"Welcome to the Nutshell," Chip Richter of Columbiana said as I walked into his studio.
"Nutshell?" I asked.
"Yes. I call it that because it is small and very brown." His big smile and laughter fill the cozy room.
The walls of the Nutshell are covered with photographs of family and friends. Many of the instruments Chip plays are hanging from hooks.
I laugh as I sit and look around.
Chip's birth name is Donald, after his father. As a child, he sported large cheeks that garnered him the nickname "Chip," short for chipmunk. As an adult, the name stuck.
It's not a nickname Chip would have chosen. But, sitting in the Nutshell, it seems a perfect fit.
Musical growth: Chip's journey as a singer-songwriter has been much the same.
"I was always striving to be like certain artists -- James Taylor, Billy Joel, Phil Keaggy," Chip explained. "I wanted to write adult contemporary songs."
With the release of his third CD, Chip has developed a style and sound all his own. It is contemporary, but it is not just for adults.
"Instead of being like another artist, I am like me!" he exclaimed. "And one of the artists I wanted to emulate, Phil Keaggy, worked with me on my new CD."
The CD, titled "My Dad's Coat," is a collection of catchy tunes with spiritual messages designed for children and adults.
Chip's transformation began five years ago, after the release of his first CD.
"I got a call from Lakeside," Chip said. Lakeside is a family oriented resort and camping community on the shores of Lake Erie. They asked him to run a summer music program for kids.
"When the call came, I thought, 'This isn't what I want to do,' " Chip said. But, he and his family spent the summer there.
"I was more surprised than anyone at the response," Chip said. "I caught the kids' joy and their freedom."
His songwriting changed. His music changed.
Instead of writing serious adult ballads, Chip now writes about the "Ladybugs' Livingroom," "The Chicken Pox Blues," and "The Toothpaste Song."
Like toothpaste out of the tube
My words just squirted out all over you
Now it's a sticky mess
And once it's out there's no
Puttin' back the Crest!
He has a gift for taking serious, hard-to-understand subjects and turning them into funny, clever tunes with moral and spiritual overtones.
Dream: Chip had planned on naming his new CD "Wonderful Thing," a song he wrote about hugs.
Again, his plans were altered.
One night, he had a dream. He saw the cover of his CD with a small boy in a big coat on the front. "I even saw the lettering," he said.
The next day, looking through stock photos, he saw the exact boy from his dream.
The title song of the CD became, "My Dad's Coat."
The song describes Chip, as a young boy, going into his father's closet and finding his big overcoat.
Dad would stand there smilin'
I could only dream of fillin' his shoes.
I wanted to be just like him...
The song continues,
And as I grew
My Father helped me to see
That finding my own
Coat of faith is what I need.
The coat is symbolic for Chip's faith as a child -- the faith of his father, and his journey to finding his own faith.
Yet, just like Chip in the Nutshell, "My Dad's Coat" is the perfect description of the transformation of Chip's music and his faithfulness in the pursuit of sharing his gift.
It is a transformation he did not choose, yet it has created a perfect fit for his talent.
XFor more information about Chip Richter and his music go to www.chiprichter.com.