Entertainer Rick Schulman Finney died suddenly Tuesday morning, September 29, at his home in Nashville at age 63.
During his colorful career as Rick Schulman, he was a songwriter, studio sideman, advertising pitch man, movie actor and Nashville nightclub star. He was the co-writer of the hit 1980 George Jones and Johnny Paycheck duet “When You’re Ugly Like Us (You Just Naturally Got to Be Cool).”
He was adopted by the Schulman family, who owned a variety store and barbecue stand on Jefferson Street. His musical style was heavily influenced by the blues musicians in the neighborhood. While in boarding school in Cleveland, Ohio, he worked as a rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey.
Returning to Nashville after graduation, Schulman joined the house band of the syndicated R&B television show Night Train. There, he worked with Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, Fats Domino and others on the program.
On Music Row, he was signed as a staff songwriter by Cedarwood, Tree and ATV Music. Bobby Bare, Johnny Russell, Freddy Hart, Dr. Hook, The Newbeats, O.C. Smith and Charlie Rich are among those who recorded Schulman’s songs.
As a studio musician and vocalist, he backed Jack Clement, Johnny Cash, John Hartford, John Prine, June Carter Cash and Waylon Jennings, among others. He was a member of Jack Clement’s Cowboy Ragtime Band.
“Rick was a wonderfully talented singer with both a high and low range like that of a piano and the power of an entire brass section,” said Clement. “I’m going to miss him.”
When the Exit-In nightclub opened in 1971, Schulman became its main opening act. His stage repertoire in the 1970s and 1980s was memorable for humor in such songs as “Falling in Love with My Hand,” “Mamma’s Ugly Baby,” “When I’m Drinking,” “I Picked a Lemon in the Garden of Love” and “Submarine Song.”
“Rick could complement anyone from any genre of music,” said the Exit-In’s co-founder Owsley Manier. “He performed at the Exit-In more times than any other act in our history. He was a Nashville treasure.”
Schulman appeared in cameo roles in a number of music videos. His film credits include parts in Ernest Goes to Jail, Ernest Scared Stupid, The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Concrete Cowboy, Framed and The Witness. He was also in TV movies aired by HBO, Cinemax, PBS, NBC and Fox. He did character voices for Disney and Sesame Street. His advertising voice-over work included such national brands as McDonald’s, Budweiser, NASCAR, Popeye’s Fried Chicken, Ford, Chevrolet, Red Roof Inn, Ken-L-Ration and Pace’s Picante Sauce, among many others.
“He was also the most naturally funny and entertaining person I ever met,” said Rick Sanjek, his friend and former roommate. “He lit up every room he ever entered with his wit, warmth and giving spirit.” Their third roommate was Randy Rayburn, now one of Nashville’s most successful restaurateurs.
After his adoptive parents died, Rick Schulman sought out his biological parents and took Finney as his last name. It was the maiden name of his biological mother.
Rick Schulman Finney is survived by his wife Eleanor Whitworth Finney and son David Whitworth. The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3 at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Belle Meade.
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