Musician Teddy Richards finally talks about his mother, Aretha Franklin

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For years, a Detroit singer-songwriter diligently pursued his musical career, building a reputation for himself and making a steady living.

Through it all – as he shoved, performed, and promoted his work – Teddy Richards purposefully muzzled one of the most compelling selling points available to him:

He was the son of Aretha Franklin.

“I learned early on, especially when dealing with journalists or people related to the industry, that it was very easy to be exploited as ‘Aretha’s son’,” he says. “If you try to do something in your own name, to make your own way in the world, it will be impossible if that is how people know you. This would allow them to ignore your accomplishments.

It’s not that Richards wasn’t publicly linked to Franklin. For 30 years he played guitar in her tour ensemble, sometimes joining her in the studio. And that’s exactly how he described himself in his own press releases, marketing materials, and interviews, where Richards was just a “guitarist in Aretha Franklin’s band.” His mother was a “supernova,” he says, and he wanted his own light.

Now, at 58, Richards says he’s become comfortable in his own skin, confident in his accomplishments and development as an artist and producer. And he’s finally ready to publicly link his own work to his mother Queen of Soul, recording an album that will be released on March 25 – which would have been Franklin’s 80th birthday.

“I feel inside that I don’t have to be so harsh on myself about it anymore,” he says. “At this point, I’ve proven myself to anyone who pays attention. “

The untitled release will feature a cover of the 1973 Franklin hit “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Going to Do)”, a song that holds a special place in Richards’ heart. : his first childhood experience with his mother in a recording studio. He attended a session produced by Arif Mardin and featuring Donny Hathaway on piano.

Teddy Richards was 9 when he attended his first recording session, at Atlantic Studios in New York in 1973, while Aretha Franklin was recording "Until you come back to me."

Richards was born in 1964 to Franklin and her husband-manager Ted White, becoming the singer’s third son. White, who was played by Marlon Wayans in MGM’s “Respect” biopic, passed away a year ago this week. Her birthday is also March 25.

“It seems like a perfect day to release a record in their honor,” said Richards, who now splits his time between Michigan and Southwest Florida with his wife.

Franklin and White divorced in 1969, and Richards was raised by his father in Detroit. He grew up with an eclectic musical taste, scrolling the local radio dial and finding himself enchanted with pop and rock as much as the R&B he was immersed in. At the age of 8 he was listening to Frank Zappa, and it was off at the races.

His long-standing fascination with the airwaves led to the launch of Think Radio, a new free-form online station programmed by Richards.

“This is the chance to do one of my favorite things in life – find a friend and say, ‘Look at this, listen to this.’ I don’t have a lot of time interacting with friends and music listeners like I did in high school, doing mixtapes and things that we used to do, ”he says. “The station lets me play all the punchy music, the stuff that I loved, and I hope it moves someone else like it moves me.”

Richards was a newbie to the guitar when he went to Michigan State University in the early 1980s, but his skills quickly matured when his band The Preps performed in East Lansing, playing in bars. and fraternal evenings and eventually landed opening slots with bands such as Modern English.

His mother noticed it. In 1984, with a two-night stand booked at the Chicago Theater during Thanksgiving week and in need of a guitarist, she asked Richards to join her band on stage. He must have borrowed an amp from a friend.

“I was terrified,” he says. “I had never done anything of this magnitude.”

But things clicked and Richards became a regular member of Franklin’s touring group. It was a job that left a lot of room for his own musical endeavors: having recently given up on flying, Franklin was only playing 15 or 20 dates a year. Still, that was enough to help him strengthen his chops.

“It is by his grace that I have been able to grow and become an even better musician,” he says.

But Richards’ musical pursuits were not initially encouraged by his father, who had spent his time in the entertainment trenches and had doubts.

“What he emphasized in our house was not showbiz but education,” says Richards. “He wanted to stay as far away from him as possible. He knew the pitfalls, the things most people don’t think about, in the music business. He wanted to put me on a different track.

Richards graduated from MSU in 1986 with degrees in telecommunications and clinical psychology. But the music bug had bitten off. In the 90s, he regularly performed solo shows around Detroit, eventually landing a gig with Borders Books and Music, performing at company stores in the Midwest and South.

There were high profile spots – including a series of opening dates with the Red Hot Chili Peppers – and a growing European presence. Richards signed with a German record company and carved out a niche abroad.

Behind the scenes, he’s worked his way into commercial work, creating themes for auto commercials, the NFL on CBS, and the like, often alongside Detroit engineer-producer Urban Kris (Eminem, D12).

In the mid-90s, a chance encounter with INXS led to an ongoing creative relationship with the group’s keyboardist and main songwriter, Andrew Farriss. Richards says the Australian took him under his wing – where “I worked as a peer, but felt like a student under his tutelage”.

“I was a bar star, I played rock guitar loudly. Working with Andrew, for the first time, I started to understand the structure, the blueprint of a song, not just the wing, ”he says. “I started to really understand the right way to write, whether it be a rock tune, a soul tune, a modern piece of music. It had a major impact on my becoming the musician and producer that I am today.

The two have written over a dozen songs together, some of which will make their first appearances when Richards releases his album next spring.

Unlike Richards’ 2006 release, “Gravity” – a guitar-based rock album – the next album will feature a more diverse set of sounds and styles. And Richards says he’s happy with his vocal growth: Where in the past “I could get lucky singing,” he’s now confident in his ability to deliver texture and dimension.

“It’s a very important album for me,” he says. “There is a lot of musical growth. It’s less guitar oriented and more songwriter oriented. I’m a much better singer, a much better producer, a much better guitarist.

Teddy Richards, left, is pictured with President Barack Obama, Aretha Franklin and Brenda Corbett.

Three years after Franklin’s death, Richards says he remains impressed with his musical heritage while continuing to be proud of new milestones – such as Rolling Stone magazine’s recent crowning of “Respect” as the greatest song of all. the temperature.

His long years of reluctance to tie his solo career to his train came from a reflective stance. He had had what he called “eye-opening” encounters with other celebrity kids – many struggling with the role and even some, Richards said, who looked lifelong stunted.

He was happier to take inspiration from Kate Hudson and Norah Jones – daughters of Goldie Hawn and Ravi Shankar, respectively – who forged their own path in the arts, separate from their famous parents.

“To some people it might sound like ‘He was denying his own mother.’ It’s not that at all, ”says Richards. “I love both my parents deeply. But it is important to be your own man, to stand up, to manage your own affairs.

For Richards, the passage of time and his comfort in working his own life has brought him to a different kind of free space.

“If you are able to establish your own successes – big or small, they are always yours – it allows you to loosen your grip a bit,” he says. “This is the package I was given, and I will make the most of it for the greatest success in life, with the highest quality possible.”

Contact Detroit Free Press Music Editor Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or [email protected]

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