…has been hot on the trail of his dream sound for a lifetime. But though he’s been widely acknowledged for years as perhaps as a talented and proficient guitarist working in the blues tradition, he’s also been recording music that at times pushes the sonic boundaries into new musical stratospheres. But he is his own sternest critic.
Not until the release of Under the Influence of Rock & Roll, the new album he has just created, has Kenny Kilgore been able to concede with pride, “I think this is the first album that really captures what I am about”.
As a child and after playing the 45 records of James Browns ‘Papa’s Got a New Bag’ and Johnny Rivers ‘Secret Agent Man’ over and over, it became clear that just listening to music no longer satisfied him – he had to make it for himself. ”You are a musician because you are born a musician,” he firmly believes.
Kenny Kilgore got his first guitar at the age of 6 and took a couple of lessons. “I could only play three chords, G, C and D7. That’s all I knew for about 4 or 5 years”. But it wasn’t until he was 10 years old that he started to go see/hear some major rock acts that he got serious in his quest to play the instrument. It was a time when rock guitar filled the FM air waves. And much of the music always featured a lead/solo type of guitar playing in which he found very interesting. It was during this very formative time that his father took him to see Roy Buchanan at The Great Southeast Music Hall. “I remember thinking to myself, how in the world does this guy get all of those strange sounds and tones from just an old Telecaster and a Fender amp? After the show I was able to meet him. He was very kind and encouraging to me as a young guitar player. If I recall correctly, he told me he had a son about my age. Sadly, I never saw him again. Years later in August 1988, after pulling an all-nighter recording session at Studio One in Doraville Georgia, I heard the news that he had died”.
Kenny Kilgore was in his first band by the age of 12. They copied rock and roll songs that were being played on FM radio at that time. “We were not all that good really, but it was something. And something was so much better than nothing”. From there he played in quite a few pop bands that always had gigs. “I worked at a music store during the day and played in a band at night. This went on for a few years. One of the bands was quite professional with a band leader, a musical arranger and road crew etc. And I did learn what it takes to be in a professional band, which had to deliver a good show on a nightly basis”. But after a while that grew very unrewarding for him musically. He knew there had to be a better way to use the guitar to make modern music.
It was around this time that Kenny became completely engrossed by the music of Robert Johnson, Albert King, and Muddy Waters. “Muddy Waters created such a style, which, after you hear it, you feel its influence. If you hypothetically took Muddy Waters out of the musical equation that we now take for granted, you would be left with an empty bag with very little rock and roll music in it”.
In the spring of 1991, he started his first blues band “The Stratocrusiers”, creating a buzz in the southern blues circuit. It was then that he became deeply influenced by T- Bone Walker, Albert Collins, and Magic Sam. “That was a time of learning and really working hard on my sound and technique. We opened shows for a lot of blues/rock acts that came through Atlanta in those days”. Some of the most notable acts were The Nighthawks, Bobby Blue Bland, Paul Rodgers and the late Danny Gatton. “I remember the Danny Gatton show very well. He played with over the top chops and burned the rug right off the floor! It was crazy. He played slide guitar parts with a beer bottle just for kicks. He was a serious player but was able to add a lot of humor to his style. And right before the show, Jay Montrose, his guitar tech at the time, handed me Danny’s custom shop gold Fender Telecaster to play while I was in our dressing room. The guitars string action was set up fairly high but it played, at least to me, really good. It was then that I noticed that Scotty Moore carved his name with a pocket knife right on the face of the guitar! Who better, right”? The Stratocrusiers are now a faded memory to most people, but the memories generated from that experience played a pivotal role in shaping the ‘sound quest’ that keeps Kenny driven to make great music today. But as with most guitarists, he was never content on just one way of playing the guitar.
