Written by: Frank Iacono
Williams Honor, the Jersey Shore’s first ever country duo, hails from Asbury Park, New Jersey and features Gordon Brown and Reagan Richards. Both Gordon and Reagan (affectionately nicknamed G & R) spent several years in Nashville, Tennessee writing, recording and touring with other artists until their fateful meeting in 2014 at a benefit for Hurricane Sandy victims. Their chemistry was truly undeniable and the two knew it was time to start a new venture together and thus Williams Honor was born.
G & R’s New Jersey influence plays a huge part in Williams Honor’s music, combining modern country sound with traditional Nashville country music. Individually, Gordon and Reagan bring years of professional music experience to Williams Honor. For instance, Gordon has been on the road or working with Jessie James Decker, Audrey Kate and Jackson Harris. While Reagan’s resume includes working with artists like Lisa Loeb, David Gray and Les Paul.
As a group, Gordon and Reagan had quite a rewarding 2018. In that year, Williams Honor achieved their first Music Row Country Breakout Top 30 with their song “No Umbrella,” won Best Music Video for “Send It To Me” in the Asbury Park Music & Film Festival and opened for fellow neighborhood superstars Bon Jovi, at a sold-out monumental performance at Madison Square Garden.
In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we caught up with Reagan Richards and Gordon Brown from Williams Honor where we talked about their musical influences, their songwriting and recording process, their experience in the music industry and how COVID-19 and the pandemic has affected their musical career.
The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you both first realize that you wanted to be musicians and whom or what would you say inspired you?
Reagan Richards: For me, music always played a big part in my life. Long before I was born, my mom was a big band singer and actually sang with Les Paul, the legendary jazz, country, and blues guitarist. She also was supposed to be the singer of the late-night TV talk show called The George Gobel Show. However, she turned down moving out to Los Angeles, California but kept the musical spirit alive. She never said to me as a child, “Hey, kid, can you sing? If so, you should pursue it” but it just came automatically, as well as song writing. One of the earliest songs that I wrote was a tune called, “Count Me Out (I Don’t Wanna Be in Pictures)”. I wrote that song when I was 6 years old and it apparently referenced the crappy side of modeling, which sounds like a joke, but unfortunately, it’s not. My Dad was a huge country music fan, so artists like Marty Robbins, Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash were among the great guests who appeared on our special playlist during road trips. So, I’d say that my parents were my two main catalysts for getting me in the zone.
Gordon Brown: Growing up, music served as my greatest escape from undiagnosed childhood depression. I was very fortunate to live in areas where I knew successful musicians came from. In New Jersey, I lived close to the beach and Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss”. On the weekends, my dad had an apartment in New York City down the street from The Dakota where the legendary John Lennon lived. Ultimately, I was destined to figure some of it out. Equally, tracing out Gene Simmons’ makeup face on the back of my KISS Alive II album probably helped too.
TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Gordon Brown and Reagan Richards as well as Williams Honor, how would you describe your musical genre?
RR: Williams Honor’s musical genre is country music. We believe we are a nice weaving of the old traditional sound along with the modern sound. We truly respect and love how country music was born and love the foundational key players that paved the way. At the same time, we understand and have been excited about how much country music has evolved. We certainly give our fans all of the above.
GB: We love everything about country music. Our roots are based from where WE hail from. That’s what makes it Jersey Country. My DNA can be directly traced to Asbury Park, New Jersey and all the artists that have come from there, including Johnny Cash who also had roots from there many years ago and got very involved in helping the community.
TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and how do you think they shaped you both as a singers/songwriters and performers?
RR: For me, it goes back to the music that my parents played. For example, I can sing word-for-word and note-for-note the greatest songs of Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard and a lil’ country crooner by the name of Patsy Cline. Between Patsy, artists like Hank Garland and male powerhouses like Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings …I was hooked. To me, those artists spoke to me as early as five or six years of age and I remember listening to their music and getting actual goosebumps. I had a strong feeling that my school friends weren’t listening to music and receiving it the same way that I was. That’s how I knew I was a little different. I couldn’t just put a song on and be done with it and continue on with my day. Those tunes stuck with me. Today, when we write a song, we want to have that same impact on a listener …it’s about singing a lyric, being authentic and having someone in their car go, “OMG, I feel that”. That’s why my influences are so powerful to me because I never forgot how they made me feel.
GB: Restless Heart, Diamond Rio, Blackhawk, Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Rascal Flatts and Dixie Chicks, all pulled me into country music by my short hairs. After listening to those bands, it was tough for me to listen to anything the same way again. I grew up with the storied songs of Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, KISS and the harmonies of The Eagles by the beach. My first signed band would be considered country if that album came out today.
