Kirk Fletcher plugs in his guitar and lets out the weight of the world. With every string bend and sustained vocal, the Los Angeles-born and Nashville-based singer, guitarist, and producer summons the spirit of classic Blues spun with his own fresh fire.
It’s why he’s been tapped to complement everyone from Joe Bonamassa to The Fabulous Thunderbirds on stage or in the studio. It’s why he’s received several nominations for the Blues Music Award. It’s why he’s covered Living Blues Magazine and incited the applause of Guitar World, Guitar Player, Guitar and more. It’s why he’s amassed a beloved solo discography streamed millions of times.
It’s also why his seventh full-length album, Heartache By The Pound, scorches as much as it does. Produced by Fletcher at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, it proudly affirms him as a preeminent 21st Century Bluesman.
“Every time I pick up a guitar, I get down to business and play with a whole lot of soul,” he notes. “I’ve been doing it my whole life, so it’s an extension of who I am. It’s like a personal PA system to make things louder and put that soul out there. Every note is a continuation of my childhood, growing up in church, and all of the things I love. That’s what’s most important to me about guitar playing. At the end of the day, I’m just a Blues man.”
Born and raised in Bellflower, CA, he built a foundation for the Blues in the Compton church where his father served as pastor. Inspired by his older brother Walter (seventeen years Kirk’s senior), he cut his teeth in front of the congregation, playing guitar regularly in the church until his early twenties. He eventually wound up touring as a guitarist in Kim Wilson’s Blues Revue and recording on Wilson’s Smokin’ Joint , which garnered a GRAMMY® Award nomination.
In between live guest spots for Cyndi Lauper and Michelle Branch, he performed on The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Painted On. Other various highlights spanned a stint in The Mannish Boys and handling lead guitar for Eros Ramazzotti. He joined Bonamassa for legendary performances and live records, including Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks and Live at the Greek Theater. The latter notably bowed at #1 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart.
Meanwhile, Kirk’s solo offering, Hold On, cracked the Top 15 of the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart and garnered a nod in the category of “Best Contemporary Blues Album” at the 2019 Blues Music Awards.
The follow-up My Blues Pathway arrived to widespread acclaim. Guitar World put it best, “there’s a sweetness and authenticity to his approach that screams class.”
While living in Switzerland during the pandemic, he spent time crate digging, picking up European pressings of Blues and Soul records. At the same time, he wrote Heartache By The Pound, collaborating with friend and legendary bassist Richard Cousins, as a primary co-writer.
“I got back to my gospel and blues roots,” he explains. “I really wanted to do a Blues record, so I sat down and allowed the songs to take over. I was listening to all of this music and thinking of Albert King. He’s playing in a Soul band, but he’s still a Blues man. I’m a Blues man, and I write about life. That’s the concept.”
In order to cut the album, he retreated to hallowed ground at FAME Studios for three days. He would be joined by everyone from drummer Terrence F. Clark and keyboardist, Reese Winans to Joe Sublett on sax, Mark Pender on trumpet, Jade MacRae on backing vocals, and Randy Bermudas and Travis Carlton on bass.
“FAME is the mother church for Soul music,” he smiles. “It’s the same building where all of these fantastic people like Otis Rush and Aretha Franklin have recorded. I wanted the vibe. I needed to bring these songs there.”
Now, he opens the album with the single “Shine A Light on Love.” Horns pipe up in the background in a call-and-response with his smooth fretwork. His robust vocals echo on the bold refrain backed by a choir-style counterpoint.
“It started with the first line, ‘The prize ain’t always something you can hold in your hand’,” he recalls. “Sometimes, you want instant gratification through social media, but the process is the real reward. You’re in it, and you’re creating. It’s more important to think of the people around you and make them smile. The tune reflects upon my life and how I’ve lived. Instead of talking about glamour and how many followers you have, let’s shine a light on love.”
Elsewhere, the title track “Heartache By The Pound” conjures a warm spirit with nostalgic lyrics and simmering playing.
“My family is from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and I remember visiting them as a kid,” he goes on. “My uncle would play Little Milton and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. Everyone felt good. The song has the feeling of a summer barbecue in the South. Blues music comforts you. We all go through heartache, but we have people like myself who make music to help us through.”
He breathes new life into Tarheel Slim’s “Wildcat Tamer” with a raucous and rocking rendition. Then, there’s “Afraid to Die, Too Scared to Live” where he ponders life’s struggles with another soul-shaking vocal and tight riffing. The album culminates on “Hope For Us.” His upbeat lyrics give way to one final heavenly solo.
“It talks about a relationship where you’re drifting apart, and it crumbles right before your eyes,” he elaborates. “‘Hope For Us’ speaks for itself in a way. I tried to tie in those lyrics with the solo. That’s the way I grew up playing in church, accompanying super emotional moments.” In the end, Kirk is just the Bluesman we need right now.
“When you hear this, I hope you think, ‘Man, somebody understands me’,” he leaves off. “If I can do that for one person, it’s worth it. I want you to put this on and feel like someone relates to you. We’re all in this together.”