Vintage Country Americana
It may be true that in the matters of life you can never go home but, heck, you’d be a fool not to pay them a visit now and then. In 1987, the most popular show in Chicago was at the Apollo Theatre: Pump Boys and Dinettes. Singer-songwriter Rick Pickren, fresh from winning the Marlboro Country Talent Roundup with his band Paleface Brigade, joined the cast in the role of Jim. Rick replaced Jim Lauderdale, songwriter and musical bon vivant, who was heading to Nashville for riches and fame.
The star of the show was a spitfire by the name of Maggie LaMee. Night after night, she tore up the stage with her energy and vocal prowess. It wasn’t long before Maggie and Rick began singing old favorites together between and after shows. The combination of their voices was stunning. Rick’s band, Paleface Brigade continued to play weekly club dates. The band was going through line-up changes and seemed to be heading for the end of the line. Maggie began to sing a few songs with Rick as a guest vocalist. The response from audiences was ecstatic. Rick became convinced that they could build a band around their vocal duo and win the next Marlboro Country Talent Roundup.
With Paleface Brigade soon to be disbanded, a new unit would have to be assembled from scratch. Maggie suggested Julliard grad and Pump Boys alum Joel Raney as the keyboardist. Joel and his wife Susie had recently moved to Chicago following their highly successful run of Pump Boys in LA. Joel played L.M. and Susie, Prudie. Rick shared his vision of a retro country band built around a male-female duet. Something along the lines of a Porter Wagner-Dolly Parton or George Jones-Melba Montgomery style duet with Joel playing piano and accordion. Joel was intrigued. Rick then called fiddler-vocalist and harmonica whiz Peter Seman to join the trio. With Peter and Joel on board, it was time to zero in on a key component: the rhythm battery.
A number of musicians and combinations were tried to no avail. Finally, an experienced duo was found: drummer Billy Bob Lindsley and bassist Neil Daley, veterans of the local country music club scene. The Pump Boys producers allowed the band to rehearse on stage following each performance; a real boon considering they had access to the house sound system. Rick began writing new songs and working on arrangements specifically for the band’s male-female duet focus. Their sound and playing progressed quickly. But before they could begin playing club dates, the group would need a name. A long time Gene Autry fan, Rick had recently seen an episode of an Autry serial The Phantom Empire. The episode featured a group of nefarious horsemen: The Thunder Riders. At the next band name brainstorm session, Rick Pickren suggested Thunder Riders. It was unanimous. Thunder Riders took to the saddle and began their own nefarious ride...and what a hell of ride it was to be!
The band won the Marlboro Talent Roundup opening the show in Chicago for George Strait, Merle Haggard, Alabama and Dolly Parton. They went onto the national finals in Nashville eventually losing out to future star Ronnie Dunn of Brooks and Dunn fame. Rick secured a songwriting deal with Jordan Entertainment in Nashville, co-writing with hit writer Rick Carnes.