Centralia native Jimmy Ritchey, a country music songwriter and record producer based in Nashville, was selected as this year’s Centralia College distinguished alumnus. Ritchey said hanging out at the music store in the Lewis County Mall as a teenager and learning from local musicians helped him become the musician he is today.
“I’m so honored and humbled to be selected for this award. I enjoyed every minute I attended Centralia College,” said Ritchey about being recognized as this year’s distinguished alumnus.
Although he has been playing music since he was a child, Ritchey’s professional songwriting career began when he moved from Centralia to Nashville when he was 25 years old. Over the past 25 years, he has worked with some of today’s top country music artists and co-written four top-ten songs as well as writing and producing dozens of other songs that have been recorded by major country music artists including George Strait, Mark Chesnutt, Jake Owen, Trace Adkins, Kellie Pickler, Montgomery Gentry and others, according to AllMusic.com, a music credit website.
In 2008 Ritchey started a song-publishing company Vibe Room Music which published songs by Kenney Chesney, Keith Urban, Billy Currington and others.
Ritchey grew up in a musical family and was surrounded by music at an early age. He said his cousins started showing him how to play guitar when he was about four years old and by the time he was 12, he started getting serious about taking guitar and violin lessons. By the time he was 15, his guitar teacher left town, so he took over and started teaching 30 guitar students.
“Through the 80s and early 90s, the Lewis County Mall had a music store in it that sold guitars and eventually that music store moved across from Baskin-Robins. When I was a kid I took a couple of guitar lessons there but mostly I hung out in the mall and met every musician that came through to buy strings or drum sticks,” said Ritchey. “From the time I was 13 to age 17, I had pretty much met every musician in Lewis County and everyone was very kind. I learned a ton from people coming in and out of that music store.”
Ritchey said that his hobby turned into a job when he was about 15 and he started playing for money on the weekends.
“I remember people coming to pick me up to go play a gig somewhere because I couldn’t drive. There’s a 50-year-old guy picking me up at my house at 8 o’clock to go to the Centralia Eagles Lodge until 1 in the morning and my parents would leave the light on for me when I got home,” he said.
While living in Centralia Ritchey said he played shows at the Chehalis and Centralia Eagles Lodge, the Elk’s Lodge, the Red Barn in Grand Mound, the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds, the Chehalis Theater, the Fox Theatre, Riverside Golfcourse, and a lot of wedding receptions and parties.
Ritchey started heading to Seattle and Portland to play bigger shows on the weekends. He started meeting musicians from all over the county that encouraged him to move to Nashville.
“There’s a lot more to it than just moving to Nashville but honestly that’s a big commitment for most people to do that. A lot of people want to do something with their life musically but you got to go do it. You can’t just sit in Morton and want to be a rockstar and not move to LA. So half the battle is just getting here and that’s the big commitment,” said Ritchey.
Ritchey now works with other musicians and writes songs four to five days a week. He said that as a songwriter it’s impossible to predict which songs are going to do well and attract attention.
“Some of the worst songs that I’ve written are the ones that draw the most attention. In our business, we want to have radio success and commercial hits otherwise we don’t tour and we don’t make any money. But as far as picking a song that’s going to do the most for you I am constantly surprised and I’m even more surprised when I turn the radio on today,” said Ritchey.
Ritchey said that he was drawn to the genre of country music because of the way he was raised. He said that growing up in Lewis County, having uncles that owned farms, country music was prominent in his life.
“When you’re a commercial songwriter you are shooting for a target that sounds like something on the radio — a commercial hit. So it’s really not about pouring your feelings out on a piece of paper for therapy. We’ve conditioned ourselves to be like a machine when it comes to putting out music,” said Ritchey.
Moving forward Ritchey said he would like to become more involved in the managing side of the music business. He said he is currently managing a new act, Robert Counts, on Sony Records.
“I’ve never managed a big hit act. I’ve always been on the creative side or the publishing side. So now I’m kind of shifting into a little less creative work and a little more of a management position. So I’d like to see my company, The Ritchey Entertainment Group, gain some speed from a management standpoint,” said Ritchey.
Ritchey said that he has talked with Scott White at the Fox Theatre about playing a show once the theater is fully restored to its art deco glory.
By Celene Fitzgerald