“It was a kind of unrealistic dream for awhile like, wow, wouldn’t that be cool?” Richia Gregston observed during an interview last week. “It’s just something you don’t perceive you can actually do.”
But she did. In the summer of 2010, she and her husband David packed up and moved to the country music capital to pursue Richia’s dream.
And for the next two years, she and a band they formed spent weekends entertaining audiences in the nightclubs, honky-tonks and juke joints along Music City’s Broadway Avenue, before returning to Oklahoma for attractive job offers.
Match made in heaven
Both Richia Heffington and David Gregston grew up in Marlow and graduated from high school here in 2000. After their marriage in August of that same year, they “school-hopped,” Richia said, attending East Central, the University of Tulsa, Tulsa Community College and OCCC before completing their educational pursuits at the University of Oklahoma.
Despite the nomadic nature of her higher-education meanderings, Richia graduated from OU in 2005 with a BA in psychology.
After she and David returned to Marlow, Richia taught for a year at Duncan High and the next two at MHS.
As a teenager, she had cheered with Marlow’s Outlaw squad and had spent several years on a national championship All-Star cheerleading team representing the Oklahoma Twisters, a gym headquartered at the time in Chickasha. She had also cheered at ECU and TU. These credentials easily qualified her to serve as head cheer coach at Duncan, then assistant coach here, during her teaching career.
After three years as an educator/coach, she worked briefly for the First National Bank in Marlow.
At the time, she and David owned part interest in healthcare-related businesses in Blanchard and Tuttle. They sold their share of one of the firms to their partner and purchased his share in the other.
David was aware of his talented wife’s dream of becoming a part of the entertainment industry; and at this point, the two of them decided that “basically, it was now or never,” Richia remembered.
“It was actually David’s idea,” she noted. “He just believed that I was good enough to do it.”
Throughout their marriage, David has been his wife’s most staunch supporter.
In fact, after they arrived in Nashville and pulled a band together, he became the group’s unofficial manager. Though Richia is quite comfortable onstage, connecting with audiences through song, her self-confidence doesn’t extend to the kind of communication skills required to book performances, she admitted.
So David relieved her of this responsibility, making multiple valuable connections with business owners and music professionals. This was in addition to 60-hour weeks managing a restaurant. Furthermore, he went in debt to buy the band a sound system and was present at all of their gigs.
Music metropolisAfter settling in in Nashville, the Gregstons’ first order of business was assembling a band.
Andrew Hendrix, a musician who worked with David but who had previously played for the Grammy-nominated Christian band Pillar, was hired as drummer. Richia met bassist Alejandro Medina through her job at Cheermoore Athletics, where his college cheer squad received their training; and guitarists Truett Rayborn and Diesel Tyler came on board after auditioning.
The band changed names so many times, Richia quipped, that the situation soon became a standing joke; but they finally settled on “Richia and the Gringos” after one of their booked venues publicized the name in print and online.
“My band was amazing—good people,” she said, and those amazing folks performed “pretty much every weekend,” she recalled.
Their repertoire consisted mostly of cover music, with a few of Richia’s original compositions thrown in.
They cut a CD at a studio owned by Wild Willie Rainsford, former pianist for the group Alabama, but the recording was not for distribution—it was a demo of Richia’s original numbers recorded in preparation for securing a copyright.
“We were strictly a live-performance band,” she explained.
Richia and the Gringos appeared at a number of venues on Nashville’s main strip and in Music Valley—places like the Whiskey Bent Saloon, Scoreboard Bar & Grill, and John A’s, a restaurant rich in country music history and tradition, where the names and faces of stars, past and present, lined the walls.
The Gregstons met Southern rock artist Jimmie Van Zant and attended concerts featuring such country greats as Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Vince Gill and Keith Urban; and the Grand Ole Opry was a favorite haunt.
Nevertheless, even in the midst of all this pageantry, Richia never aspired to stardom. She simply basked in the rush that performing before a live audience gave her.
“My goal was not to make it, but to enjoy it,” she attested.
And enjoy it she did. In fact, that rush was the most satisfying return she received on her investment of time and money.
Richia alluded to the expression, “starving artist.” Members of the band weren’t exactly getting rich with their music. In other words, although they were a talented bunch, they didn’t quit their day jobs.
In fact, Richia accepted a position as head cheer coach at Battle Ground Academy, a private school in Nashville, and another offer as manager for the Cheermoore cheerleading gym.
“Everything you can do in cheerleading, I’ve done,” she said.
And since she’s the type of person who jumps into a commitment with both feet, she stayed pretty doggone busy.
Natural bentFor as long as she can remember, Richia has had a love for music and a desire to share her innate musical talents with others.
No one else in her family—neither her parents, Rick and Patty Heffington, nor her sister, Shelly McCord—is musically inclined in the least, she said.
Richia explained that she was adopted by the Heffingtons as an infant and that her biological parents and brother, none of whom she has met, are all musically-gifted. Her biological brother, in fact, was among the top 12 finalists on American Idol last year, she noted.
Richia started piano lessons as early as 5 or 6 years old and acoustic guitar instruction later. She stressed the fact that she doesn’t play “by ear” at all; she sings and plays entirely by reading and learning written music.
Early-on, Richia was inspired by Reba McEntire, primarily because of the native Okie’s humble beginnings and struggles to “pay her dues.”
A current favorite, Miranda Lambert, “doesn’t follow trends and is a little more ‘nitty-gritty,’ which is where country music is going these days,” she said. Lambert is a trend-setter, she added, and that quality appeals to her.
One of Richia’s most treasured honors in music came two years ago, she advised, when she placed fourth in the nation at the annual karaoke championships with her renditions of I’ll Always Love You and Stand by Your Man.
Today and tomorrowSince their return to Oklahoma a few weeks ago, Richia and David have been working for J.K. McCord Homes in Duncan—David as a construction foreman, and Richia as office manager.
Although the lights of Nashville are now hundreds of miles away, Richia hasn’t set her love for music aside. She and the Gringos have a scheduled performance at Music City’s Whiskey Bent Saloon on September 29, and she predicts that the band will continue to make several appearances a year in Tennessee.
Furthermore, she is hoping to book gigs for them in this area and is, in fact, toying with the idea of also forming a local band.
Richia has performed at the Territory and has been approached about making regular appearances. She and her former guitar teacher and longtime friend, Allen Wooten of Comanche, produced this year’s talent contest at the county fair.
Her professional affiliations include BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) and ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), the Nashville Songwriters Group, Indie Connect, Inc., and the CMSA (Country Music Singers’ Association).
Whether life’s journey ultimately leads Richia back to Nashville or places her on some other path entirely is anyone’s guess. But whatever the future holds, she will always be able to look back on the time, however fleeting, when her dreams sprang to life.