Howard County

Richie Fields' take on the country singer persona

Somehow, it's not hard to imagine Richie Fields at 16, driving a van down Coastal Highway at 3 a.m. to deliver fresh doughnuts from his parents' Ocean City bakery to a chain of convenience stores.

With his contagious grin and friendly personality, he's always been something of a natural salesman.

But picture the future country music singer negotiating a side deal to navigate his doughnut-shop-on-wheels around the streets of a trailer park at 8 a.m. each weekday, honking his horn and calling out, "Doughnuts, pastries!"

The entertainer, who lives in Marriottsville with his second wife, Mette, and their seven kids — when he's not touring with his band — laughed heartily at the memory of cheerfully hawking baked goods to people he'd probably roused from bed.

That story is a snapshot of Fields' inner drive, which helped propel him onto the stage later in life.

As he geared up last week for a series of concerts, he talked about the circuitous path his life has taken and about appearing Aug. 13 for the fifth time at the 65th annual Howard County Fair, where he's earned a reputation as a crowd-pleaser.

Working at the bakery instilled in him an unusually strong work ethic, he said, which he parlayed into earning straight A's in high school, graduating with an economics degree from Swarthmore College, and being tapped as the youngest person at the time to be named district sales manager by the insurance company where he worked.

Perhaps the only stone he was forced to leave unturned in his 20s was his long-held dream of becoming a baseball player. That's right — an athlete, not a singer.

"People usually don't realize how great you have to be to become a professional player," he said, noting that he had a tryout with the Orioles. "I was good, but I wasn't good enough."

What Fields didn't realize until he'd abandoned baseball, married, started a family at 25 and settled into his insurance career was that he was a natural-born entertainer.

"I always knew I could sing, and I even joined a band with two guys in my dorm at Swarthmore," he said. "They didn't need another baritone, so I sang high harmonies."

Though he had regularly calculated and weighed his life decisions from a young age, Fields "never gave music a thought" as a potential career. And besides, he listened mostly to rock music then.

In 1999, he was watching football at an Ellicott City restaurant and complaining that patrons singing karaoke nearby were disturbing his enjoyment of the game. Friends urged him to take a turn at the mike as a way to end his grousing. After performing a country song, he found a receptive audience clamoring for more.

That was his "aha" moment.

Soon, light bulbs were also clicking on over the heads of music industry insiders after they heard Fields perform.

Clif Doyal, who runs a Nashville talent agency and has served as a booking agent for such major country stars as Toby Keith and Lonestar, said, "What Richie brings to the table besides his vocals is a real infectious enthusiasm for live performing.

"He's an all-around entertainer and that's what sold me on him," added Doyal, who also served as an associate producer on Fields' second CD, "Down Memory Lane." That recording is set for release Aug. 12 and will be available for purchase after the concert.

Country music critic Robert K. Oermann wrote a glowing review of Fields' current single, "Wichita," when it was released in June: "The descending chords, chiming guitars and stately tempo set up a resonant, throaty baritone who can really deliver the goods. Everything I have heard by this man has been top notch. Surely one of you big labels could use a talent like this."

Fields was also named to "who's new to watch" by the Country Music Association last year, and has been featured in Country Weekly magazine.

Fields' first album was titled "Man Enough to Cry," in memory of a close friend killed at age 25 by a drunken driver in Ocean City.

"I certainly went through some tough things in my life," he said, steering clear of details. "My family pulled me through, and I've been there to pull them through."

Thinking ahead to his third CD, the singer-songwriter said he hopes to write or co-write all of the tracks.

"I'm a sentimental and romantic guy," Fields said. "I turned to country music for its story lines because I like songs that deliver a strong message, something that's meaningful and emotionally charged."

Carol Chaney, who serves on the fair board and books the entertainment, said, "Richie is the total package — a singer, songwriter and entertainer.

"He's one of those guys you have to admire for pursuing his dream and creating a second career," she said. "He's energized and engaging and sings for the sheer joy of it. You can tell it's his passion."

Fields acknowledged that he's known for moving around the stage and even jumping off it to put his arm around a female listener to serenade her.

"But I've got to get it back from the crowd," he said, flashing his trademark grin. "It's gotta go both ways. I feed off that energy."