Son of Stan's Jordan Richardson and the Re-Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Dream
Not long after graduation, Richardson moved to Austin and helped start the band Oliver Future. His sister, Natalie, was living in Los Angeles, and she gave her brother's music to anyone she thought would listen. One of those people worked for a management company, which was sufficiently impressed that it decided to sign the band to what turned into a five-year management deal. The relationship persuaded Jordan and his bandmates to move to L.A., where they were promptly introduced to what he calls "pay-to-play, Hollywood sleaze." But they settled in, finding the right clubs and the right crowds, getting better all the time.
His propensity for getting involved in as much as possible has probably cost him opportunities in life, but it's afforded him at least as many. While playing with Oliver Future, he maintained close ties with Texas, playing in bands in Austin and Fort Worth. When one of his Austin colleagues, a guitarist named Jason Mozersky, went to L.A. to play a studio session with Ben Harper, Mozersky brought along Jordan and Oliver Future bassist Jesse Ingalls. The session went so well that Harper scrapped one of the tracks from Both Sides of the Gun to make way for some of that day's work, which became the song "Serve Your Soul."
After the session, they parted ways, and Richardson didn't particularly think of it as a defining moment in his career. Oliver Future continued to find a foothold. In January 2006, producer Adam Lasus saw the band play at the Viper Room. He'd moved to L.A. not long before that from Brooklyn, where his credits include records by indie heavyweights like Yo La Tengo and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Lasus moved west to raise a family, but he was having a hard time settling into the music scene. Oliver Future changed that.
"They were amazing. They were fucking fantastic," Lasus says. "And I hadn't seen any good bands in L.A. yet. I was getting nervous." Oliver Future recorded their debut album, Pax Futura, with Lasus. It came out in 2007 to encouraging reviews and NPR mentions. Jordan moved into a home studio in East L.A. Its previous tenants included Danger Mouse, who recorded St. Elsewhere there.
And he might still be in that house today, picking up work as a producer and studio drummer, playing with Oliver Future or another young independent band. But in 2008, four years since they'd last spoken, Ben Harper called Richardson to tell him he was starting a new group and looking for a drummer.
The band became Relentless7, with Harper fronting, Mozersky on guitar, Inglass on bass and Richardson on drums. In the next four years, they toured six continents and recorded two studio albums. On February 2, 2010, Relentless7 made their first appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. Jordan brought Natalie to the taping. She sat in the green room, thinking back to all those countless hours she spent listening to her brother play drums through the wall that separated their bedrooms, and she cried.
The next year, they headlined Montrose Jazz Festival, 10 years to the day after Richardson played an opening slot at the same festival with the TCU jazz band.
In addition to his drumming duties, Richardson sang backup for Harper. "It was like working out with a heavyweight boxer," he says. With the exception of a couple mandatory studio lessons at TCU, Richardson has to this day never taken a lesson on any instrument, but playing with Harper was the equivalent of earning an Ivy League doctorate in performance and music business. One of the most critical things he learned from him was the value of immediacy. Most of the recording sessions were done in just a few takes. "The biggest lesson I learned from [Harper], from a production standpoint and a music standpoint, is to follow your gut," he says.
Ringo Starr saw Relentless7 performing in a clip on YouTube, and in April 2009, the most famous drummer in rock 'n' roll history invited the band to play at Radio City Music Hall. There is Richardson, sitting on his drum throne on a riser, smiling easily over at Starr, who is sitting at a kit right next to his. They're going riff for riff while Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder sings lead and Harper plays a slide guitar solo. The camera pans out to show people literally jumping out of their seats, cheering.
"I saw him looking over and asked if he was doing that to keep time," Stan says.
"No, I know all the parts, no problem," his son responded. "I just couldn't believe I was playing with Ringo. I didn't want to miss anything."
Relentless7 spent another two months playing with Starr. Before his time playing with Harper was over, Richardson had played Led Zeppelin songs with John Paul Jones. He'd flown around Australia in Pink Floyd's private jet, talking about music with an idol in that band's drummer Nick Mason. And at night they shared a stage.
But gradually, some three years into his time playing with Relentless7, Richardson started to feel the groove turn into a rut. He still can't place the turn or describe what caused it, but he started to wake up feeling anxious. "I was feeling more bad than good about playing drums," he says, "the thing that brought me the most satisfaction in life."
Richardson's final show with Ben Harper was on August 25, 2012, at the Ride Festival in Telluride, Colorado. It rained in the afternoon, but the skies had cleared by the band's headlining set. By that point they were billed simply as Ben Harper. Richardson felt the bliss he always has on stage that night. "I always held a profound sense of joy and pride," he says, and even up to the end, "a total connection with the guys in the band that I was playing with." It would be easy to stay where he was, especially given the scarcity of stable jobs in the field of "member of rock 'n' roll band." On that cool night in Colorado, he could see ahead to more late night TV appearances, more months on the road, more long hours rehearsing songs he mostly didn't write.
There was this feeling, this stagnation. You don't get into this line of work in the first place if you're looking for stability. And those songs he'd been recording back in L.A. with his old friend Adam Lasus -- they sounded pretty good. Maybe there was something there worth making some sacrifices for. But these were just inklings. He didn't know for sure that this show would be the last. Neither did Harper. They just played, like they had countless times before. They covered Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," and the stage lights flooded the pine forest beside them. The wet hippies on the field were exultant.