The 50-foot limestone angels trumpeting from the façade of Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth face a trio of venues hidden from the outside world. Hyena's Comedy Night Club is down a grand staircase on the right. There's a smaller stage next to it. And on the left is Queen City Music Hall, which opened earlier this year and is Fort Worth's biggest non-arena music venue. You could fit a couple hundred people on the sunken dance floor, and that's only a third of the available floor space. A few seating areas in the back are corralled off with thick metal handrails, which might give the place a rodeo feel if it weren't for the maroon carpet.
It's a little after 8 on a Friday night, and the first of four bands is on the stage, a Fort Worth singer with slick, desperate tunes straight out of the Top Gun playbook. He finishes his set and the crowd applauds politely, but then, from down on the dance floor, someone yells, oddly, "Do a cheer!" The singer, a thin guy with linen pants named Nathan Brown, relents and launches into a series of choreographed cheerleading routines, "Go, Fight, Win!" and that sort of thing, a grown man doing the claps and stiff-leg struts. He's got one about a pizza party, which slays. Everyone is laughing warmly and cheering now, no one louder than the guy who called for the cheers in the first place.
He's a big dude, more than 6 feet tall and meaty, but that doesn't explain the way he's swallowing his corner of the dance floor. People seem to get caught in his orbit. He's wearing a hat from a 1993 TCU sorority Spring Formal, when he was 11. He's 32 now, and he's got a bellow of a laugh, the same one as his dad. It starts -- revs up, really -- with a couple low HUHs and lands with a few deep HAs. He looks like the kind of guy who was either class clown or class president. Both, probably.
That's Jordan Richardson. Google him and you'll find a 2011 Drum Magazine feature and the Ben Harper Wikipedia page and a slew of YouTube videos where he's playing drums for Ringo Starr and John Paul Jones, on PBS specials and late-night talk shows. He's been playing drums pretty much every day since before he could walk.
Richardson will play second tonight, after Brown, with his band Son of Stan. He'll play songs he wrote as he traveled the world and recorded in the middle of night by a Los Angeles pool. They're about car wrecks and heartbreak and shootouts in shopping malls. But the melodies are so indelible they'll have people humming on their way out to their cars.
Some of those people, the ones orbiting near him now, absorbing his HUHs and HAs, have likely seen those YouTube clips, are aware of his history of going hit-for-hit with Ringo. But when Richardson takes the stage tonight, they won't see him touch a drum stick or sit on a throne, and that's the way he prefers it.
Richardson grew up in Crowley, a little railroad town 20 minutes south of Fort Worth, at a time when the interstate didn't come this direction and you had to take Farm to Market Road 1187. There's a quiet downtown and plenty of open space where the 12,000 residents keep horses and hay bales and expansive parking lots. One of the biggest items on the social calendar is the Crowley High School homecoming parade, which Jordan's mother, Georgia Richardson, ran during her 30-year tenure as a teacher in the district.
His father, Stan, is a car salesman, but more importantly he's a drummer. If Jordan didn't inherit his dad's rhythm before he was born -- Georgia says he "ticked" in the womb -- he certainly did soon afterward, when Dad would tuck Jordan into bed, put a pillow between them and pat out beats. By age 3 Jordan would mirror his motions, and by the time he was 5 he was taking the lead, inventing patterns his father could barely follow. "He would come home and drum from the time school was out until it was time for dinner or time for bed," Natalie says. "But it was never noise. He was one of those child prodigies."
At 7 Richardson could recite the entire Wizard of Oz movie. He soon moved onto the U2 documentary Rattle and Hum, marking a drum set in the carpet with his sticks and miming Larry Mullen Jr.'s every stroke. By then he'd decided he wanted to go pro.
"How will I know that I'm a famous rock star, mom?" he asked.
"Because you'll be on David Letterman," she replied.
Richardson inherited his dad's old kit, and by 9 he was hammering it loudly enough that the neighbors started asking about it. His parents decided to move to south of downtown, where the nearest house would be out of earshot. By middle school he was playing in a band called Random Plaid that played Steely Dan covers and cleaned up at regional competitions. His first original band was a ska group called The-Immigrants. They had a regular gig playing at home games of Fort Worth's now-defunct semi-pro hockey team, the Brahmas, where they played for concessions and cheers.
In high school, Richardson was so sure of his desired career path that one of his math teachers pulled Georgia aside to tell her, gravely, that her son wanted to be a musician. "I know," she said.
One day Jordan bought some jazz records and told his dad he wanted to learn how to play. He particularly admired Peter Erskine, a jazz drummer whose studio work includes records by Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell and Weather Report. Jordan loved the way Erskine played the cymbals.
Crowley High didn't have a jazz band, but Richardson and a few of his friends borrowed rehearsal space and played anyway. Crowley history teacher Kay Stano heard him play, and went home to her husband, Curt Wilson, who was the director of Jazz Studies at Texas Christian University.
"There's this great drummer at Crowley High School you need to hear," she said.
"Whatever you say," he replied. He'd spent decades recruiting jazz musicians across the state and country, and Crowley wasn't known for producing many. He brought the kid in anyway, unsure of what to expect.
"When he auditioned, Jordan knocked me out," Wilson says.
Richardson didn't study music at TCU, majoring instead in TV and Film Studies and playing in the jazz band as an elective. But by his sophomore year he was the lead drummer in the program's top band. He held the role for three years, recording a couple CDs and playing festivals from Budapest to Honolulu.
Wilson estimates he's taught somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 musicians, and Jordan was among the 50 best. "After every performance, two or three people would come up to me and say, 'My God, what a drummer.'"
Partly that was Richardson's ability -- his cleanliness and feel for the song, the confidence of his grooves. But when you're watching a band, the thing that stands out the most clearly is not the notes and rhythms but the physical bearing of the person playing them. People noticed Richardson because of his smile, his bob, his vibe.
"I've never seen a kid love to play drums as much as Jordan. And that was infectious. When Jordan was in the band it was just a happy band," Wilson says. "Over 42 years of teaching, if I have to give the Most Enthusiastic award to any musician, I'd give it to Jordan Richardson."