Great show last night!!!!!
Bill Kirchen Puts The Hammer Down
Legendary Guitarist Wows During Swing To Promote New CD ~ Hammer of The Honky Tonk Gods
By: J.C. Juanis
If you could find one place on earth where former Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen guitarist Bill Kirchen can call home musically, it would be Berkeley, CA. Then again, the same could easily be said of Ann Arbor, MI, Baltimore, MD, or Austin, Texas where the legendary twangbanger currently resides. But there is no mistaking the devotion that the Berkeley geezer crowds give Mr. Kirchen each and every time he swings through town playing the historic musical institution, The Freight & Salvage Coffee House. “The Freight”, as it’s affectionately known to the many devotees who routine flock to the venue that is more at home to folk and acoustic acts like Ralph Stanley, David Grisman, and Steve Forbert, and can be just as homey as a roadside honky tonk ~ at least for a night ~ when Bill Kirchen and his musical compadres delivered the kind of rockabilly, western swing, and good old time rock ‘n’ roll for the jammed packed, standing room only audience this past Wednesday evening.. Mr. Kirchen is playing a string of dates around the Bay Area and Northern California in support of his new CD ~ Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods (Proper American Recordings). The good news is that the “King of Dieselbilly” is in top - notch form.
In what felt like part high school reunion and part rockabilly revival, the aged 50 and above crowd afforded Mr. Kirchen a heroes welcome when he was introduced to the stage. There is a whole lot of history here for him, as Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airman made Berkeley their hone in the late sixties and early seventies tearing up such long gone beer joints such as Mandrakes and The Cabal and influencing everyone from the Grateful Dead and the New Riders of the Purple Sage, to Asleep at the Wheel who followed their western-swing heroes to Berkeley from old West Virginia. It seemed like there were many folks in the house who enjoyed that kind of history with Mr. Kirchen and he certainly returned the love, as well as some mighty fine music.
Opening the show by announcing that he would be playing the entire new CD ~ Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods, the place whooped it up. When was the last time you went to a show and the artist said that they would be playing all the selections for their new record and that’s happened? Mr. Kirchen then stated that afterwards he would accommodate the loud and boisterous crowd with their requests for “The Geezer Music.”
From the opening note of the first tune, “Hammer of the Honky -Tonk Gods,” it was evident that Mr. Kirchen was in fine form as he let his weathered Telecaster guitar do much of the talking while his musical compatriots: Austin deLone on grand piano, Claude Arthur on bass, and Tony Johnson on drums provided some walloping accompaniment If some of those names appear familiar, they should.~ as Mr. deLone and Mr. Johnson were members of Bill Kirchen’s post Commander Cody musical institution ~ The Moonlighters. Austin deLone, in particular, is always a joy to see and hear in any musical aggregation and Tony Johnson is a heck of a great songwriter in his own right.
While Mr. Kirchen will be performing this week at The Sweetwater in Mill Valley, and Slim’s in San Francisco, the Freight has a couple of thing that those other music venues don’t have: 1) a grand piano which Austin deLone took full advantage of, and 2) an audience who actually sits and listens. The charm about the Freight and Salvage is that it’s not a bar and the musicians always play for a very attentive; albeit reverent, audience instead of trying to compete with the din of a barroom crowd.
The first set flew by as the best of the songs from the new CD: Kevin “Blackie” Farrell’s “Skid Row in My Mind,” and Joe New’s classic “Soul Groovin’”had the crowd on their feet in ovation. Who could forget Mr. Farrell’s classic Cody tune “Mama Hated Diesels,” that Bill Kirchen used to sing with the classic Cody lineup. “Skid Row” is no less mournful. Mr. Kirchen’s twangy, emotive guitar playing gave each and every tune a passionate nudge that along with his down home singing style has kept him a hot commodity in these here parts. Throughout the evening Mr. Kirchen staked his claim as the greatest living Tele player and he certainly left no doubters in the house. In addition, Mr. Kirchen’s infectious “oh shucks” attitude won a lot of folks’ hearts too as he appeared to be genuinely surprised with the overwhelming response that was given to the new tunes. Mr. Kirchen closed his set with a raging rendition of the classic Commander Cody staple, “Hot Rod Lincoln.” As has often been reported, Mr. Kirchen’s brings to the classic Cody smash his own twist during the “That Caddy pulled over” part evoking the musical memories of his own guitar gods ranging from such musical diverse artists as Johnny Cash. The Sex Pistols, and Jimi Hendrix. This showstopper displayed Mr. Kirchen’s awesome guitar prowess if anyone hadn’t already been converted to it during the previous musical hour.
The second set consisted of classic Commander Cody numbers, and some tasty nuggets that were well worth the wait. Opening with “Truck Stop at the End of the World,” Mr. Kirchen showed off more of his awesome talents during Santo and Johnnie’s “Sleepwalk,” before proceeding to do a trilogy of, as he so aptly put it, “Substance abuse, alcohol, and general all around bad behavior,” before delivering world class renditions of “Wine Wine Wine (Do Your Stuff),” “Semi Truck,” and “Seed and Stems Again,” that had folks shedding tears in their lattes. Mr. Kirchen recalled seeing Bob Dylan performing acoustic when he was collage student in Ann Arbor in 1963 as that introduction lead into two phenomenal versions of “Just Like Tom Thumb Blues, “ and “It Take a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry.” “Tom Thumb”, in particular, featured a duet between Mr. Kirchen and Mr. de Lone that was nothing short of sensational. Succumbing to calls from the audience to have Tony Johnson sing his million selling smash “Midnight in Memphis,” it was clearly evident just how deep that the band that Mr. Kirchen had assembled truly was. The new CD features an array of equally luminous musical figures such as bassist Nick Lowe, and pedal steel mistress Cindy Cashdollar, but having these old friends play before a very appreciative, almost local crowd of family and old friends, was spiritually uplifting. Closing with the old Cody favorite, “Too Much Fun,” Mr. Kirchen was determined to give the fans what they wanted. The encore of “Streets of Baltimore”, was no less evocative and a fitting end to one of the most satisfying shows that I’ve seen in a good, long time.
Bill Kirchen performs tonight at The Sweetwater in Mill Valley, Friday at Slims in San Francisco, Saturday at The Palms @ The Opera House in Winters, CA, at Don Quixote’s in Felton, CA on Friday, February 9th, and at The Last Day Saloon in Santa Rosa on Sunday, February 11th. For those of you too old to leave the house Bill Kirchen and Friends will perform live on KPIG radio this Sunday morning.
You’ve been warned.
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Bill cooks, is one of the nicest guys in the business hands down and has a mischievous prankster spirit to boot. Go see him and encourage him to get up to the Pacific Northwest soon!
Sweet! Thanks for the review. He's coming to Boston on 2/23 and I'll be there. It's a Friday night too, so I can join Bill in some general all around bad behavior myself!
Cool! Bill and gang are coming to the bar that I work at (Zoo Bar, Lincoln,NE.) next month. His hows are always a blast!