Off the road again

Lost highway leads to local niche for guitarist

How Barry Richman ended up in Atlanta goes something like the lyrics to his own song: "kicked out of my house, I started hiking to the big city — got lost along the way."

Since arriving here, the blues-rock guitarist has established himself by playing alongside big names and enduring a life of hard-nosed touring. Richman has taken to the stage with Wet Willie, Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, Phish, Col. Bruce Hampton, Jupiter Coyote and the late, legendary John Lee Hooker.

Richman has spent the last few years playing a whirlwind schedule across the country, as well as dousing the local scene with his own bands, the Ex-Miss Americas and the Dave Matthews Cover Band.

The Barry Richman Band (filled out by drummer Dave Stark and Winn Sizemore on bass) has taken the stage at every major club in Atlanta. The trio will be looking for a new drummer in the coming weeks, as Stark leaves for New York to record an album with Lisa Loeb. The group released a pair of live albums in the past month, recorded at The Earl and Darwin's.

By himself, Richman has become a favorite at Marietta's Darwin's, where he hosts the popular Open Blues Jam.

"It's great to see the younger kids around town carrying the torch," he says. "I just wish they wouldn't turn my amps up to 10."

This year, as Richman takes time away from touring and focuses on his hometown, he sees a vibrant music scene around him. "I really think Atlanta has one of the best music scenes around," he says. "There's so much talent, and enough clubs for people to be able to play. I think the world needs to check it out."

Richman appreciates more time in Atlanta, but is disappointed that fans tend to take strictly hometown musicians for granted — no matter where or who they are. "Sometimes it's not good just to stick to your hometown," Richman says. "People get the attitude, 'Why pay to see him here when we can see him for free at this other place?' and 'He'll be here next week.' When Stevie Ray Vaughn was playing in Austin every night, there'd be times when he had three people in the crowd."

Richman's father played saxophone — an instrument Barry steered away from as a young man, mainly because he couldn't live up to what his father had done with the instrument. What his dad had done was play on stage with stars like Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra. Picking up the six-string, Richman began to find his niche.

After getting kicked out of the house by his parents in Florida, Richman began hitchhiking his way to New York City. As the interstate moved closer inland, he found himself in Atlanta — surrounded by talented musicians and people he liked. At age 19, Richman began playing in the John Lee Hooker Blues Band, which for a young guitarist is an experience akin to having Arnold Schwarzenegger become your personal trainer.

"I learned that music can be out of tune or the timing can be wrong, as long as the soul is there," Richman says, adding that his time with Hooker led him to guitarists like B.B. King, Albert King and Muddy Waters. "Looking back, I probably didn't appreciate it as much as I do now. It was incredible, being around somebody so different — whose life was so hard. It was a real dose of reality, to be around someone who really lived the blues."

The Barry Richman Band plays the Brandyhouse Fri., Aug. 31.??