Rick Russell, the distinct voice behind 90s country band, Smokin' Armadillos, has died at the age of 53 following ongoing heart issues. The lead vocalist passed Friday night, Sept. 22, leaving family, friends and fans speechless.
Russell, along with fellow "Dillos" -- Josh Graham (acoustic guitar), Jason Theiste (fiddle, mandolin), Aaron Casida (bass), Scott Meeks (lead guitar) and Darrin Kirkindoll (drums) -- first joined forces in February 1992, fresh out of high school, to form their band in Bakersfield, California. It wasn't long after that the buzz surrounding the six friends put them on the map locally. They released their debut 5-song EP titled Out of the Burrow in 1993, selling over 150,000 copies independenly.
In Sept. 1994, MCG/Curb Records inked the band to its roster, and they released their self-titled full length album two years later. "Let Your Heart Lead Your Mind" was their first single from the album, released in 1996. During their time with MCG/Curb, the Dillos shared the stage with the likes of Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Chris LeDoux, Wynonna and LeAnn Rimes, among others.
They went on to record their follow-up sophomore project titled Plan B, but parted ways with MCG/Curb before the album made its way to fans.
The band continued to tour and make music independent releasing their next project, Strike the Match, in 2003. The band decided to call it quits soon after, performing their farewell show in Bakersfield at the Rabobank Theater in March 2005.
However, music always remained at the forefront of Russell's mind and heart. He and Graham decided to come together as duo Lucky Ned Pepper, releasing their debut album, Get Lucky, in 2009. Russell and Graham released "I Remember the Music" off that album, and spent the next few years touring in support of the new single and venture.
However, the Smokin' Armadillos legacy and their fan base never fully allowed the band to go away for good. They once again returned to their local Bakersfield studio in 2017 where they wrote and recorded "The Other California," which was sold as a single through their website.
In October 2019, all six original band members reunited on stage of The Fox Theater in Bakersfield for two nights of back-to-back sold out shows. One more show would follow on October 22, 2022 in Paso Robles, California, which would mark the final show with Russell leading the band.
Russell was born in Taft, California on July 5, 1970. Throughout school, Russell envisioned his career involving football, until he discovered his passion for music.
Russell had a heart the size of Texas, always putting friends and family above anything in life, except for his love of the Lord. His infectious laugh, debonair smile and miscevious personality made him loved by all who crossed his path in his life and career. He took great pride in always making those around him feel protected and important. He was a son, a brother, a loving father and a friend to all he met.
Rick Russell's life and career was honored at Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield on Monday, October 9, 2023.