TCS: How thrilling was it to share your first public performance in Asbury Park on stage with the legendary Jersey Boy Bruce Springsteen?
RR: Oh boy. For me, that was a truly surreal, beautiful moment. I’ve had some very incredible musical moments in my life …a show with the legendary Emmylou Harris and singing with Les Paul for several years until he died as well as Steve Allen’s radio show were among my many proud moments. Now I am embarking on a new journey with Williams Honor where our first public performance was for Light Of Day at the sold-out Paramount Theater, where we performed a 20-minute finale with Bruce. It was thrilling, it was a “feel good” moment because it was for the LOD foundation which raises money for Parkinson’s research. It was breathtaking to look around onstage and just see incredible people surrounding you. If Williams Honor had to have a “kickoff”…I’d say that was a damn good one.
GB: Nothing I can write could ever truly capture in words how personally exciting that was for me. Coming from the NJ area makes it even more special. This was not the first time I’ve been on stage standing next to Bruce…actually there’s been a few more times since then too. Always incredible.
TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of your self-titled debut release is the track entitled “Send It To Me,” so can you share with us the meaning behind it and the video concept?
RR: Thank You! It’s always great hearing what people love from our records! There’s never a textbook way to write a song. Show me a successful songwriter and I’ll show you napkins with lyrics, tapes with melodies, random words in a notebook …and how you put all those pieces together determines what you have in the end. The track “Send it To Me” was a song that didn’t come from a list of titles we had stashed for years. It actually came together during the recording of the first album. Gordon and I would send each other files and one afternoon I sat across from him and I said, “Send It to Me.” He said, “what?” I said, “Send It To Me”. WHAT? I thought something wasn’t exactly translating. My phrase struck him and he ran in and got the guitar and within a half hour we had the song. Our energy going into writing it was what gave that song it’s energy. It became our first single and to this day, it’s a fan favorite and we absolutely have so much fun performing it.
GB: The video for “Send It to Me” is our personal story. In the video, we’re driving on Ocean Avenue through the streets of Asbury Park, driving past The Stone Pony, performing at The Saint, and then standing on Broadway in Nashville in front of Tootsie’s as I’m convincing the owner to let us Jersey people in. We then, try to break into The Ryman right up the block with Bridgestone Arena located right behind us. It’s our roots of the music and who we are. We had Jersey director George McMorrow work on it for us and we ended up winning Best Music Video in The Asbury Park Music and Film Festival that year.
TCS: Please describe your Madison Square Garden performance as an opening act for hometown heroes Bon Jovi?
RR: How do I even begin to describe something of that magnitude? It’s everything anyone would think it would be. Imagine working your entire life writing songs …leaving your family and moving away, working day and night to support your dream …having major ups and major downs …and then starting a new project, getting a #27 song on country radio and after that, being selected to directly support hometown heroes, Bon Jovi, on their first local show after being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. That’s the kind of stuff you dream of and the kind of stuff you stand in your bedroom acting out as a kid. And it really happened to us. We weren’t in the bedroom dreaming, we were on the stage …and quite honestly, I’m very proud of that moment. It felt like a really nice, big nod for the work that we had done.
GB: Imagine growing up down the street for one of your childhood idols, who taught you how to break down all the barriers through their music. THEN all of a sudden you find yourself on the world’s most famous stage opening for them RIGHT AFTER they get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Once again, It’s tough to put into words but I still tear up when I think about it. Dreams can come true. And, in some cases, even better than you ACTUALLY imagined!
TCS: Tell us about the background behind another fan favorite, entitled “No Umbrella” and your live appearance on the Hard Rock Cafe Stage during “Today in Nashville”?
RR: “No Umbrella” is a song we co-wrote with country superstar, Cyndi Thomson. Both Gordon and I had been huge fans of Cyndi’s for years and we asked her if she wanted to get together to write. She was so incredibly cool and immediately said yes. We met for a writing session and just started talking about life for the first 90 minutes. From our talk, we came up with “No Umbrella” which is a song about suffering loss and allowing yourself to feel the pain instead of running from it.
We conducted a radio tour all over the country for both of our singles, and “No Umbrella” reached #27 which was such a gratifying feeling. This campaign was a total team effort, and everyone involved truly felt a great sense of accomplishment. The night before the Country Music Awards in Nashville they held a Top 30 party/show for us and so many of our musical peers came out to support and celebrate. It was amazing.
We’ve performed on NBC TV’s “Today in Nashville” show three times already, but the FIRST time was really bittersweet. My dog of almost 16 years passed away while I was on the road (literally on the road while I was in my car headed to Nashville). I had to perform “No Umbrella,” a song about how to deal with loss 30 hours after I experienced such a huge loss in my life.
