In 1971, roots music chronicler Peter Guralnick wrote a series of portraits of some of the heroes of country music, blues, soul, and rock & roll. Included among the masters profiled was Charlie Rich, who was at a low ebb in his career at that point, playing at a bar out near the Memphis airport, "going nowhere." Little did anyone know that Rich was at the cusp of a major comeback, the success of which would dwarf his earlier popularity as Sun Records' intended heir apparent to the departing Elvis Presley. Guralnick called his book Feel Like Going Home, likely inspired by the Muddy Waters tune of the same name. Years later, Rich was inspired by the book to write a song with the same title.
"Lord I feel like going home/I tried and I failed and I'm tired and weary/And everything I done was wrong/And I feel like going home." The words are so direct, so simple, and the well-worn title image so familiar, but it is nonetheless effective and evocative here in this warm gospel song. The ever-versatile Rich is deeply soulful on the studio recording, from his final LP Pictures and Paintings (1992 -- with Guralnick as executive producer). But his demo version, from the two-CD retrospective Feel Like Going Home -- complete with squeaking chairs and grunts -- is the real deal. His voice is smooth and worn down around the edges; it is the voice of a wizened, grown-up man, but the emotion of a vulnerable little boy is what comes through. Country singer, pop singer, jazz singer...Rich was all of these things; he personified Gram Parson's ideal of "cosmic American music." Yet all of these categories are tossed aside on "Feel Like Going Home" exhibiting the straight-up, church-taught gospel/soul singer that was Rich at heart. Like fellow genre-busting singer Ray Charles, Rich sings any American music form and it becomes soul music. But when he tackles gospel or soul directly...well, sign me up.