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The Eclectic Sound of Bill Kirchen
By Walter Tunis
Since he has spent the better part of his life onstage, Bill Kirchen figured it
was about time to make a concert album. After all, there is no more exact way to
translate a lifetime in music to an audience -- whether it's made up of
veteran fans that cheered Kirchen on as the guitar voice of Commander Cody and his
Lost Planet Airmen in the '70s, longstanding rockers that caught his recent tours
and records with British rocker Nick Lowe, or younger crowds that have picked up
onKirchen through roots music and alternative country channels.
"I've spent 10 to 1, maybe 95 to 5... no, 99 to 1 more time on stage than I ever
have in a studio," Kirchen said. And what tune better to illuminate the new record
than the trademark Cody single that Kirchen's hillbilly swing guitar fire helped
make a hit in 1972, "Hot Rod Lincoln." On the just released Hot Rod Lincoln...
Live!, Kirchen gives new and old fans alike a capsule summary of the rockabilly,
country,blues and honky tonk gusto that have long ignited his music.
"This stuff always just flips me out," Kirchen said. "So we really tried to pull
the gloves off on his latest album." While scores of musical greats have helped
fuel his career, it was with Cody that the sass and twang of Kirchen's guitar
playingfirst took root. Kirchen recorded such esteemed early '70s albums as Lost
in the Ozone with Cody and still plays occasional concerts with him.
"Cody was pretty much the ground floor of my musical education," Kirchen said.
"We were pretty good at beating up audiences and riling them up. It was a good
live band and we were used to ecstatic responses. "I've come to expect that kind
of response. In fact, it's kind of difficult for me today when I'm involved in a
project where you're not expected to create that kind of energy. I'm kind of an
Even though Kirchen has been dishing out those lightning-fast licks to "Hot Rod
Lincoln" for more than 25 years, he by no means wishes to live the present by
reliving the past. A case in point is the new version of the tune that winds up
on the live album. It's been transformed from the sly, Texas-tilted country of
the '70s into an extended and exhaustive medley where Kirchen shows off
stylistic impressions of, among others, Duane Eddy, Link Wray, Buck Owens, Jimi
Hendrix and The Sex Pistols. Instead of reliving the song as it was, he has
rock 'n' roll anthem of the ages. "I just don't think of this music as, 'Aw,
boy, in the good ol' days...' I don't do that. "I don't try to re-create this
stuff. We may play rockabilly, but any purist will tell you that it's not
rockabilly in any true sense. I love Buck Owens records, but there's no
point in me trying to duplicate them. What I'm trying to do is re-create my own
enthusiasm about the music -- to convey my love of it all."
Some of the biggest joy Kirchen experiences on the road today is when younger
audiences pick up not only on his music for the first time, but when they get an
initial taste of the musical influences that so inspired him at an equally young
age. "I first heard this music over 30 years ago," Kirchen said. "That's when I
got my first Red Simpson and Bob Wills records and my old Elvis records. And for
me, it's so neat to see people who just didn't know that this music existed."
"A kid came out to see me recently. He's some speed-metal player. A hair farmer.
He was 16 and somehow just latched onto me. He just loved the music. And I thought
if this guy wants to go to the trouble to seek out this kind of music and
eventually even play it, I feel it's my duty to encourage him. Watching someone
coming out of such a brand new perspective is just incredible." (1997).
BILL KIRCHEN with JOHNNY & JACK
HOT ROD LINCOLN - LIVE! ON HIGHTONE RECORDS
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Owings, MD 20736 USA
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