I will, however, say that the TV lights are amazing because I had ridiculous red, puffy eyes like you wouldn’t believe from crying all those hours, but TV made me actually look like a human.
TCS: As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, have you had to cancel or postpone any tours or festival appearances?
RR & GB: Ohhh absolutely. Williams Honor had an entire record campaign laid out for our long awaited second record. In fact, we had already begun the whole release in Nashville at the end of February, three weeks prior to lockdown. We conducted TV interviews, had a release show for the first single off the record, distributed press, completed a photo shoot session you name it. We had bookings covering shows all over the country for the summer to coincide with its release. However, as soon as the lockdown hit, we put a big halt on all of that. We knew it was NOT the proper time to release it. We stand by that decision.
GB: All of them.
TCS: As artists, have you found COVID-19 and this quarantine to be a highly creative time period for writing and recording new music or has it been difficult to focus on creative endeavors?
RR: 10000% absolutely a creative time. No matter what happens in life, we have to find a way to keep going, but not just for the sake of existence. We have to LIVE! Living means doing what makes you feel alive. We stopped the planning of the record release but took this valuable and highly unpredictable opportunity to go back into the studio and add more things to the songs we had. During this unprecedented time, we’ve written a ton of new material, and even put together a livestream variety show, hich taps into our creative side at every turn.
GB: Go ahead and give creative people more time to think and deal with life’s seemingly impossible hardships and watch what comes out.
TCS: Can you describe for us the song writing and recording process behind your most recent hit single entitled “Step”?
RR: The song “Step” is a tune where the melody and lyrics came together simultaneously. It doesn’t always happen like that. I had an idea and I called Gordon and bounced it off him and we just ran with it. Right off the bat we knew it was going to be a song of empowerment. Our beloved followers are called the Williams Honor Army, so this was dedicated to them.
GB: This is a song dedicated to the home team. They are why we continue to exist. We hope to empower them as we continue on.
TCS: As recording artists, have you both embraced social platforms to help market your songs, albums, merchandise and/or appearances?
RR and GB: Absolutely. We’ve certainly embraced social media.
To stay connected, please join us on the following:
- Williams Honor Website
- Williams Honor Facebook
- Williams Honor Instagram
- Williams Honor Twitter
- Williams Honor YouTube
TCS: Can you provide us with some details about “The Willi Ho Show” presented by Nashville-based Centerstage Magazine and airs WHednesday nights at 6:30 PM CT”?
RR: “The WILLI Ho Show” is our livestream variety show that is authentically, clumsily but beautifully ….Williams Honor. There’s no pretending. There’s no bells and whistles. There no perfection. That stuff just doesn’t exist. What DOES exist are two people who write songs …two people who have musical history …two people who have a love to make people laugh …two people who get on each other’s nerves (as Gordon & I do) and put that all together and you get this show that has hopefully helped our audience get through these difficult times, but it truly has helped US.
We have been so grateful to everyone who has tuned into our show and turned it into a top ranking POLLSTAR show. That certainly was never a goal …because a POLLSTAR livestream chart didn’t exist before lockdown. The goal was to be real and give our audience a piece of ourselves …which is our music, our influences and our history mixed with some crazy, funny added characters.
GB: Talk about a train you never saw coming …we have had more fun with our audience doing this show than should be legally allowed by law. THEY are the biggest part of the show, with their comments, requests, suggestions and jokes. #BannerDown #DontTouchMe #REAAAAGS are just a few of the sound bites that have become WHArmy approved.
TCS: What lessons do you both think that you’ve learned during this pandemic? What kind of advice would you give to fellow musicians who are trying new creative ways to supplement their income until this is over”?
RR: Our on-going motto has been “Never Stop. Keep Creating!” In a time where we didn’t know what was going to happen one minute to the next, I think it could’ve been very easy to say …I’m going to sleep for 3 days straight and just watch TV. But if the pandemic taught us anything (besides wash your hands!) it’s that nothing should stop a creative mind. Not even uncertainty of the world around us. My advice to a musician in these times? Be you. Don’t look at another artist and think you have to do what they are doing. Let them be them. Do You and constantly work on a great version of YOURSELF for people to fall in love with.
GB: Couldn’t have said that better myself.
Editors’ Note, December 31, 2020:
After initial publication, the article met with some criticism from Reagan Richards and Gordon Brown concerning The Creative Spotlight’s content editorial, prompting editors to review it and forgo our typical editing process. Upon further review, we have updated the article to feature the original unedited answers provided by Williams Honor as requested.
About Frank Iacono
Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.
Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.
Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…
Frank earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.