When Ryan Sims walks into a room, he commands attention. Whether he’s striding on stage with a guitar slung over his shoulder at Copper Blues, or mastering an acoustic show at a golf club, the local country star knows how to work an audience.
But that’s all in a day’s work, he says.
“During live shows, we turn it up to 10 and go—not the volume, but the energy,” he says. “We want to make sure that when the night is over, we’re dripping in sweat and we don’t have one note left in us.
“That’s how I play. If I can talk at the end of the show, I haven’t done my job. Usually I’m whispering and hoarse and I have to sit down for a minute.”
Fans can experience Sims’ energy Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28, at Harold’s Cave Creek, where he will play country sets.
Sims’ strong work ethic and friendly demeanor is well known. The former singer for local—and national—favorite EastonAshe, Sims has pursued a solo career since the band broke up in 2011. He competed on “The X-Factor” later that year. He also put in time as a songwriter in Nashville.
But it all began in Cave Creek, a town where he continues to play regularly. He’s been playing at Harold’s for about 14 years.
“Before that, I was a busser when I was 16 years old,” he adds. “That’s what got me started playing music.
“I was bussing tables in high school and I’d see all of these great bands. I probably saw more than I should have at 16 years old. Now, a lot of those old band members are my friends and colleagues, like Mogollon. It was amazing to see those guys tear it up in honkytonk bars back then and I thought, ‘I could do that.’”
And he has. His record release party at Harold’s sold more than 1,500 tickets. His self-titled debut hit stores in January 2014.
“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a show,” Sims says with a wide grin. “It was an EastonAshe reunion too.”
“We really try to further ourselves independently, which is really expensive to do. But at that show, they had to move out every table and every chair. We had it front to back and that was a great feeling.”
During its reign on the local music scene, EastonAshe was known for its blend of acoustic rock and funk, playing covers of bands ranging from The Beatles to The Killers.
It was its debut full-length album, Can I Drive It?, though, that garnered EastonAshe the national independent album of the year at the 2007 LA Music awards. In back-to-back years, EA was honored with the performer of the year award at the LA Music/ Hollywood Fame Awards in 2007 and 2008. The next year, Sims grabbed songwriter of the year at the Phoenix Music Awards.
With the strong friendships among the guys in the band, as well as their success, Sims says the breakup was hard to wrap his head around.
“Painful. It was so painful,” Sims says bluntly.
He paused EastonAshe when his band members and lighting specialist left the band.
“(The hiatus) seemed right to keep that sacred for the guys who put it together,” Sims continues. “We still get together. It’s a great memory in my life.
“It was very hard to transition. There are a lot of emotions involved when you have people who put that much heart into something. Everyone wants to see that protected.
“The guys weren’t complaining that I was the last guy still playing as EastonAshe. But once (original guitar player) Matt Henderson left, it didn’t seem right to be EastonAshe anymore.”
He embarked on a solo career and shifted his focus from rock to rock-infused country. He says now that the change wasn’t that big of a stretch.
“I’ve really enjoyed country music and it was a natural transition from rock ‘n’ roll to country,” Sims explains. “That’s only because country music changed. I didn’t.
“What was thought of as country music became what I already was. It was interesting for me to hear that from people: ‘I love that song. What a great country tune.’ I’d say, ‘What are you talking about? It’s not a country song at all.’
“But then I listened to the radio—which I rarely do—and I thought, Yeah, that’s true. Country music has really turned into what rock ‘n’ roll was. There’s no rock ‘n’ roll anymore.”
Making a living
Sims makes his living playing covers—with a few originals thrown in now and then. At a recent four-hour show at Cityscape’s Copper Blues, Sims’ original song, “Hurricane,” went over just as well as his band’s medley of “Walk” by Pantera, The Beatles’ “Come Together” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” Don’t expect a metal show, though, that out-of-leftfield medley was thrown in among the Black Crowes, Tom Petty and The Police.
Acoustic shows feature Sims with his band’s guitarist Jeff Ocheltree. The duo performs on the quieter side at McDowell Mountain Golf Club from 5 to 8 p.m. Sundays. The playlist features a healthy dose of Sims’ original material as well as covers like Michael Buble’s “Home” and “All of Me” by John Legend.
“We rely on corporate gigs and acoustic gigs, as well as weddings,” explains Sims, who just returned from a weeklong stint in St. Bart’s.
“Weddings can be a lot of fun. They pay well. Corporate things and weddings are no different. There’s no room for the raucousness of being in a band. Nobody wants to see you be the party guy. You have to mind your P’s and Q’s.”
This year is a year of healing for Sims, who will soon undergo spinal surgery. His hand goes numb whenever he straps on his guitar. Most years, he has big plans or a special show to play. But in 2016, he’s leaving it up to fate.
“I’ve got so much going on in my personal life,” he says. “I haven’t put out a new record. I think this year for me is just about healing because I’ve been in pain for so long. I wanted to get better before I attacked it again.”
Still, he’s not letting pain ruin his work ethic. He requires his fellow musicians—which, in addition to Ocheltree, includes lead guitarist Jay Poole, bassist Ethan Newman and drummer Perry Senn—to work hard.
“People spend their whole week working 9 to 5 or, even worse, 6 to 5,” he says. “People work their asses off all week. If they come to see me on Friday because that’s how they want to forget about their week, what an honor. I want to show them how much I appreciate them putting their faith in me to get rid of the stress of the week. That’s my favorite part of this business.”
Ryan Sims Band, Harold’s Cave Creek Corral, 6895 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek, 480.488.1906, 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28. Call for ticket information. For information about Ryan Sims, visit ryansimsmusic.com/.