Song Cycle: Rich Dattilo and Karly Driftwood Reflect on Two Generations of Music-Making
“Every single song, there’s truth to it.” That’s how Richmond bassist Rich Dattilo described Too Mean to Die, the album released earlier in 2019 by his Nashville-based daughter Karly, who performs as Karly Driftwood.
Music transcends generations because it’s true. The physics, rhythm, and poetry. The echoing emotions and moments of clarity. We’re sincerely and permanently connected to the people we love by the musical experiences we share – parents and children especially.
Dattilo now plays for Richmond rock powerhouse Weeping Molly, but his story starts in Chicago, where he was born and raised. He hit high school around the same time Rush hit the airwaves there. “Before Rush became even popular,” he said, “they were big in two cities in America: Cleveland and Chicago… I went to go see Rush play, and I had fourth row [tickets]. I saw Geddy Lee play bass, and I was awestruck. I went out and purchased a Rickenbacker 4003 bass like his.”
While his parents weren’t musicians, they let their basement become a practice space, laying the groundwork both for Dattilo’s playing and for the way he’s given his daughter space to follow her own musical instincts. That process started early for Driftwood, and she’s retained memories of rocking out in the back seat to Aerosmith and Stone Temple Pilots.
“When my dad had visitations with me on Wednesdays, he would pick me up from daycare after school and he would always have those CDs ready for me. I would be waiting in the playground area, looking to see my dad’s car pull up, I would run out, and he’d put those songs on for me right away. They just got me so excited… I made my dad print out the lyrics, and he had them in the car for me [so] I could sing along.”
In separate interviews, Dattilo and Driftwood pointed to the same Stone Temple Pilots song — “Plush” — as significant. “The acoustic version influenced my daughter’s writing,” Dattilo said, “because she takes country instruments, and she puts them into sometimes really heavy songs.” While her affinity for Country came later, Driftwood’s early concert-going reflected that “heavy” quality and Dattilo was there every step of the way. Well, maybe a few rows back.
“I was always the chaperone,” Dattilo remembered. “The other parents were like ‘I’m not going to take the kids to see the show.’ [I thought] ‘I’ll go. I’ll look for the first guy with a Zeppelin shirt and hang with them.’”
“I truly am blessed to have a dad who supported me in that way,” Driftwood said. “Once I got to middle school, I went full-emo. I got really into Fall Out Boy, the whole Fueled by Ramen label. Panic! at the Disco was on there, Paramore, all of that 2008 Myspace emo music. Obviously, that’s not my dad’s music at all, but he didn’t care what it was… We saw [Polish black metal group] Behemoth.” Driftwood described an exceptional level of commitment. “He would let me hang out and mingle for like an hour after the show to make friends… He spent his whole night doing that, and had work in the morning.”
A job with Pfizer brought Dattilo to Richmond in 1991. He had put his bass aside for almost 25 years to focus on work, “then I got laid off in 2006,” he noted. Around that same time, Driftwood decided she wanted to take her guitar playing more seriously.
What happened next turned their musical bond into a two-way street. “She had the influence on me,” Dattilo confessed. “When we went looking for a guitar, and I smelled all that wood… I ended up buying myself a bass and an amp [and] played open mics for a year because I had stage fright.” A few collaborative experiences later, he successfully auditioned for Weeping Molly.
It wouldn’t be the last time Driftwood’s pursuit of her musical path would help someone else. She’s lived in Nashville since 2016, though her journey included the series of travails chronicled in her song “Stripped My Way to Nashville.” As uphill as the road to Music City can be, Driftwood’s “no shame in my game” worldview feels refreshingly future-focused, and her definition of success is inspiring.
“I want to help people with music,” she affirmed. “Songs have always been like a friend. If I’m sad over something, and I’m alone [and] there’s no one to talk to, I put on an album that I like. That’s what I want to be [for] someone.”
That’s the alchemy of songwriting, and Driftwood has always seen herself primarily as a writer. “Before I really wanted to pursue music, I wanted to write books,” she remembered. And when it comes to songs, the lyrics always come first. “I write the song for the words. It could be made into rap, it could be country, it could be pop… I really love when you can make someone connect with you and make them feel like they’re in the song, even if they’ve never met you.”
Nashville is taking notice. She’s played the Bluebird Cafe and the Listening Room. She spent Thanksgiving at Tanya Tucker’s house. And fans are connecting with her lyrics. “I’ve gotten messages from different people saying ‘I’m in the same situation right now.’ ‘Settle for Being Used’ is a song about a guy I liked who broke my heart, and I’ve gotten quite a few messages from girls… It’s cool that I can take my problems and help other people out with them. It makes something positive out of them.”
“I‘ve been one proud dad,” Dattilo beamed. From 500-plus miles away, he’s finding new ways to show his support. The two speak on the phone regularly, and Dattilo described coaching Driftwood on collaboration: “You don’t need to be passive, [and] it’s not good to be aggressive, but you can be assertive.” He also mentioned the basic bedrock of good parenting: “Throughout the whole thing, just loving her unconditionally.”
Being in a band truly is like being in a family. I was struck by something Dattilo said about playing bass, and how closely his words aligned with the path he and Driftwood have walked. “You have to know your role as a bass player,” he said. “When there’s a guitar solo, I’ll keep it simple and hold the rhythm down. And there are other times where, depending on the music, you have to be busier.” As Driftwood’s solo work gains momentum, I expect Dattilo will continue to find his spot in the pocket.
You can catch Weeping Molly at Bryan Park Bar & Grill on July 12. For more information on Karly Driftwood, head to karlydriftwood.com.
Editors Note: The cover image of the July/August issue of River City Magazine featured a beautiful image of Karley Driftwood in a cowboy hat, looking up to the sky. This image was taken by Jesslyn McCartney.