All About Bill...

For the concise version click here.

Considering all the musicians who've come down the pike in the grand history of American roots music, only a handful can lay claim to a point in that timeframe that belongs to them - whether it's a song, a killer guitar solo, wailing vocal - and will forever be etched in the memories of music fans around the world. Bill Kirchen is one of the fortunate few who can step on any stage, play those trademark guitar licks which he created for that seminal Commander Cody classic, "Hot Rod Lincoln," and elicit smiles of contentment and hollers of joy from the audience. It's instant recognition and acknowledgement for a career that's spanned over 30 years and also includes in addition to his 10-year stint with Cody, performances with names like Nick Lowe, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Danny Gatton, as well as numerous side bands and five stellar albums under his own name with the rhythm section known as Too Much Fun.

Against the backdrop of the political and social consciousness of the mid-to-late 1960's, Bill Kirchen was based in one of the hotbeds of the movement: Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was also an exciting and heady time musically, as styles were blended and bended into what would become the anthem for the new generation. Into this climate in 1967, Kirchen helped form the perfect band for the times: Commander Cody & his Lost Planet Airmen, who played a collection of rock 'n' roll, hard-core country, boogie and rockabilly sounds produced in a high-octane mix that propelled them into the stratosphere of happening groups, especially when they re-located to the San Francisco Bay area in 1968.

During the course of the band's lifetime (1967-1976), Bill Kirchen played and sang on 10 Commander Cody albums, including their Top Ten single, "Hot Rod Lincoln," in 1972, which was powered by his twangy Telecaster (which he still plays!). The next 10 years included some Cody tours, as well as the formation of The Moonlighters, who went on to record two albums. One of these was produced by Nick Lowe, who introduced Kirchen to a bunch of his English mates, such as Elvis Costello, who also utilized Bill's tasty tones. Nick Lowe employed Kirchen on his Party of One (1991) and The Impossible Bird (1994) albums and then hired him to tour with Nick Lowe and his Impossible Birds in 1995.

Having moved to the Washington, DC, area in 1986, Bill also formed his own band early on, Too Much Fun, which features bassist Johnny Castle and drummer Jack O'Dell. They quickly became local favorites, winning 10 Washington Area Music Awards (Wammies) in 1996, including Musician and Songwriter of the Year. That same year, he also guested on Rig Rock Deluxe, a salute to truck driving songs, which hit the number one mark on the Gavin Americana chart. Bill had earlier made his first solo album debut on Black Top Records, with Tombstone Every Mile (1994) and Have Love Will Travel (1996). Bill Kirchen and Too Much Fun won Roots Rock Album (Raise A Ruckus) and Instrumentalist of the Year at the Washington Area Music Awards in 1999, took home five Wammies in 1998, including Musician and Artist of the Year, was a multiple winner in 1997 and received ten awards, including Songwriter of the Year the previous year.

Bill Kirchen's debut for HighTone Records came in September, 1997, with the release of Hot Rod Lincoln Live!, a sonic assault of rockabilly, honky-tonk, blues and hillbilly boogie, high- lighted by the title track, an incredible eight-minute tour-de-force of his guitar "impressions" of such guitarslingers as Jimi Hendrix, Link Wray, Duane Eddy, Merle Travis, the Kings (Albert, B.B. and Freddy), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bo Diddley and many others. Recorded in front of some very enthusiastic audiences at Maryland's Globe Theater, Hot Rod Lincoln Live! further cemented his reputation as one of the premier roots-rock guitarists of the day. "Seldom has traveling across the rock and country landscape been this much fun," said The Washington Post. "(Bill) cuts loose with some of the fattest, gnarliest low-down twang imaginable," hailed Guitar Player. On the heels of its release, the live album generated five more Wammie Awards for the band in 1998, including nods to Bill as Musician, Artist and Instrumentalist of the Year.

On his next album, Raise A Ruckus, Bill Kirchen teams up with good friend (and knock-out keyboard player) Austin de Lone as producer. de Lone's credits as a musician include - most prominently - work with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, as well as with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Recorded at Cherry Ridge Studio near San Antonio, the new album taps into the wellspring of influences which permeate that part of Texas: western swing, Louisiana swamp blues, honky-tonk, soul, Tex-Mex and rock 'n' roll. To achieve that sound, he's augmented the band with such guests as Grammy-winning accordion maestro Flaco Jimenez, fiddler Bobby Flores of Ray Price's band and the San Antonio Horns, best-known for their work with Doug Sahm. And Bill Kirchen matches the songs with guitar sounds that showcase not only his mastery of the instrument, but imbue them with a feel and nuance that complements every one.

