Building Younger Audiences
Rik Emmett - vocalist and guitarist
Rik Emmett has his fair share of gold and platinum hanging on the wall after surviving three decades in the music biz.
Awards from Best Guitarist at the ‘81 Junos to Best Smooth Jazz Guitarist in 2005, along with induction into the Canadian Rock Hall of Fame in ‘93, the Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Junos Hall of Fame in 2008 highlight an ever-evolving career. The multi-dimensional singer/songwriter at the heart of it has nothing to prove except the dignity and maturity of his continuing commitment to great music.
“My career now runs from jazz festivals to soft-seater concerts to giant outdoor rock band shows to orchestra gigs to folk clubs as an acoustic duo,” says Emmett, “and I love the challenging range of it all.”
Audiences marvel at the versatility of the tenor as he continues his prolific run of solo indie CDs, from classical to jazz to acoustic pop & folk vocal stylings through to the hard rock that made his reputation in the first place. His wide catalogue of songs garners radio airplay on easy-listening, smooth jazz, and CBC formats, while the heritage classic rock stuff rolls right along. A dozen years as a writer for Guitar Player Magazine and his continuing endorsement relationships with several music retail companies have kept his international profile and reputation as a musician alive and well. A former VP of the Songwriters Association of Canada, and the Artistic Director of the SongStudio Songwriting Workshop, Rik helped to develop the Music Business and Songwriting courses in the Humber Music program, and currently teaches several courses there.
Rik personally answers questions, talks shop and shares life stories at http://www.rikemmett.com
History and Background
Rik Emmett was a relatively unknown singer/songwriter/guitarist on the local Toronto scene in September of ‘75 when he joined a newly formed hard rock trio called Triumph.
By ’79 three albums had gone platinum in Canada and two charted in the States, receiving serious radio airplay. By ‘81 Triumph was firmly established as one of the premier touring rock acts in North America, with generous FM radio airplay support and heavy rotation on the fledgling MTV cable channel.
In the next seven years, the band released ten gold albums, with four turning platinum in Canada. In the U.S., two went gold. Emmett’s name frequently appeared in guitar magazine polls and he won several prestigious awards, including Best Lead Guitarist nationally in 1981.
He left the band to begin a solo career in ‘88, inducted into the Canadian Rock Hall of Fame in ‘93, the Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Junos Hall of Fame in 2008 as one of the band’s original members. Triumph reunited for concerts in Sweden and Oklahoma in the summer of 2008.
A duo project with Dave Dunlop called Strung-Out Troubadours won both Duo Of The Year and Album Of The Year honours at the 2007 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards. The follow-up CD, entitled Push & Pull, was released in the late spring of 2009.
In the fall of 2009, the debut CD of an acoustic guitar trio (the P.R.O. Trio) with Pavlo and Oscar Lopez, entitled Trifecta, was released, in advance of the heaviest Canadian touring schedule that Emmett has been involved in since the ‘80’s, commencing in January of 2010 and continuing throughout the year.
Rik’s solo career spawned three releases for Duke Street/MCA Records in the early ’90s.
The first, Absolutely, went gold in 1990, yielding the hits “Saved by Love” and “Big Lie”, two songs that provided a transition from arena rock while maintaining continuity at FM radio. The ballad “When a Heart Breaks” crossed the rock guitar hero over into other radio formats and revealed a more sensitive singer/songwriter persona. “World of Wonder” also received substantial airplay, showcasing an expanding lyrical and stylistic range.
The “Ipso Facto” CD followed in ‘92, offering up the hits “Out of The Blue” (a jazzy-bluesy tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix and Wes Montgomery) and “Bang On”, a rocking return to one of Rik’s personal themes – positive motivation and inspiration. Ipso Facto’s stylistic versatility was no surprise to fans familiar with Rik as the guy who constantly plugged trademark classical guitar pieces or little jazz tunes in between hard rock anthems, arena blues riffs and progressive flourishes as found on past records.
A singer/songwriter album called Spiral Notebook followed in ‘95, earning airplay on its ballads “Let Me Be The One” and “The Longing”.
In ‘96, Emmett began testing the courage of his musical convictions with work in his own digital studio and through his own independent record label. These instincts paid off artistically. The first release was Ten Invitations From The Mistress of Mr E., original instrumentals of classical nylon-string guitar. Critics and fans were reminded that the rock “guitar god” was no one-trick pony.
Part two of his guitar trilogy, Swing Shift, took a completely different musical direction, featuring jazz, swing and fusion. Again, the CD was well received, with the emergence of the song “Santa Fe Horizon” as a classic staple in the smooth jazz field, capturing the interest of brand-new fans in growing musical circles. The spirits of diehard core fans were elevated in the witnessing of an artistic transformation that defied mainstream classification.
Raw Quartet, released in early 1999, became the final CD in the trilogy, displaying Rik’s passion and natural affinity for blues.
1999’s Live at Berklee (highlights from sold out shows at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston) was followed by a traditional Spirit Of Christmas album, recorded in collaboration with Glass Tiger keyboardist Sam Reid.
One of the big thrills in Rik’s lifetime occurred in the summer of 2001 when George Benson joined Rik on stage during a guitar festival in Buffalo NY and they brought the house down with an impromptu version of “On Broadway”.
2002 brought the release of a 20th Century Masters: Best of Rik Emmett Collection (Universal), followed by another widely-acclaimed instrumental smooth jazz masterpiece CD, Handiwork.
In the late summer of 2003, the acoustic singer/songwriter re-emerged with the CD, Good Faith, another new chapter in an already storied career.
In 2005, Rik was honored as Guitarist of the Year at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, but the wide range of Emmett’s abilities have been constantly on display – from smooth jazz and fingerstyle guitar festivals in Canada to heavy metal festivals in Germany and Sweden - from Artistic Directing a songwriting workshop to jamming with Alex Lifeson of Rush at the Guitar Workshop Plus - from huge classic rock outdoor shows with Triumph, to intimate acoustic duo gigs - from nights honouring the song catalogue of Eric Clapton and The Beatles - through to releases like the hard rocking Liberty Manifesto or the all-acoustic Live At Hugh’s Room, both released in 2007.
The latest, and perhaps most eclectic, daring adventure yet, is the P.R.O. Trio (Pavlo, Rik, Oscar Lopez), with its unique blend of Rik’s favourite acoustic styles worked into Mediterranean and Latin contexts.
A guitar magazine once wrote that Rik Emmett was “… his own worst enemy. He’s one of the only guitarists out there who may be too talented for his own damn good”. In a tabloid/sound bite world, the comment offers insight on a 21-year solo career, recognizing a unique artist still going strong based on being a loyal friend to his gifts instead of a slave to fashion with luggage to match.
Rik holds true to his dreams of the magic power of the music, and shares that with every audience, of every stripe, every night that he performs.