Written by James Killen
Aug 15, 2013 at 07:00 PM
ImageThere are several old vinyl LP’s by Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen residing in my rarely accessed archives and I have been listening to the radio play live versions of Bill Kirchen playing “Hot Rod Lincoln” for years. This time when Bill came through town, I had the good fortune to be able to line my schedule up to see him at the Mucky Duck. When I think about the people that Bill has played with (Nick Lowe, Emmy Lou Harris, Elvis Costello and Doug Sahm, to name a few) and his longevity in the business, I feel especially lucky to be able to have seen him in such an intimate setting.

Bill started his show off with an ode to the Telecaster, his weapon of choice, called “Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods”. He followed up with a country shuffle selection from his latest CD, “Seeds and Stems”, called “Tell me the Reason”. It was the third song of the set before the dieselbilly standard, “Semi-Truck” was brought out. The original name of the song was “Here I Sit with a Broken Heart- I Took Three Bennies and my Semi Truck won’t Start”.

The title track of “Seeds and Stems” with its traditional country sound and chords that brought to mind a Marty Robbins tune, was next and could have played on any traditional country station with the omission of a single phrase from the refrain. Bill kicked up the rock and roll factor next with “I Ain’t Never Had Too Much Fun”.

The band went on to show just how diverse a set they could play with the title track to Bill’s duets album, ”Word to the Wise”. It was a jazzy number, originally recorded with Dan Hicks, that tonight featured Kirchen playing both guitar parts and David Carol (stand-up bass) and Jack O’Dell (drums) taking turns at lively jazz solos. He also played a bluesy selection from that album called “I Ain’t Got Time for the Blues” (originally recorded with Maria Muldar).

Bill set aside a moment for Jack O’Dell to do his original “The Lawyer” which featured the CW themed double meaning in the line, “I might have been a lawyer, but I couldn’t pass the bar.” Kirchen took over the vocals again with a heavy rock, “There’s a Man at the Bottom of the Well” and a heartfelt rendition of Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry”. The band finished the first set up with a blazing version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” with all of the trimmings.

ImageThe second set continued with Kirchen and company churning out the country and rockabilly. They played Bill’s old trucker ghost story, “From the Womb to the Tomb” and the just glad to be alive, “Bump Wood”. He did his swamp pop tribute to Jimmy Donley, performing “Think It Over” and rocked out on “Poor, Poor Man”. It’s amazing to watch Kirchen and his mastery of the instrument. He uses very few effects and keeps them simple, like rolling the tone knob on his Tele back and forth.

The band touched on several cover songs including Ronnie Self’s “Got My Home in My Hands”, which many might remember as a Foghat regular. The show continued with Kirchen’s “Rockabilly Funeral” and all of its glitzy imagery and Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changing” featuring a rousing guitar solo.

Bill led the band into the well-worn blues classic, “Milk Cow Blues”. Bill and David set their instruments down and it seemed that Jack would slowly drum them off of the stage, when Bill with a purple trombone and David with a sousaphone marched back to the stage for a real New Orleans style end to the show.

It’s hard for me to imagine that I’ve waited this long to see such a high energy master of his instrument churn it up like he did Thursday night. Bill Kirchen seems to make the trip through town about once a year to take his audience on a tour of musical genres, past and present, gentle and rough but always in good fun, because Bill ain’t never had too much fun. Ya’ll have fun. We do. (Many heartfelt thanks to Page Keller for providing the photos when my camera had technical difficulties).