If I Ruled the World
Back in the roaring 80’s and 90’s, when Ricky Comeaux was cementing his legend in Houston’s musical and social circles doing thousands of gigs as the powerhouse vocal half of beloved duo Atwood and Comeaux, his vocal teacher gave him some sage advice. “Sing to the light, to the world and universe,” Bettye Gardner told him. “Put your passion out there with no preconceptions except for the beauty of what you’re doing.”
Two decades after his initial split with multi-instrumentalist and longtime creative partner Jerry Atwood, having survived detour after emotional and physical detour which took him far from the magical world he’s always loved the most, the dramatic tenor is taking Bettye’s words to heart. Back from the metaphorically dead, the multi-talented artist and performer is in full-on “ResurrRicky” mode, ready for the next act of his life and career, gearing up to release If I Ruled The World, his solo debut album that for all intents and purposes, has been a lifetime in the making.
Featuring dynamic, alternately subtle, soulful and explosive interpretations of 11 classic rock, pop, Broadway and film songs – some of which Ricky has sung a million times, some never before – the masterfully arranged and produced collection is a prime showcase for a towering voice that’s all at once fresh and familiar, organic yet transcendent in its ability to all at once pierce the heart and take it on a journey to emotional terrain unknown.
With music tracks produced in Los Angeles by veteran film and television composer and Founder of Musicomm Mark Holden, and vocals produced at Houston’s Wire Road Studios by Barry Coffing (Randy Travis, Michael McDonald, Cyndi Lauper), If I Ruled The World has a universal appeal that taps into that sweet spot in the pop marketplace where greats like Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman and Il Divo currently reign.
Ricky’s success in Houston with Atwood and his emergence as a solo tenor now is all the more remarkable considering that his hometown of Kaplan, Louisiana – also the origin of country great Sammy Kershaw – had no formal school vocal programs available. He taught himself organ, and a friend who sang in a choir at the local Catholic church sneaked him in to practice (and master the pedals) there. He became the congregation’s organist at 13 (his first pro gig), earning 50 cents a mass and performing up to three masses a day, seven days a week. While playing piano at home, he picked up the trombone in middle school and to this day credits his basic facility to breathe properly as a vocalist to his playing the instrument throughout high school and college.
During his summers off from the University of Southwest Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette), Ricky worked as a ride operator at Six Flags Amusement Park. Drawn to the city, he moved there after college and, while still working at the park, scored a regular gig playing piano at the Meridian Hotel’s Sunday brunches. He limited his singing to his off hours at home until he met Atwood through mutual friends. Their first endeavor was a trio with another lead singer, where Ricky sang background, but this quickly evolved into a duo format with a vast repertoire of thousands of songs that was booked almost constantly. In 1987, after three years of performing, the duo formalized as Atwood and Comeaux and for the next 11 years, did thousands of gigs (including musical theater and cabaret shows), played at hundreds of charity events and commanded all the big stages in Houston.
The duo’s early years coincided with the era when HIV/AIDS was devastating Houston’s LGBTQ community, so the duo committed to fighting back by to launch A Christmas Songfest, their nonprofit fundraising organization. Songfest raised $4,500 its first year and increased in scope every year, totaling over $500,000. At its peak, a thousand people attended. Guests signed up to sing Christmas songs on a huge stage, one at a time or one organization at a time. Comeaux then teamed up with Scott Evans and co-founded and recorded a double CD titled Voices for Life that raised over $150,000 for Houston HIV charities. While holding down day jobs, Atwood and Comeaux performed and raised money for everything from the March of Dimes and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to organizations dedicated to juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis and even local musical theatre.
“It was a double- edged sword,” Ricky says. “Still today, people come up to me, thanking me for all we did. We’re proud of the impact we made with so many high-profile events. They gave us tremendous satisfaction and joy but I was always trying to figure out how to do more.”
With outside opportunities on the business side of music coming his way, Ricky moved to Kentucky in 1994 while still keeping his commitments to the duo in Houston for several more years. During these years, he became a fanatic about opera singers and even sang the national anthem for the Louisville Cardinals basketball team. Later, after he and Atwood formally parted ways, Ricky moved to Reno, where he became Executive Director of the Nevada Opera Association. Until 9/11 caused a radical shift in priorities, Ricky had tremendous success changing the minds of people who had determined that opera was a bad investment – and getting them to write substantial checks. He also formed several educational outreach programs for the opera.
Ricky’s next stop before circling back to Houston (at his mother’s request) was a 10-month stint in Los Angeles as Associate VP of Operations for Theatre LA (League Alliance), known today as LA STAGE Alliance. Since returning to his longtime hometown. Ricky has enjoyed great success in his longtime former mainstay of commercial real estate, in a “day job” that serves me and my creative endeavors very well. From 2005 to 2011, he and Atwood brought back their duo act (V2) and performed numerous gigs, though never as many as in their amazing heyday.
While singing songs like “I, Don Quixote” from “Man of La Mancha” with Atwood, Ricky began thinking about creating a solo recording. Along the road to committing to and focusing on this goal, he suffered several major life setbacks that now drive the emotional core of his musical return. He dedicates “If I Ruled the World” and sings “Hallelujah” for his mother, who died unexpectedly in 2013 after complications from a gallbladder surgery. A few years later, once his zest for life and music had returned to some degree and he was ready to get rolling, he got laid off his longtime job and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive skin lymphoma that required radiation and a year of non-IV chemo medications. In early 2018, Ricky found himself employed again and back in the saddle , this time working for one of Houston’s premiere Commercial Real Estate firms where he currently is the Senior Manager of a high-rise office tower in Houston’s Post Oak/Galleria Business district.
“You can see why there were all these delays,” Ricky says, “but even while all this was going on, I started thinking, the older I get and the more I see of the world, the more I realize how much I want to start performing again. I’m still singing at a performance level and have a ‘shelf life’ for another couple of decades. I HOPE! For me I feel I have the best of both worlds. A great job with a great company in Real Estate, and the opportunity to pursue singing and to perform for audiences again is like getting back to my truest self.
“When I talk about music,” he adds, “there’s this passion people can really feel that’s just not there when I discuss anything else, like a natural light that emerges, re-energizes me and inspires me to focus on what music means to me and how I can use it to inspire others. If I Ruled The World is a favorite Tony Bennett song and serves as a metaphor for what is possible through the power of music and what I can do with this tenor voice I have been blessed with. This project got me back in the saddle, and, for that, I’m very grateful.”