Country music star Collin Raye and Nashville record producers were at the Ox Bow Saloon Friday night paving the way for a young musician's road to stardom.
Rickiejoleen (all one word), who sings, plays guitar and writes her own music, has been performing for several years at the historic saloon on Main Street in Payson. But Friday night, the 17-year-old girl from Tempe received an opportunity for which many musicians will work a lifetime and never obtain.
With the help of Raye, Rickiejoleen is on her way to signing a record contract with a major recording label.
"I want to introduce her to the world," said Raye, who is known for his top-selling country hits like: "That's My Story"; "Little Red Rodeo"; "I Think About You"; and "One Boy, One Girl."
"I'm doing everything I can to help. I was hosting a golf tournament and I saw her perform. She wowed the crowd," Raye said.
"I met Collin about a year-and-a-half ago in St. Louis while I was performing at a children's benefit for the Missouri Children's Hospital," Rickiejoleen said. "About a week after that we started collaborating together. Things started to snowball and he wanted to work with me. I was surprised because you hear a lot of BS in this business when people say they'll call you. I remember telling him, ‘I'm probably not going to hear from you, but that's OK.' So when he called me he said, ‘See, I told you I'd call you.' He's a really great guy. I couldn't be working with anybody better than him."
"I feel like she's the purest new talent I've seen in my career," Raye said. "She's got a great voice, great persona and she's fresh."
Rickiejoleen has a second showcase performance next month for additional record labels along with Warner Brothers at B.B. King's Club in Nashville. With these performances, and Raye's support, Rickiejoleen is optimistic she will soon have a record contract. Raye has already recorded a number of songs with Rickiejoleen in preparation for this process, called "shopping the labels."
"(Raye) produced the showcase CD and sang all the harmonies," Rickiejoleen said. "On the remake of the Johnny Cash hit ‘Cry, Cry, Cry,' he basically sang the whole song with me."
Sitting next to Raye during the showcase performance at the Ox Bow was Paul Worley, chief creative officer and producer for Warner Brothers Records.
Next to them sat Rickiejoleen's father, who operates sound and lights during his daughter's many performances.
"Rickie started performing at the Ox Bow when she was 15 years old," said her father Rick, who prefers not to use his last name with his daughter on the brink of stardom. "She has a lot of friends up here."
But the proud father doesn't take any credit for his daughter's musical ability. "I'm a plumber -- she did this all on her own," Rick said. "She got her first band together when she was 8 years old. She told me she just wanted to get out there and play."
Rick explained that it wasn't easy for such a young musician to lock in performances in the Phoenix area, so she started calling around to areas outside Phoenix. That's how she found herself in Payson.
"Rickie has a solid head on her shoulders and she knows the business," said longtime friend Anna Schutter of Payson. "We're happy for her and wish the best for her."
Schutter, who attended the somewhat secret showcase performance Friday, said Raye was very kind, but that some people in the audience were disappointed the country star didn't take the stage. "He didn't mean to be standoffish, but he was there to support Rickie," Schutter said. "He wasn't there to promote himself."
As her dream starts to become reality, Rickiejoleen finds it difficult to describe her emotions. "It's hard to put into words. I'm glad that things are finally happening because I've worked so long. It's like somebody going to college all these years and finally getting a promotion and earning a name with a big corporation. It's very exciting. I've been through so much on this journey -- and the journey's not ending -- but it's great to look back and see how far I've come and how much I've accomplished," she said.
The next leg in her journey will take the young musician away from Arizona and her regular performances at the Ox Bow.
"I know Collin wants me to move to Nashville as soon as possible, so that would be the next step," Rickiejoleen said. "I think I'll take Dad with me, he's just going to have to be mobile."
But Rickiejoleen said she would never forget the role Payson played in her journey to success.
"I've been performing in Payson for about two years and I love everybody here," Rickiejoleen said. "It's almost like a second home. Everybody's awesome."
Raye said that while his visit was brief, he enjoyed his time in Payson. "I thought the people were very friendly and supportive. I had a wonderful time there."