An Unsentimental Education

Rootsy singer/songwriter Rich Deans teaches by day, plays by night.


If you think that Steve Earle, Dave Alvin and Gillian Welch are the only names you need to know in the Americana genre, add one more: Rich Deans. This Nutley native might wear the occasional denim shirt, the odd string tie and may affect the pitch-perfect pompadour, still, he is anything but an assembly-line 'roots rock' dude.

Deans' chiseled, eloquent musical tales, might draw on our nation's history for songs about gunslingers, drifters, Billy The Kid's long-forgotten girlfriend, survivors of the Civil War and other various, 'don't-tread-on-me' outlaws from our country's past. But that's at night when he plays everywhere from Nashville to New Jersey.

During the day, he teaches teens the finer points of English Literature at Columbia High School.

"The two things are not as far apart as you might think," said Deans, who grew up in nearby Clifton. "Teaching English actually can help the creative process; any good prose writer rubs off on your lyrics, eventually, so that's healthy. Sure, it's always a bit of a struggle balancing the working life, with the nighttime deal of rehearsing and gigging. But two of the people who play in my band, actually teach with me, as well. So, the transitions, back-and-forth, go pretty smoothly."

If you're concerned about fine songs, whose melodic 'clothes' are perfectly tailored and whose 'hair' is carefully-coiffed, you'll want to hear Rich Deans' tunes. Whether he's crooning plaintively in the voice of southerner Lucas Younger, in his Civil War mini-masterpiece, "Don't Dig My Grave Too Deep," or giving voice to Billy The Kid's woman in "Paulita's Lament," Deans has mastered the method actor's trick of convincingly becoming the character he inhabits. You listen to these people and you believe them.

Add a lean, sizzling country-ish background and a pitch-perfect, poignant voice and you have one of the most accomplished songwriters currently operating in the Americana genre.

"My newest record is called 'Living In The World Today,'" said Deans, who has a wry, understated quality in his speaking, as well as his singing voice. "I did the record, last summer in Nashville, which was a huge relief compared to some of my prior trips to the studio. Every player down there is so amazing, that they hear your songs, totally get them and they record a keeper the first or second time out. The drummer, in particular, floored me. His name is Gene Cristman. He's played with Elvis Presley, as well as Willie, Waylon, all the 'outlaws.'"

Even with the demands of teaching, Deans finds the time to rehearse with his band, "at least once a week," as well as gigging in New Jersey and beyond, including spots like Cafe Zed in West Orange and the Hillside Cafe in his native Nutley. Emboldened by radio play on Americana stations across the county, Deans will next be playing in White Plains the third week of December.

"There's a nice new situation there called 'Working Musician,'" he said. "It's a cable access station that has you play live," he said. "They then stream it live on WP Community Media or On-Demand. It's run by a guy named Roger Z, who also plays in the Jersey area from time-to-time."

With 'Living In The World,' getting good buzz from indie and alternative stations, and various artists starting to cut his songs, fans want to know when the prolific Deans will be hitting the studio again for the follow-up.

"I've written some new songs that I'm pleased with," he said. "My guess is that, with luck, I'll be going back to Nashville, in either February or April. Partly because the songs should be ready by then," he said with a chuckle. "Also, that's because school will be out during those times. Writing songs at night is one thing. But as for your recording time? You have to take it whenever you can grab it."

Info: Rich Deans will be at Working Musician on Dec. 19th (live and On Demand). To order his albums go to www.richdeans.com

sternie December 10, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Shelley Emling December 10, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Great piece Peter.. as always..
Chris Dickson December 11, 2011 at 09:32 PM
We just booked Richard for the Friday March 9 Rent Party!! Mark your calendars ...
Peter Gerstenzang December 11, 2011 at 09:47 PM
That's great Chris. You couldn't have picked a more talented guy. Rock on. PG


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