Draisin
A veteran of bands like the Doughboys, Cool Heat and Quinaimes Band, as well as a proud son of Plainfield, NJ, Richard X Heyman has been steadily releasing solo material since 1987. He's drummed for Brian Wilson and played piano for Ben E. King (just to name a few of his many impressive credits/) In fact, Richard was a well-enough respected musician and composer to have been interviewed by Joe Franklin himself! His planned solo album, 67,000 Miles, has reached its crowd-funding goal on Kickstarter and will be self-released on October 21. Jersey Beat's Deb Draisin sat down with Richard to do a deeper dive into the new album and his fascinating life.
Richard X. Heyman was literally born to play music. Although he does not come from a traditionally musical family, the itch to play hit him as early as kindergarten. “My first kit was this little set made out of paper. I kept drumming right through the paper, so a couple of years later, my parents bought me my first starter drum kit,” he recalled.
Obviously, today’s solution would have been an electronic drum pad set, but then the world might never have been gifted with the Doughboys, who formed in 1964 (!!) and played in various permutations through the decade. Quoting from the band's bio, "They gigged incessantly, won a battle-of-the-bands on Zacherle’s Disc-o-Teen TV show, were the house band at the legendary Café Wha? in New York City in the summer of ’68. They opened for every act imaginable including The Beach Boys, and released two 45’s - "Rhoda Mendelbaum" and "Everybody Knows My Name" - on Bell Records (which later became Arista) before splitting up for what they thought was for good."
Heyman went on to enjoy a long career as both a solo artist and a much-in-demand sideman, but the Doughboys breakup didn't last. The group reformed in 2000 at a surprise birthday for Heyman and went on to release six albums, numerous singles, and even a documentary ("Rock 'N' Raw.")
So how is the band doing now, following the tragic loss of founding member and guitarist, Willy Kirchofer?
“The Doughboys are no more. Our singer, Myke Scavone, just moved out to Texas. We had 19 amazing years. I’ll miss them,” Heyman said. Doughboys fans will be crushed that no more shows are coming, but heartened to hear that material written for the band will appear on Heyman’s upcoming solo LP, 67,000 Miles (a reference which eagle-eyed Doughboys fans might recognize as a nod to their song “The Atomic Wavelength Transference Device.”)
He had this to say about his new track “Travelin’ Salesman”, a garage-rock stomper: “I wanted a song which really encapsulated the look and feel of New Orleans, I wanted it to sound really swampy, so I added some vintage guitar."
Richard added, “I don’t know if anyone today will remember, but you used to get guys coming to your door, lugging, like, a vacuum cleaner, and a suitcase full of gadgets, trying to sell you stuff. That’s what the song is about. The lyrics are very tongue-in-cheek.” Perhaps the Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman” will help enlighten modern audiences? Richard smiled at this: “Maybe!”
67,000 Miles doesn't just consist of unused Doughboys tunes, however. Richard also dug up a couple of songs that have been kicking around his brain since he was a teenager. One of these is “You Can Tell Me,” a song that Richard said has been fighting him his whole career.
“I just could never get it to work,” he sighed. “But then I decided to try something new: I replaced all of the piano arpeggios with guitar chords, and that did the trick. The new sound allowed me to use my full baritone to tenor vocal range.” Wow, that’s some range! “Thanks,” he chuckled. “I am really happy to finally be able to put that song out!”
We talked a bit more about the progression of that song, and Richard’s transition from drummer to pianist. “A neighbor of mine was getting rid of an upright piano. He had left it out on the curb. I got a couple of my neighborhood buddies to help me lug it back to my garage. I had realized that the piano is a percussive instrument, too, and thought that, as a drummer, I would be able to pick it up,” he recalled. Very astute observation for a kid. “Yeah, I don’t know why I knew these things” he laughed. “But it really elevated my songwriting.”
Richard X. Heyman, photo by Nancy Leigh With this album, Richard also went deep politically. “This album is about different points in history," he said. " I have one song about Washington Rock State Park, which is a beautiful monument in New Jersey. Washington was not perfect, he owned slaves, but the memorial is a source of pride for the state, and, on a clear day, you can look out over the embankment and see clear into Manhattan. You can picture Washington standing there, spying on the British troops.”
“There is another song about growing up on the Lower East Side in the 70s,” he continued, “and another about the High Line, one about the state of affairs today. I try not to get too political, but…”
When speaking about his memories of the Sixties and Seventies, Richard added, “I saw everyone worth seeing.” He saw the New York Dolls. He saw The Rolling Stones play Asbury Park’s Convention Center. He saw The Who at the Fillmore East. We talked a bit more about the British Invasion – his favorite Beatles album is Revolver, which he thinks showcases the most interesting work that Paul and John had to offer. (I respectfully disagree; that honor belongs to Let It Be.)
I asked whom he preferred, The Beatles or The Stones, and he firmly stated, “Both, you can like both. That rivalry was silly." Agreed.
I inquired about the possibility of any future “Heymanuscripts”, a fascinating blog about Richard’s latest adventures in music, which you can check out here.
“My wife Nancy and I were actually thinking about gathering them together in book form, I have a bunch more laying around,” he replied. Well, that sounds exciting!
Richard notably drummed for Brian Wilson for a time, whom he describes as “a fascinating guy – big fan of his work. Pet Sounds is a fantastic album, although I actually like their earlier stuff even better.” And what of Wilson’s notable struggles with addiction and mental health, did Richard observe any of this when he worked with him? “The guy’s a genius” is the response I received. Fair enough.
I asked Richard if there were any new bands who have caught his attention these days, but he admits to sticking with the vintage stuff. He’s open to recommendations, though, so bands, hit him up on his pages!
When asked to offer some final words of encouragement to bands navigating the Internet age in their start-up phase, he agreed that what he and Nancy did in the 70s, starting their own label as a way to network with other artists, would be more difficult now. Grateful for the cult following that he achieved early on, Heyman said he hasn’t figured out how to reach newer fans yet himself. “Word of mouth is important, but it’s tough,” he noted.
We discussed the end of the heat wave in New York and the relief brought by living near water (he currently resides adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge), and whether or not he got to check out the new man-made beach on the Hudson this summer. “I haven’t, we should!’ he said to his wife Nancy.
“It’s been a pleasure, thank you” he closed. “I remember the Jersey Beat print zine, and I appreciate your interest. Most people don’t ask about the music, they just ask the same generic questions over and over – but you didn’t do that. I had a great time.”
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