Guitar fever all in the family
Father, son to perform onstage at fundraiser for Big Brothers
In an age when many wannabe musicians are rocking out with the video game "Guitar Hero," a rural Tonganoxie father and son prefer jamming with the real thing.
Johnny Ricker started playing in clubs when he was 17. He's now 53, and his son, Davis Ricker, is in two bands and has started playing gigs.
Davis, coincidentally, is 16.
Johnny said it's been "pretty much a lifelong musician thing" for him, but his son first showed an interest about two years ago.
"I just asked Dad to teach me a song, and then after that I just started playing," Davis said.
He definitely is his father's son.
Davis started playing songs by ear, and, as Johnny put it, "almost overnight" Davis was a guitarist.
"I think it was there; it just had to find its opportunity," Johnny said.
"He just kind of opened the gates."
Did it ever.
"Before that, I wasn't really interested in music at all," Davis recalled.
Johnny, who's been the vocalist and lead guitarist for his band Fast Johnny Ricker for 17 years, couldn't be happier that his son has caught some guitar fever.
"It's totally a thrill, it's totally a thrill," Johnny said. "It's something extra that we have in common. And I feel it's a real passion of his also."
Davis will join his father's band for a few songs Saturday at the inaugural Bigs, Blues and BBQ music festival at VFW Park in Tonganoxie. The benefit is a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Leavenworth County.
The Ricker family is musically inclined.
Monday evening, Davis and Johnny were headed for Lawrence for Davis' piano lessons.
Davis' youngest brother, Roan, quickly noted he fills in at piano lessons when his big brother can't attend, while Riley, who is 12, also is a music fan.
Johnny pointed to his family's love of music, including that of his wife, Delight Davis, and their unending support as keys in his music longevity.
Asked who has influenced him musically, Davis Ricker rattled off an extensive list, including Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
Roan chimed in as well, agreeing that many of those musicians were his favorites as well.
Davis plays in two bands of his own, EndorphinAddicts and Cornbread Mafia, the latter of the two includes other Tonganoxie musicians.
The band's sound is a melting pot of genres.
"Somewhere between rock and sort of grunge with a little bit of blues influence," Davis explained.
Meanwhile, Johnny points to Hendrix as his band's biggest influence, with a "psychedelic blues rock" style. He named Howling Wolf, Willie Dickson and Led Zepplin as additional influences.
Also in Johnny's band are Kansas City musicians Gary Miller and his son, Ashley Miller. Ashley, who is in his 20s, has his own band as well, the Pewep Formats.
Davis said he's looking forward to Saturday's festival.
"I'm really excited about it," Davis said. "I haven't played a gig in a while."
Comstock, not Woodstock
Johnny's band recently returned from a music festival in Comstock, Neb. -- population 110.
It was a long drive to a scarcely populated area of Nebraska, but when the band finally arrived at Comstock, it resembled nothing of a tiny town.
With acres and acres of people and campers, the festival attracted some 15,000 people, Johnny said.
Also on the bill?
Bands such as Jefferson Starship, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Peter Frampton -- groups and musicians who were most popular when Johnny was growing up -- headlined the event.
"It's just always a blast to be able to be involved with something like that," he said. "It's exciting."
In recent weeks he played another large concert, The Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison, which Johnny said attracted some 15,000 people as well.
"That's what we prefer -- festivals like that," Johnny said with a laugh. "But that's not always what we play."
The band does perform often on the Kansas City music scene, including at Knuckleheads and BB's.
And, the band has done its share of benefit concerts, such as Saturday's event in Tonganoxie.
For a good cause
Johnny is eager to play for the hometown crowd.
And, he said he's impressed with the lineup that's been assembled for such a great cause.
"It's quite a deal to see all those people at one time and not have to leave Tonganoxie; that's great," Johnny said.
The band's followers probably will be on hand as well to hear the group, which Johnny said plays about 80 percent original songs and 20 percent covers.
The veteran musician said people like to listen to songs they're familiar with, so that can be a gamble, but it's music that comes from the heart and has a spiritual tone.
"I think the most unique thing is we do a lot of original material, and it's really geared toward guitar and improvisational things, but writing also is a style we try," Johnny said. "It's definitely music with a message."
Fast Johnny Ricker will spread its message as the first act at 1 p.m. Saturday at VFW Park.
The life of a musician is never slow, though.
The band asked for an earlier performance time because the group has another gig Saturday night.