Women in Vinyl Logo

Ricki Friedmann

Vinyl DJ, Rockin Ricki

We are starting off the year with Chicago-based vinyl DJ, sonic storyteller, and creative healer Ricki Friedmann aka DJ Rockin' Ricki. Her love for vintage music (and vintage everything) runs deep. While her musical interests span many decades, her focus is on the 50s-70s on genres such as soul, RnB, funk, rockabilly, country-western, and garage rock. Women in Vinyl had the pleasure of having Ricki spin at our event in Chicago last year, and she does so at various venues in the city, as well as occasionally organizing and co-producing vinyl events. "Whether it's curating the mood at a cocktail bar or providing the soundtrack to a vintage dance party, I find immense joy in sharing the music that feeds my soul. My mission is to help others reconnect with the inner rhythms of their body, encouraging a sense of embodiment in our increasingly fast-paced world. My favorite tools for healing and community-building are music, movement, and food. Every time I spin my records, it is my great hope that I can help people reconnect with the part of themselves that is soft, earthy, and expressive. Dancing is medicine!

When she isn't behind the decks Ricki loves exploring her city, whether that's live music, trying out a new plant-based restaurant, or spending time along Lake Michigan. "Summer in Chicago is especially blissful with all of our farmer’s markets, street festivals, and beautiful beaches. Some of my other hobbies include cooking, reading, writing, pilates, and simply soaking up life with my loved ones." She is also in the process of furthering her long-time passion for holistic wellness and healing nutrition by becoming certified as a holistic health coach. Her goal is to guide people on their journey back to wholeness using natural, earth-based healing modalities that integrate old and new.

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

I've always been a huge music lover, thanks in large part to my dad. Whether it was playing his beloved accordion or listening to Marty Robbins on a road trip, he was always playing music – to this day, we still love exploring and talking about music together. I have an early memory of sitting beside him at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and feeling the profound effect that not only the music itself had on me, but the experience of feeling its energy together with a group of strangers that – without even speaking to one another – suddenly felt like friends. I experienced a deep knowing that I wanted to carry that feeling forward.

I spent time dabbling in the music industry in my early twenties, first at a record label and then in publishing. As I grew older, going out dancing at vinyl nights and rockabilly weekenders became a favorite activity of mine. I was exceptionally drawn to the obscure passion and energy that radiated from the DJs and the sense of community and catharsis that I discovered on the dance floor. As my personal collection grew, so too did my desire to bring my records outside of my living room and into the world, where I could share them with people in a live setting.

What is a day in the life like?

During the week, my mornings and afternoons are focused on my work in fundraising and operations at a non-profit. My days vary greatly from one to another, but they are nearly always punctuated with walks, pilates, and breath-work. Spending time in my kitchen is deeply therapeutic to me, so at least part of each day is also spent cooking or preparing nourishing food (usually while dancing to records!).

In the evenings, you can find me prepping records or coordinating logistics for an upcoming gig, advancing my knowledge in the holistic wellness space, delving into a rabbit-hole of musical research, or reading a good book. Of course, I always carve out space each week for spending quality time with the special people in my life.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you've worked on?

It's hard to choose a favorite event or project that I've been involved in, but Heart of Chicago Soul Club (HCSC) is definitely up near the top. HCSC is an all-vinyl, women-led soul night that Debbie Benjamin-Koller (friend, soul sister, and fellow DJ) started in Summer 2023. We had started Amplified Chicago together at Golden Dagger in 2021, which was a Sunday afternoon vinyl listening/dance party featuring "mod" genres like soul, RnB, reggae, and psych, and that event sort of set the groundwork for HCSC. The HCSC kick-off party was a smashing success — the night really evoked the feel of a classic Northern Soul club in the early 70s, complete with a shiny wooden dance floor full of people who came together to dance their hearts out to vintage soul music all night long. I'm STILL floating from that night!

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

Finding the time and energy to do it! Given that I have a full-time day job, pursuits within the holistic wellness space, and other varied interests – as well as the desire to carve out time for those vital human needs such as "rest" and "community" – it can sometimes be hard to pour as much time into DJing as I’d like. But it's all about balance: I very much believe that life is cyclical, so I go through phases where I’m devoting more time to DJing and phases where I’m devoting less time to it, and I’m at peace with the ebb and flow of that! Music and the vinyl community remain constant threads in my life and continue to ground me no matter what.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

If the idea of collecting records, DJing, starting your own dance party, or opening a record store sets your soul on fire, follow that feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help! To me, this field is all about community and collaboration — not competition. 

If the idea of collecting records, DJing, starting your own dance party, or opening a record store sets your soul on fire, follow that feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help! To me, this field is all about community and collaboration — not competition.

I feel so grateful for all the support I received when I asked people for help along the course of my journey. I am still learning everyday. We all have so much to share and learn from one another.

Find solace in the knowledge that there are no rules. Play the genres you want to play, in the formats you prefer to play them. Build your dream and speak your truth. As a dear friend once told me, “This is your art.” It took me awhile to realize that there is no right or wrong way – the only true way is YOUR way. If you follow the path of your inner creative fire, that energy will radiate from you and uplift everyone around you.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?

Yes! Like many people, I inherited records from my dad and started collecting them in earnest when I was in high school. I was surrounded by vinyl enthusiasts in college due to my major, and my stint at a record label involved organizing a vinyl library, lovingly packing and shipping TONS of records, and gaining insight into the process of reissuing vinyl.

Vinyl – especially 45s – is heavily lauded within the genres (and their adjacent subcultures) that I’m most drawn to. From vintage-style “record hops” to 60s/mod nights, the DJs were always spinning records every time I went out dancing, further fueling my penchant for vinyl. So I guess my becoming a record collector happened pretty organically. Owning a tangible representation of a song or album that resonates deeply with me is a true gift that I don’t take for granted.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.

It’s been cool to see more “Open Decks” and bring-your-own-vinyl events popping up around Chicago and beyond, making DJing more inviting and accessible. I’m also excited about the future of eco-friendly vinyl and inspired by the pressing plants who are pioneering this concept.

Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry? 

BIG shoutout to DJ Cher (Toronto), a soul sister and huge source of inspiration who has encouraged and supported me from the very beginning. DJ Bailey (NYC) who shared her wisdom and offered a tremendous amount of encouragement when I was just starting out, and of course fellow Chicago soul sister DJ Debbie, who I've had the joy of hosting and DJing alongside for the past few years. And also to my dad, who has rooted for me from day one and literally taught me how to drop a needle in the groove.

Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you're listening to: 

I've been listening to a lot of contemporary soul-infused, bluesy rock n roll... from bands like Detroit-based Sugar Tradition that lean more on the psychedelic side, to groups like Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats that have more of a country/roots vibe. I love finding modern bands that take retro influences and twist them into new and exciting shapes.

As far as music that's ACTUALLY vintage, I've been adoring Linda Martell for the past year, a little-known country-western singer from the 60s and 70s. She was the first Black solo female artist to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Her first and only album, "Color Me Country," was remastered in 2022 and I've been spinning it nonstop ever since. There's a documentary in the making about her life and I'm eagerly awaiting its release!


Follow Ricki

We hope you enjoyed this content! If so inclined please donate so we can continue bringing you more like this. There is no amount too small.