And Kirchen has come up with a bunch of songs to showcase these sounds to great advantage. Included are three songs written by Bill's talented wife, Louise, herself a singer, who contributes "Fly On Your Jacket," a funky-rock tune; "Big Hat/No Cattle," a danceable bit of western swing; and "Dreamworld," a soulful border pop ballad that also features some standout acoustic guitar from Bill. Louise and Bill co-wrote the opening track, "Girlfriend," which was inspired by the innkeeper of a bed and breakfast spot where the two spent a romantic getaway. Among Bill's other originals are those that touch on several sounds: the title track, a mostly-biographical rocker about Bill's songwriting buddies; "Flip Flop," a bouncy, swampy tune with some twisty wordplay; "Man In The Bottom Of The Well" (co-written with Johnny Castle and Austin de Lone), a bluesy ballad; "Little Bitty Record" (co-written with de Lone), a fun-filled rockabilly raver; and "Interstate," an 18-wheeler rock 'n' road tune which extols the virtues of truckin'. Other songs of note include "She's A Yum Yum," one of the few non-originals on the album, written by Dallas Frazier and formerly recorded by Charlie Rich; and "True Love's The Treasure," written by one of Bill's friends - and favorite songwriters - Blackie Farrell.

With the release of Tied to the Wheel, his third album for HighTone Records, Bill Kirchen has reached a space of rarified air that very few pickers can attain. It's music that fits the lanky guitarist like a pair of well-worn boots. This is the music that he was born to make: roots/rock heavily steeped in traditional country music, honky-tonk, western swing, nitro-fueled rock 'n' roll and truck-driving songs. Tied to the Wheel is his most fully realized album to date, a perfect mixture of great covers and cool originals, all powered by his amazing fretwork that twangs better than anything on the road.

While his last album saw Kirchen making forays into Tex-Mex, soul and swamp blues, Tied to the Wheel is a return to his roots and the kind of music that really was the launching pad for his beginnings as a musician. Once again he's surrounded himself with songwriters and players he's known for many years and utilized many times in the past, so the comfort factor is huge and undeniable. Good buddy Blackie Farrell, who penned "Mama Hated Diesels," "Rockabilly Funeral" and "Sonora's Death Row" on previous Kirchen albums, contributes two songs: "One More Hour of Blues" and "Tryin' to Turn Her Memory Off." Another long-time friend, Austin de Lone - who produced Bill's last CD - joins in on keyboards for several tracks, and inspired Bill's take on Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," the album's closer, which has already become another live performance show-stopper. "Austin is the best piano player I know and downright dangerous on guitar and vocals," says Kirchen. "He was my partner in The Moonlighters and introduced me to Nick Lowe. This track is reminiscent of the sought-after frightful racket that Audie and I get when we do this together, guitar amps adjusted with a simple sweep of the forearm, knobs rotated to their full rockwise position."

The steel guitar work on Tied to the Wheel comes courtesy of two more pals, Tommy Detamore and Commander Cody alumnus Bobby Black. One of the album's many highlights is the high-lonesome version of the classic, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke," which Bill calls "undiluted honky-tonk." Co-written by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, it became a hit for Flatt and Scruggs in the '50s. "Joe Maphis was a major guitar inspiration for me," admits Kirchen. Joining in on lead vocals for the track is Dudley Connell, lead singer for the bluegrass group Seldom Scene. "He's one of the very finest singers I know," says Kirchen. "Dudley graciously looked the other way as I tried to filch some of his extra cool vocal chops."

Truck driving songs have always been a staple of Kirchen's repertoire, and the new disc has some of the best he's ever recorded. "Truck Stop at the End of the World," the opening cut, was co-written with Commander Cody in the mid-'80s. Bill calls it a "post nuclear diesel-billy epic. A late entry on the album, once we opened her up, she rolled right into first position." One of two Tommy Collins covers on the album (along with "Prison Band," an early Merle Haggard record), "Roll Truck Roll," is classic Bakersfield music. "It's the title cut on a Red Simpson record, the first truck driving stuff I ever heard and still one of my favorite albums," Bill states. Clay Blaker, who's also worked with Bill on earlier albums, co-wrote with him "Hillbilly Truck Driving Man," another gem of the genre. "Clay and I grabbed a-hold of an E chord and this is what came out," he explains. The title track, written by Joe New, is a truck driver's lament. "Its soulful sound hauled it around to the front cover and parked it in the title slot."

Western swing also gets its due on the album with "Quit Feeling Sorry For You," written by Bill and his wife Louise. "We recorded this and four others at The Site, a studio just down the road from Rancho Nicasio in northern California," remembers Kirchen, "where back in the day Naomi Judd waited tables and my band The Moonlighters played. Naomi will verify that her and Wynonna's first public performance was sitting in with us and singing "Working Man Blues" and "San Antonio Rose." Rounding out the album are two more songs that demonstrate Bill Kirchen's versatility and guitar talent: "Poultry in Motion," which enables him to have some chicken pickin' fun on the frets; and "How Mountain Girls Can Love," a bluegrass revelation that features Jack O'Dell on lead vocal and Johnny Castle on the high harmony part.

Tied to the Wheel is a testament and tribute to Bill Kirchen's everlasting talents as a musician. We're all lucky to hitch a ride on this road to honky-tonk heaven.

Bill Kirchen "Tied to the Wheel" Release Date: August 21, 2001

Booking & Publicity Contact: M&P Management (301) 855-2957 FAX (410) 257-1918
Email: BKirchen@aol.com

You can contact Bill Kirchen at BILL KIRCHEN.
To Top   To Bill's Home Page


CrosstownArts Toolbar