Northland’s Rock and Roll Legend
Music is the sweet seasoning of imagination. Those that love rock and roll or blues have private fantasies about standing in front of a big crowd, singing “Free Bird” and shredding the guitar solo with notes played to perfection. Many of us will never follow through, but some paid their dues and live the dream.
Johnny Ricker, a Park Hill High School graduate of 1972 dove into this dream early. I remember a spring day at Park Hill Junior High school when Ricker and his band of Steve Walker, Tim Rice and Mike Johnson played “Wipeout,” the Safaris’ classic that featured memorable drum work. Ricker’s guitar playing was perfect, yet who would have thought that young man would someday become a legend with the nickname “Fast,” as in “Fast Johnny Ricker.”
“I grew up on Houston Lake in the northland and my neighbor, Richard Clayton, started playing guitar when the Beatles came out about 1964,” Ricker says. “He showed me some notes and I realized that was what I always wanted to do, play guitar.”
Ricker started taking guitar lessons at Jenkins Music Company but was eventually blessed to take guitar lessons for several years in North Kansas City from the great Herb Kratoska, a veteran guitar and banjo virtuoso who was well know from Hollywood to Kansas City, often performing on KMBC television programs. Ricker learned tunes like “Secret Agent Man,” “Apache,” and others songs of the 1960’s and sometimes before.
“I would bring in an album and play Herb a song,” Ricker says. “He took the album home and worked out the chords and notes for me. He had discounts at Gibson Instruments and helped me buy my first guitar.”
Ricker never thought about being a star, he just wanted to play and never stop playing. He learned Mr. Kratoska’s chosen tunes and hundreds more while inventing ways to make unique guitar notes. Many hours of practice paid off, developing into a fine career. He found chords from other artists and studied their technique to create his own style. He studies different phases of blues and rock artists like Jimmy Hendrix, Jeff Beck or any artist with unique abilities. This has led to his individual artistic status.
“I played for other bands, but eventually started my own band,” Ricker says. “My wife, Delight Ricker, encouraged this and then she started booking us at places like the Grand Emporium, Night Moves and the Spirit Fest.”
Ricker has opened for bands like Leon Russell, Johnny Winter, George Thorogood, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Commander Cody, Double Trouble and many other top bands. He played on stage with some of the best including Bo Diddley.
“I remember waiting on stage for Bo Diddley to rehearse,” Ricker says. “He finally walked in the back door, stood in the theater and yelled, “Do you know how to play Bo Diddley style?” We acknowledged, “Yes,” and he said, “Well forget it. Everybody thinks they know how to play my style.”
The show was successful and Bo Diddley’s style was preserved.
Today Ricker and his band play across the Midwest. Recently he highlighted songs by Cream, Led Zeppelin and other classics mixed with several of his own songs co-written by Delight. Their performance was shaded with guitar riffs and tones that made veteran guitar artists in the crowd at Frank James’ Saloon in Parkville, Missouri wonder how he made those epic sounds. His band is composed of bass guitar played by Johnny’s son, Davis Ricker, with heavy drum licks by Gary Miller to complete their addictive sound.
“This has been a long, strange trip,” Ricker says. “I decided to take some time off, but now we are booked at places like Knuckleheads in Kansas City and other venues. My entire family of six kids plays music and we sometimes jam when everyone can get together. What could be better?”
You can learn more about Johnny Ricker’s band and future shows at FastJohnny.com.