August 03, 2017
“I wanted to be a history teacher originally, but that didn’t really pan out,” Richard Inman chuckles. Be thankful that he got derailed in this pursuit, as his storytelling talents are now reaching a broader audience through music, putting this songwriter on a path to go from Manitoba’s best-kept secret to national recognition.
Growing up in the small town of Grunthal in the southern depths of Manitoba, Inman’s musical upbringing was heavy on country gospel artists like Vern Gosdin, Don Williams and George Jones. His songwriting father introduced him to his first chords around the age of eight, but didn’t really pick up the guitar until his teen years.
“I started playing drums in a Christian metal band as a teenager—that was my great rebellion,” Inman laughs.
As all high school bands go, they soon broke up and Inman returned to his country roots on his own with an acoustic guitar. Spending his summers as a child at his grandparents’ ranch in the small village of Hill Spring, Alberta, Inman also felt the influence of cowboy culture creeping into his musical world.
“I’ve got those southern Alberta roots that I cling to,” Inman says. “My cousins were all horse people—real cowboys—so there were lots of stories. It was a really beautiful time in my life.”
These themes made their way into Inman’s songs as he started writing his own material. “Hill Spring,” the lead track from his first EP Lake Town Blues, tells a story of loss and longing under the shadow of southern Alberta’s Chief Mountain, while the title track’s delicate finger picking sits underneath Inman’s rich and expansive voice to craft a wistfully charming narrative.
“Whiskey Jack, I know you’re hungry,
But I ain’t got money for the seed,
If I was you I’d take to flying,
And leave these lonely lake town blues.”
Inman got a helping hand in 2014 through the Winnipeg Folk Fest young performers program, which showcases artists between the ages of 14 and 24, but more importantly, offers mentorship and workshop opportunities with established festival performers. With folk royalty Sarah Lee Guthrie (youngest daughter of Arlo Guthrie and granddaughter of folk icon Woody Guthrie) in his corner, Inman received guidance and support over the festival weekend in aspects of both performance and the business side of music as well.
“Any questions we had, she’d answer them and more,” Inman says. “She was super supportive of our performances; it was such a great experience.”
As he began building his solo career, Inman also branched out into leading a new group called The Madtrappers. He enlisted fellow singer-songwriter Micah Erenberg to share vocal duties and play bass, along with a few others, including the highly in-demand rhythm section of Matt Filopoulos and Daniel John David, who can be heard on many of the recent albums coming out of Winnipeg.
“There’s no other way to put it—we’re a bar band really,” Inman laughs. “We get to do all the fun stuff we don’t get to do in our own projects.”
Their classic covers of heroes like Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt has helped Inman build more profile in the local scene over the past couple years landing both The Madtrappers and his own solo project a number of residencies at the long-running Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club—a mainstay venue in Winnipeg.
“I think the goal when we started The Madtrappers was to play there,” Inman says of the venue. “The people that work there and the people that I’ve come to know there, it’s a special little place.”
“I’m just a songwriter, there’s no agenda really. I’m glad people like the songs I write,” Inman says. “I’m a storyteller above all things; I think that’s something that’s important that we have.”
On his first full-length album 30 Days, Inman delved into some personal family history to tell the story of a relative who had avoided the draft.
“There’s a few songs that I’ve done my homework and they’re fact-based. I think it’s important that people hear that stuff,” Inman says. “It’s easier to sit in a bar and listen to a song about Word War Two than sit in the classroom.”
Inman enlisted a full band for his 2016 self-titled album, which he’s now focused on promoting with ongoing tours from coast to coast over the past few months since its release. From the opening line, Inman pulls on your heartstrings and sends chills dancing down your spine. Powerful, heartfelt vocals anchor his delicately-produced sound, with a diverse range of instrumentation from track to track helping to flesh out his stories in song.
More concerned with authenticity than audience, Inman is focused on building his career by connecting on a personal level with the listener.
“It’s important to have something that people can connect to,” Inman says. “Some of my biggest influences are Texas songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, who set this bar that the songs they wrote are really meaningful and I try to shoot for that. Those are songs people are going to listen to for the next 100 years.”