Moving forward in Kenny Kilgore’s musical journey included a two-year, 125,000 mile, seemingly nonstop tour with his old friend Tinsley Ellis. “I had known Tinsley from my very early days of playing guitar. He was just enough older than me that he already knew a lot of songs and was really getting his sound together. I was impressed by that”. That musical union shared concert bills with BB King, Lonnie Mack, Anson Funderbourgh, Johnny Lang, Commander Cody and even the classic rock band Foghat. Also that tenure yielded the Telarc album release ‘Hell or High Water’ produced by the famed Yes, Dixie Dregs and Rory Gallagher producer Eddie Offord. “That album was a blast to make. We, as a band, were so tight, so well prepared that it went by in a complete rush. It only took seven days to record and mix the entire album! Today I laugh when other bands/artists take forever to make an album. From my experience, it’s not supposed to be that way. If it takes too long, you’re obviously doing something wrong. Or even worse, you should not be recording an album in the first place”! Tour support for the album included a tour through Spain with headlining Madrid Spain’s famous Jazz Terrassa festival. “Strange when you think about it, we went to Spain to play guitar. The fact is, the guitar, as we know it, has its roots deeply embedded in Spain. Case in point, the standard way the guitar is tuned (E, A, D, G, B, E) is referred to as ‘Spanish Tuning’. Enough said”.
It was around this time, their mutual friend, guitarist Mike Lorenz passed away. He was the guitarist in ‘The Shadows’, the house band at the blues venue Blind Willies in Atlanta Georgia. After accepting an invitation to join that band, Kenny Kilgore has been fortunate enough to share the stage with many legendary blues and roots music pioneers. A short list would include Billy Boy Arnold, Lazy Lester, Snooky Pryor, Floyd Dixon, Jimmy McCracklin, Mojo Buford, Chicago Bob Nelson, Tommy Brown, Arthur Duncan, Wanda Jackson, Wild Child Butler, Terry Nelson, Sam Lay, Maria Muldaur, Francine Reed, Sandra Hall, Chick Willis, Eddie Sawyer, Sweet Betty Journey, Bob Margolin, Big Bill Morganfield, Luther Johnson, John Primer, Sleepy La Beef, George Hughley, Louisiana Red, Mickey Champion, Kenny ‘Boss’ Wayne, and Eddie Tigner just to name a few. “When you play with all these different blues artists, you’re exposed to so many different styles of blues music that you would probably not even become that aware of. And one of the best parts is ‘rising to the occasion’. That is, when you are on stages with these enormously talented people that were playing this music before you were even born! You have to play it with authenticity as well as with a lot of feeling”. And with that it gave Kenny the courage to forge into other musical horizons.
Kenny Kilgore explains “Listening to Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck made me aware of the limitless possibilities of the guitar as a music-making instrument. They really showed me how to make ethereal, beautiful music. They just didn’t play a bunch of cliché licks repeatedly”. But there again, Kenny realized he could no longer be content within the limitations that any one style imposed, and he resolved to explore his own individual musical destiny. That destiny is now best represented with his new album titled Under the Influence of Rock & Roll.
Under the Influence of Rock & Roll is an album that has emphasis on grooves and melody in which the guitar is featured in a modern yet classic style. Being that it is an instrumental album, he knew the guitar tones had to dominate the listener’s ear differently from song to song. The lead guitar was now, in effect taking on the role as lead vocalist and story teller.
“I think this album is the most atmospheric yet earthy thing I’ve ever done recording-wise. That earthiness is something that’s always been there and I’ve taken for granted. But this time I’ve thought more about the way I wanted it to come across. And what type of guitar tones would be best suited to fulfill those duties”.
Credit for the many unique guitar tones of the latest recording goes to an unorthodox mix of special recording techniques that co-producer Jeff Tomei and Kenny worked out specifically while recording the album. It’s a ‘trade secret’ that they both refuse to divulge.
“To sum the album up, in terms of style, I’d say it would probably be a toss-up between the songs Hippopotamus and Lowriders. Hippopotamus has it all, the melody, the groove, the build-up and crescendo, and a greasy, swampy slide guitar. But Lowriders has the mean guitar tone(s) with tons of raw power! It’s a real ‘blow the doors off’ kind of song. In fact, Lowriders is the song that the album title was diverged from. It has been known to make folks drive very fast! But that’s another story, for another time. Being in a recording studio (making the album) is just that, you are confined to a recording studio. It’s the canvas in which you create your art. Playing live is my medium. I really enjoy playing music in front of a live audience more than anything else. Audiences don’t realize this, but they are a part to the music as well. Music can be very elusive at times, and I feel that when I’m playing. When it’s great playing, it’s very spiritual, almost religious in a way. Other times, well, you just have to work a little harder to get there. Nevertheless, it’s all a part of the musical journey that musicians impart upon. All I know, I have never wanted to succeed with anything, as much as wanting to make great music.”
Thanks to his new studio magic, Kenny Kilgore now has another edge in the quest for his dream sound of a lifetime.