Kevin Gordon doesn’t fit your average pigeonhole. A first-rate singer/songwriter, he melds imagery-laden lyrics with melodies that range from rock and roll to soulful blues driven tunes that, together, paint a gritty portrait of small town life. He calls his style indie-swamp.
Kevin Gordon is coming to Myrtle Beach for an August 14 show, courtesy of music organization South By Southeast. This is chance to experience a gifted songwriter – up close and personal.
Born in Shreveport, La., Kevin Gordon grew up in nearby Monroe. Even as a kid, he was into music.
“Luckily my parents were into some pretty cool music, like Ray Charles,” he told me last week in a telephone interview.
“I had an early Elvis fixation. My first time onstage was in a third grade talent show. I did an Elvis impersonation.
“In high school, I joined what passed for a punk rock band in Monroe.”
He went on to study and earn a masters in fine art from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
This guy’s a poet. I mean a real, card-carrying poet.
It’s noteworthy that Kevin earned a degree in writing poetry, but pretty much taught himself to play the guitar. “It’s a weird collision of so-called low-brow with so-called high-brow,” he explains.“
Growing up in the south, blues was all around him, and although I wouldn’t consider Gordon a straight-up bluesman, the blues permeates his music.
“Blues is certainly there, in my work,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “It’s a strange hybrid. What drew me to blues was rhythm … John Lee Hooker’s right hand … I played a little gig last night in Indiana, and the blues stuff got people up and dancing.”
Talking about the process of songwriting, Gordon said, “I usually start with the musical idea; lyrics come later. Sometimes I hear the melody and I can hear the number of syllables before I have the words. People find that unusual because of the poetry thing, but that’s the way it seems to work out.”
When Gordon collaborates on a tune, it’s often with Syracuse, N.Y. native Gwil Owen. “I moved to Nashville in 1992,” Gordon says, and it took me awhile to find out where I was, musically and metaphorically. I met Gwil who became a great friend and collaborator.
Together, the two would write “Flowers,” which Irma Thomas included on her Grammy-winning album, After the Rain (Rounder, 2006). The duo also co-wrote “Deuce and a Quarter,” performed by rock legends Keith Richards, Levon Helm, Rick Danko and others for the Elvis tribute record, All the King’s Men.
Gordon’s songs have been covered by Ronnie Hawkins, Kate Campbell, Blackie & the Radio Kings and others.
He’s recorded three albums of his own:
Cadillac Jack’s #1 Son (Shanachie/Feb. 17, 1998). This one’s true Americana, complete with honky tonk blues and a rockabilly sound. Produced by Gary Tallent.
Down to the Well (Shanachie/Aug. 8, 2000). Produced by Bo Ramsey, Joe McMahan and Gordon.
O Come Look at the Burning Dig (Oct. 4, 2005), an intense and raw recording, in the same spirit as his live performances. Produced by Gordon and Joe McMahan.
The title track from his Down to the Well CD, a duet with Grammy-winner Lucinda Williams, was featured on two significant compilations: the 2001 Oxford American Southern Music Sampler, and No Depression: What It Sounds like, Volume 1, (Dualtone, 2004).
To say Kevin Gordon is a well-respected songwriter would be an understatement.
Here’s what Peter Cooper writer for The Tennessean had to say about Kevin last year:
“Every now and then, someone writes a great song and fellow songwriters curse themselves or not coming up with the same idea . . . . More rare, though, is the undeniably superb song that could only have come from one mind, and from one personʼs experience. Kevin Gordonʼs ʻColfaxʼ is that song. It clocks in at well over six minutes. Itʼs ostensibly about a kid in a marching band but winds up being about the heart of American darkness and the steel that it takes to move beyond. It is not yet on an album, and it will not be recorded by some famous country radio star. But we’ll empty your spit-valve for life if you ﬁnd us anything more stunning than ʻColfaxʼ in 2009, when Gordon moves it from stage to CD.” [Note: this disc, titled Gloryland, is currently being mastered. Release is expected later this year.]
Talking about “Colfax,” Gordon says, “Itʼs based on an experience from junior high. “This song, like others on the new record, draw from my memories of growing up in the land of strangeness that is northern Louisiana, during a time when this very provincial place was going thru post-civil-rights- movement growing pains with plenty of resistance from what was then a very powerful ʻold guardʼ. The song touches on a lot of different things, but ends up a celebration of the stoic heroism and determination of that band director and others like him.”
Gordon’s shows are known for their passion and high energy. “Well, you know, I come out of that punk rock thing. There’s always an edge. When I’m playing solo, there are two amps. I use a Gibson ES125, electric archtop. That’s how I make peace with playing solo.
“Acoustic is just a little too naked and it doesn’t reflect the songs, which come from a rock and roll place. And on ballads, if you play softly, it sounds acoustic, but if you lean on it, it sounds like John Lee Hooker 1949.”
This isn’t Gordon’s first gig with South By Southeast. He played in early 2000, when the music feasts were being held at the Brewery.
The folks at SxSE are all buzzing about Kevin’s return to the Frog. According to SxSE co-founder Sam Hannaford, now at the helm of South By Southeast since the unexpected death of former president Jeff Roberts, “Kevin Gordon was one of Jeff’s favorite musicians in the world, and the last time we spoke, it was about booking Kevin again. He was so excited to have him back! Kevin Gordon is world class. You’ve got to come out and hear this guy!”
According to Kevin Gordon, the feeling is mutual. He also tells me he’ll be bringing his latest CD, a compilation of live recordings, Salvage & Drift.
How poetic is that?
Tickets are $25 or $20 for annual SxSE concert subscribers. (Send an email with your name, number of tickets requested and membership status to email@example.com. Along with an incredible night of music, your ticket includes a potluck dinner and dessert, wine and beer from New South Brewery, soft drinks and coffee. Feasting begins at six o’clock and the music starts at seven.
The Train Depot is located at 851 Broadway, Myrtle Beach, S.C. For more information, log onto southbysoutheast.org.
Trust the Frog!