A shot of Derek on a screen in the author's bar

Music

Ricki Derek Fights the Pandemic One Streaming Song at a Time

His 21st show is tonight. If you like Sinatra, you should tune in.

“Well I picked two of the shittiest careers to be in, didn’t I?” says Ricki Derek, recalling his thinking at the start of the pandemic. Derek’s finances are tied to places where people gather. He’s a part owner Scat Jazz Lounge, a live performance venue in Fort Worth, and the Heights, a restaurant in Lakewood. He’s also a singer who has spent the past 22 years doing serious renditions of Sinatra-era standards as well as schlocky, lounge-y takes on pop hits from the ’70s and ’80s.

So what does a lounge singer do when there are no lounges to sing in? How do you do “drunk songs,” as Sinatra once called them, when drunks can’t get together to listen? Derek’s answer for the past four months has been to set up a camera in the living room of his friend and piano accompanist, Brad Williams, and livestream weekly shows. This week, the show moves to Thursday nights. (You can find it here at 8 p.m.)

Plenty of musicians have been streaming from their basements lately, but Derek’s show is different in that it’s an act, a riff on Rat Pack performances that, in addition to the songs, mixes the onstage swilling of corn whiskey with cornball jokes. His punchlines are supposed to be met with groans and giggles. These days, they’re met with silence.

“I got so comfortable over the years performing for people and jacking with them and getting their reactions,” Derek says. “Now we’re up there and we don’t really know how or if any of it is working. It’s just weird, man.”

Weird, it is. But it works. I may be biased in that opinion. Derek sang at my wedding back when his career was just getting started, well before his club and restaurant investments and before he started doing shows at the Granada and elsewhere backed by a big band and before he started going by his stage name. Still, I’m not alone. Through an entirely optional Venmo and PayPal “tip jar,” Derek says, he and Williams have gotten enough “folding money” to keep the show going. He’s not sure why, exactly, people have tuned in for what. This week will be their 21st streaming show.

“I thought I had it bad when this pandemic started,” Derek says. “But as it has gone on, it started to affect everyone. Unless you make toilet paper or disinfectant, everyone is screwed now. So I think people need an outlet like ours where they can relax and goof.”

My advice: goof off tonight. Get your tweed pressed, or get out your best vest, or do whatever else you do when you go out of doors in clothes that don’t contain lycra. Get dressed up. Mix yourself a cocktail or three. Tune into Derek’s show. Turn the lights down and the volume up. You won’t need hand sanitizer or a mask, just a healthy dose of pure imagination. And with that, you’ll get to go out somewhere tonight and do something for a change. Salud!

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