Rich McCloud moved to Salem about 10 years ago from Pohokee Florida. How absolutely fortunate for us that he chose our town. I remember seeing him perform at Clockworks Cafe about eight years ago and was mesmerized. More on that later.

I went to see him at Gilgamesh performing with his full band: Jules Arindam on guitar, Jarred Venti on bass, Derek Jones on drums and of course, Rich on guitar and vocals. He certainly picked some of Salem’s most capable musicians. They played a two hour set with a couple of covers, but the bulk were originals. Rich deftly fuses hip hop, R&B, soul and rock into music that is accessible, but in no way commonplace. Personally, I am most drawn to his lyrics. He’s engaged with the struggles in our society and is often political. He set up one of my favorite songs, “Somebody Has to Die,” by recalling how he was raised with the the ideals of love, acceptance, and justice, but his heart got broke and he got angry; he funneled that anger into the song.

After the show, we sat down and talked. He’s such a warm and genuine human. He’s funny, articulate and incredibly calming to be around. I seriously could have talked with him for hours, but the place was closing and his bandmates were eager to move the show to Duffy’s. I asked him about the song, “Somebody Has to Die.” He said that all the folks who stand up and speak of peace and tolerance get killed: MLK, JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Lincoln and Malcolm X to name a few. He understands that there are powers that don’t want peace, and it broke his heart – but concludes that nobody has to die. Which speaks to his character. Even though he’s seen the injustice and hate, he won’t be completely broken. He has tremendous and infectious hope for our species.

He told me living in South Florida was extremely problematic. His town was economically disadvantaged and his family was incredibly poor. But he ultimately resisted the dark path. He did not allow himself to “be schooled” to turn out the way which is almost expected in our society. After he had his first child, he knew he couldn’t raise his family there, so he relocated to Turner. He spent two years in Ashland at the Ashland Art Academy where he studied painting. He showed me pictures of some of his portraits. Yeah. He’s incredible at that too.

Back to the Clockworks performance. When I mentioned it, a big smile spread across his face. We talked about the difference in his music from then and now. When I saw him, he had tracks on his laptop and he played guitar and sang in his hip hop/soul fusion style. His rhymes were incredibly melody driven, like his singing style today, but they were edgier and had more urgency. He explained that he was quite insecure about those songs. He felt they weren’t good enough and he eventually scrapped them, but has recently decided to bring them back and get them back in rotation. Excellent.

Rich plays a lot in Salem and surrounding areas in his quest to spread music and art as his way of life. His next performances are: Venti’s Basement bar 8pm on July 14th, the Salem Art Fair Main Stage 4:30pm, and his birthday show at Archive Speakeasy July 29th at 8pm. The Speakeasy is an intimate room and accommodates around 60 people, so get there early.