Will Kimbrough – Singer-songwriter Wears Many Musical Hats


Kimbrough - He's a musician, not a policy-maker.Kimbrough – He’s a musician, not a policy-maker.

Of all the syndromes that could potentially afflict Will Kimbrough, lack of ambition is clearly not among them. After all, one doesn’t nab the Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year Award (which he won three years ago) by sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. Kimbrough keeps his irons in multiple fires, serving as producer, session and touring guitarist and songwriter for Todd Snider, Kate Campbell, Josh Rouse, Rodney Crowell, Joe Ely, Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Steve Forbert, Billy Joe Shaver, Amy Rigby, Jack Ingram and Jimmy Buffett.

Those activities alone would be enough to keep most creative individuals engaged and their daily planner sufficiently packed, but Kimbrough has managed to carve out not only a band profile (with the late, lamented Will and the Bushmen and the Bis-Quits and currently with Daddy, the latter two with quirky singer-songwriter Tommy Womack) but also an acclaimed roots/rock solo career, with five releases to his credit including his most recent, the eight-song (EP).

Given Kimbrough’s manic work ethic, the release of (EP) begs the question of why he didn’t just throw in a few more tunes and make it (LP). In fact, according to Kimbrough, it was exactly that before some rethinking took place.

“I actually pushed it up to 12 or 13 songs,” says Kimbrough. “Originally we weren’t going to spend money promoting this record, so we decided not to use up songs that we might use on a full-length. We’re the label – we hire the publicist and the radio promotion person and we have to watch it. We’re a little family label and so we have to make good choices. And I think we made a good choice in putting out this record.”

The fact is that (EP) was planned as a merch-table exclusive and was never intended to be sold in stores, but the response to the mini-album proved too positive to ignore.

“It sort of took on a life of its own, which was nice,” says Kimbrough. “The distributor called us in and said, “We want this record.’ We were just going to sell it at gigs, mainly just as something for fans and a reason to keep touring. I was starting to get some momentum touring and we wanted to have something new.”

Kimbrough’s touring momentum was jammed into high gear last summer with the release of Americanitis, a collection of politically scathing songs that he had been penning throughout the Bush administration’s first term. The glowing notices and enthusiastic fan response kept Kimbrough on the road for a good deal of last year and the reaction to (EP) seems to be equally positive.

“Maybe I could even have the regret that I didn’t make it a full-length, but everybody likes it and it does seem to have a focus,” says Kimbrough. “We do live in a world of downloading. I did it just the other day. I bought like 10 songs by 10 different people, because I really like to do that.”

Two of (EP)’s songs, “Interstate” and “Half a Man,” actually date to the Americanitis sessions, but were held because they didn’t quite fit with the album’s very specific theme. (EP)’s closing track, “Love Is the Solution,” could have been a nice wrap-up to Americanitis but Kimbrough notes that it was written in response to some comments that were made to him in the wake of the album last year.

“After I put that record out, I had some friends from the other side of the political fence say to me, “You’ve complained about things – you people always bitch about stuff and never offer any solutions.’ You could make policy suggestions but philosophically, I’m a musician, not a policy wonk, at least professionally. So the only thing I could come up with is to look at your enemy as an opportunity to practice your tolerance and compassion. That’s very Buddha, very Jesus.”

More than anything, (EP) was a respite from the way Kimbrough has worked in the past, returning from weeks on tour and holing up in the studio for long and intense hours to craft new songs for a fresh album. Two of (EP)’s tracks have a long history: “Horseshoe Lake” is a song Kimbrough wrote with Todd Snider for Snider’s sophomore album, and “Godsend” has been around for a decade, coming out finally as the title track on Kimbrough’s 2002 odds-and-sods collection. The relaxed manner in which (EP) came together made a nice experience for Kimbrough.

“It’s always fun but it can be mentally exhausting and you put a lot of pressure on yourself, and it’s kind of ridiculous,” says Kimbrough. “Maybe it comes with age that you don’t take it as seriously. I don’t know if that’s good press or not. Maybe I’m supposed to be filled with angst and maybe I should mention that I quit drinking but I made the rock- star-wannabe mistake of not going to rehab, and I don’t have that story for you. But that’s kind of an old story anyway; it works better for young girls now. Maybe I’ll go out without my underwear on some night and try to drum up a story here. There’s nothing more boring than a grown-up man with a family, but here I am.”

For a release that wasn’t intended for a wider audience, (EP) has certainly found one; it’s currently in the Americana radio chart’s Top 20, book-ended by Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles. Kimbrough is surprised not only by the response to (EP) but by the chart company that it’s keeping.

“I’m two notches above Merle Haggard, and it actually breaks my heart to see that I’m eight notches above Chuck Prophet, because he’s a pop genius. He really seems like someone that Tom Petty should give a million dollars to get off the ground.”

This line of thinking sends Kimbrough on a logical tangent about the state of the music industry, not from a sales or marketing standpoint, but from a practical talent supply perspective.

“I wonder as a music fan, where are we going to get the next Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, the stand-bys that we’ve given our cash to for their great work and now they have these long careers and we can always go see them,” he says. “So I’m wondering how that’s going to happen, but that’s okay. Music goes on.”

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