Virginia native Rook Richards signs Nashville deal pending pandemic

Rook Richards of Alexandria, Virginia signed a record deal with Straight Shooter Music in Nashville. (Courtesy Rook Richards)
WTOP's Jason Fraley reports on Rook Richards (Part 1)

He may be a young “Rook,” but sometimes rooks make the smartest chess moves.

Mike “Rook” Richards, 31, recently signed a deal with Straight Shooter Music in Nashville, whose artists have had 50 songs cut by the likes of Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Conway Twitty, Gary Allan, Montgomery Gentry and The Oak Ridge Boys.

However, due to the pandemic, he’s been forced to wait for his big break.

“They contacted me about a year ago, literally in March,” Richards told WTOP. “They had this whole plan where I was going to do a five-track EP on a country music label, then I was going to get a radio push across the nation and see how well it did around the U.S. and then go and do a tour, but obviously, the pandemic happened.”

In the meantime, he’s been recording at 38 North Studio in Falls Church, Virginia.

“I ended up writing five tracks and going into 38 North Studio and recording with Buddy Speir, Ben Tufts, Jon Brooks and Eric Scott,” Richards said. “We got it all knocked out in about a week and we’re doing a slow release, so I’ve been releasing singles over time. I just released two tracks, ‘Love Drunk‘ and “The Other Side.‘”

Born in Alexandria, Virginia, Richards grew up singing at Groveton Baptist Church.

“I was that kid that couldn’t sit still, so sitting down and listening to the preacher, I was real fidgety, so my mom was like, “Why don’t you join the choir?'” Richards said. “I did the children’s choir and learned how to sing and harmonize and got into that.”

He also listened to every genre of music imaginable.

“Listening to The Beatles [and] Led Zeppelin in the back of my dad’s car really gave me a solid background, and my mom with Kenny Loggins,” Richards said. “I was a huge Goo Goo Dolls fan, Third Eye Blind, John Mayer, Incubus was my favorite band.”

How would he describe his own musical style?

“Something similar to John Mayer and Dan + Shay, but more pop country,” Richards said. “I grew up with that huge ’90s alternative background, so that translates to a little bit of an Americana vibe. It was kind of a natural progression. Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker, he wound up going country after being a huge ’90s alt-rock guy.”

What will his upcoming Nashville album sound like?

“They’re looking to do something that is a little commercial,” Richards said. “More along the lines of pop-country likely, but they also want it to be me, so just trying to figure out how to toe that line. When I get out there and start talking to the writing team and the musicians I’m going to be working with, I’m excited to see how it pans out.”

Of course, that’s going to have to wait until Nashville fully recovers.

“Tennessee has had a real rough go of things,” Richards said. “They had those tornadoes that came through there, the pandemic obviously has not been great, there was a bombing right in the heart of Nashville. A lot of that stuff, it was like, ‘Maybe it’s a good thing that we’re having this on the back burner.’ I can’t travel now anyway.”

In the meantime, you can catch him at Augie’s Mussel House every Monday through Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. and Murphy’s every Sunday from 7:15 to 11:15 p.m.

“Augie’s was fantastic in having the foresight to have an open patio area,” Richards said. “People just love being out there, especially when it’s warm. They’ve got fantastic mussels, the beer selection is wonderful and the musician is not so bad.”

If you’ve ever done an Old Town bar crawl, you may have heard folks shout his name.

“I’m a big hockey player, so I used to go to this bar Southside in Old Town,” Richards said. “All the hockey guys would go there. I was the youngest guy on the team, so they always called me ‘Rookie.’ The bartenders just started abbreviating that to ‘Rook.'”

Just don’t expect to find him rooting for the Caps.

“I’m a big Pittsburgh fan actually — and I know anytime I say that around Caps fans, you hear the hisses,” Richards said. “My whole family. The first time I ever watched my father cry was when Mario Lemieux retired from the NHL. It was crazy for me. … I’m a big hockey guy, I’m a big music guy, I live in Old Town, Alexandria and I love my life.”

Rook Richards poses in front of Billy Colbert’s mural to late Georgetown Hoyas basketball coach John Thompson Jr. in Blagden Alley in the Shaw neighborhood. “I’m a fan of what he did for the city and what he stood for,” Richards said. (Eric Vargas)
WTOP's Jason Fraley reports on Rook Richards (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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