10 Minutes with Bill Kirchen
Now local ‘Stems & Seeds’ picker gets it
By Jim Caligiuri, 3:35PM, Wed. Sep. 4, 2013
Are you familiar with now Austinite, roots-rocking guitarist, and songman Bill Kirchen, whose new Stems & Seeds finds him re-cutting favorite songs with outstanding results? The Dieselbilly king, an Armadillo staple when he played with Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, appears at the Saxon Pub both Monday and Saturday next week.
Geezerville: The new album resembles a best-of in that you re-recorded some of your best known songs. Where did that idea come from?
Bill Kirchen: It really came from my current label Proper Records. I’ve done two records for them. The first one was using the Nick Lowe band, except with me fronting it instead of Nick. The second one was a duets albums involving all new original material, but with people I’ve played with through the years, like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Paul Carrack.
They wanted a third album referencing all the stuff that is still in the live set. Songs that I still do to this day, but for a variety of reasons I don’t have access to them on CD. So it puts a bow on it, and with the other two, everything I do live is available on CD.
G: You don’t have access to the albums you did with Hightone in the Nineties?
BK: Some of them I do. Some are out-of-print. They went to Shout! Factory. But they’re mostly out-of-print. I just wanted to have everything under one roof. And to be honest, I think we’re better now than we used to be. I’m a slow learner. Some guys figure it out by the time their 29. I’m in my mid-60s and now I’m saying, “I get it, I get it!”
G: Listening to the disc, I have to say that the guitar playing is fabulous. On a couple of the ballads, the solos are sweet and appropriate. It’s all what they used to call ‘in the pocket.’
BK: I appreciate that. One of the things I’ve gotten better at is guitar playing. It gives me focus and hope.
G: Most people are familiar with the song “Hot Rod Lincoln.” You’ve exploded that into something else over the years. When did the idea of imitating other players and injecting them into the song start? Where did that come from?
BK: It was just something to amuse the band live. For some reason we were sneaking the iconic beginning chords of “Folsom Prison Blues” into other songs. Years and years ago, I used to do it to wake up the band. At one point we were doing car sounds in the middle of the song, like a car horn or a bus full of hippies.
One day just on a whim I put Johnny Cash in there. That cracked us up and it was off to the races. It grabbed the attention of the audience, so we added four or five and stayed with that basic idea and order until we started adding more than guitar players, such as piano players like Carole King.
G: So you’re living in Austin now?
BK: I am, but you’d never know it because I’m on the road kind of heavy right now. My daughter’s here and I’ve got a granddaughter now. We love it here.
G: I love that you played on the recent Carper Family album.
BK: I love them. I think they’re just delightful. They’re so unique in some ways. I don’t see why they couldn’t do quite well for themselves.
G: It’s so laudable that great players in Austin with stature encourage younger musicians.
BK: It’s one of the things that makes Austin great. I did that soundtrack thing with Charlie Faye and emceed the Loretta Lynn pie social. I like the musical community here and I just wish I was home more.