Tuesday, January 25, 2000

The kid can play

Indiana teen wins Jimi Hendrix guitar contest, puts out own CD

BY LARRY NAGER The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST HARRISON — Like lots of other 15-year-olds, Ricky Veeneman can think of plenty of things he'd rather do than geometry.

        His main one is playing guitar. Unlike most 15-year-olds, he's good enough to have won acclaim far beyond his sophomore class at Franklin County High School.

        The tall, soft-spoken blond kid is the 1999 winner of the Jimi Hendrix Family Foundation's Voodoo Chile Award, under-17 division. He won by playing in a national competition at B.B. King's Blues Club at Universal CityWalk in Burbank, Calif.

        Ricky's $7,500 in prizes include a Jimi Hendrix model Fender Stratocaster guitar, a Fender attache case, a Doc Martens gift certificate, a Jimi Hendrix denim jacket, a collection of Hendrix CDs and videos and a 10-week full scholarship to the Musician's Institute in Los Angeles.

        “There's just so many things you can do with the guitar,” he says quietly in his bedroom. Except for the bed in the corner, it could pass for a rehearsal room, filled with a complete drum kit, an electric bass, several guitars, amplifiers and a stack of recording equipment.

        Ricky started as an 8-year-old, beating on a second-hand, scaled-down acoustic guitar given to him by his uncle, Dave White, guitarist for the local band Rocket Science. Ricky says he started to get serious when he was around 11.

        “He was still really shy,” his uncle says. “When anyone would come around while he was playing, he'd just stop.”

        He's still pretty shy, preferring to let his guitar do the talking.

        “Maybe that's one of the reasons the music was so appealing to him,” Ricky's uncle says. “It was an alternative form of communication.”

"A pretty good shot'
        Along with helping him get started, it was Mr. White who entered Ricky in the Hendrix competition.

        “I was in Guitar Center (in Forest Fair Mall) this past summer, and I saw the sign up for the contest,” he recalls. “And you know how all these young guys go in there and they'll like play the latest Korn song? And I said, "These guys are about Ricky's age. If this is the competition, he's got a pretty good shot.' ”

        His parents have been supportive.

        “My brother gave him an old guitar. He saw he was interested, so he took it and put some good strings on it and fixed it up for him,” says his mother, Diane Veeneman. “A couple years later, we saw that he was gonna go ahead and play. So we got him an electric guitar, bought a drum set and some other equipment.”

        “I started playing the drums for him,” says his dad, Rick Veeneman. “But I got fired from that. He just got so good so fast.”

        Neither parent is musical, so both were surprised at the sounds coming out of Ricky's room.

        “One day I heard him in there when he was, like, 14, and I couldn't believe what he started playing,” says Mrs. Veeneman. “Steve Vai has been a big influence, Eric Johnson, too. And when I started to hear music that sounded as good as what I was hearing on the radio, that's when I knew.”

Recorded it all himself
        Ricky practices as much as four hours a day after school, occasionally enlisting his sister Shaina, 12, to play drums. His youngest sister, Kaylin, 7, hasn't joined the family band yet.

        When it came time to record he did it all himself — guitar, drums and bass — overdubbing on the digital recorder his parents had given him.

        He did it just for fun, but when his uncle heard it, he suggested they press it as a CD. The result is a nine-track album, Ricky Veeneman, available on his new Web page.

        He'll occasionally jam with friends from school, but he's not playing in a regular band. He's also been known to sit in with Rocket Science, which helped him gain some onstage experience for the Hendrix competition.

        Last August, after his tape was accepted by the Hendrix contest's judging committee, Ricky, his mom and grandfather drove down to Springfield, Va., so he could compete in a live performance. After winning there, he went on to the Burbank finals in December.

        Each guitarist had to play a Hendrix composition and one original. Ricky picked “Foxey Lady” and his own “Epiphany.”

        “With the original, you couldn't have a backup band. For the Jimi Hendrix (tune) you had a backup band,” he says. He says he didn't know if he would win, but adds, “I knew I did well.”

"Got so much talent'
        As to the future, well, there's geometry and getting his learner's permit. He hopes to study at the Musician's Institute this summer.

        As far as his career, he may not see himself becoming a big rock star, but, Ricky says, “I would definitely like to do something with music as a living.”

        Those who know him best aren't quite so modest regarding his future. “He's got so much talent, if he puts his mind to it, I see him being not only a musician, but a producer,” says his uncle. “I'm kind of an optimist, but I think it's limitless. He's got a really good head start.”

        Ricky Veeneman's Web page can be found at: www.dbwsound.com.

        The site also has a link to the Jimi Hendrix Family Foundation Web site www.jimihendrix.org.


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