‘Kirk is hands down one of the best blues guitarists in the world.’ No, it’s not the words of some publicist or music writer, it’s the honest opinion of Joe Bonamassa, and he’s in a good position to judge. Kirk and Joe recently performed a special one off concert together at Red Rocks, the famous natural auditorium carved into the Colorado mountains celebrating the music of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Kirk is about to tour the UK for the first time fronting his own band and the buzz is building. A good time to get the trans-Atlantic lines ringing.
BM: Hi Kirk, thanks for agreeing to talk to us.
KF: Hi, no problem. I’m happy that you guys wanted to do this.
Well we wanted to talk to you about the tour, there’s a lot of excitement about it. Is it the first time in the UK under your own banner?
Wow, I’m just so looking forward to doing it. Absolutely yes, first time for me touring the UK. I played a couple of shows with The T’birds. I’m so grateful to Katie Bradley and Dudley Ross, they’ve worked so hard on organising this and we haven’t even started yet.
Have you played with them before?
We met recently in Zurich and jammed together for a bit and it sounded so good together already (laughs). I’m looking forward to letting it rip shall we say. Dudley has put together a killer band of UK musicians for me.
I guess part of the reason for the tour is promoting your new CD.
Yes, as well as just wanting to take the opportunity to play in front of a different audience and one that I respect so much because lets face it the blues and the UK link has always been so amazing.
The new album is a live recording, due out late September I believe.
I’m doing this all myself so we’re having a release party in Los Angeles at The Baked Potato on 24th September, I believe you can order it through CD Baby from the 26th. I’ll be bringing copies to sign on the tour too. We recorded it at The Baked Potato and I’m really proud of it.
Is the music on the live album pretty representative of what we’ll hear on the tour?
I really think so. One of the reasons for doing it is so people can really hear what I do without having to go to You Tube etc, seeing me playing with lots of different people and wondering what I’m all about.
I’ve been looking at the tracks and was intrigued by a couple of interesting covers on there. You do a Bobby Womack cover, I’m In Love.
The great Bobby Womack. You have to just play it a different way cos you can’t just cover Bobby Womack. It’s just a pleasure to do that song, I love it.
You also cover Lenny by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Stevie is just so special. You know so many people just went on that bandwagon. For me he just touched my heart because he loved all the guys that came before him and he had an intensity and power to his playing. I admire his power, his confidence and his ability. It’s in his soul.
I admire you for covering it because so many people who cover Stevie fail to do him justice. Did you think twice about doing it?
At least twice (laughs). No it’s just a great song and we caught the mood of it you know.
I understand there might be a new studio album in the pipeline.
I’m writing for that now. Before I leave for the tour I’ll demo some of the songs then I’ll start working on it again from the beginning of December. It’ll be mostly originals with me trying to sing more.
Actually I’m glad you mention the singing. You’re mostly known and respected as a great guitar player. Is it fair to say that as each album passes you have become more comfortable vocally?
Absolutely, you know I started on ‘My Turn’, a couple of songs and that was the first time I ever sang, period. I’m getting more confident and I’m working on that more so hopefully by the next studio record I will have progressed even more.
It must be quite daunting to suddenly be in a position of having to do vocals too.
That’s a good way of putting it! But hey, I sometimes play instrumentals but to me music in blues is about the song so it’s important to learn.
You mention instrumentals. There’s one on the live album celebrating your influences I believe.
Ha yes. Robben Ford and Larry Carlton. Robben is special to me. When I think about slow blues of course I think about all the great past masters but to me Robben Ford and Larry Carlton mean the world. When it comes to guitar playing with rhythm and space and ease of timing both of them have a really interesting way of playing slow blues. I wanted to play a little tribute to those guys.
Robben was a big influence wasn’t he? Particularly in the early days.
Robben is basically the guy who taught me about rhythm guitar. How important it is to really have a good knowledge about supporting which is really how I made my living for most of my career. He was invaluable in that way as well as in lead guitar playing he was so great.
So did you ever perform with Robben?
I’ve sat in with Robben but never played in his band or done a gig with him. We have long relationship of being together at rehearsal spaces, music stores, meeting backstage at gigs just hanging together talking music.
Your comments about playing rhythm guitar are interesting. A lot of younger players seem to miss that out.
Well if you listen to people like Bukka White everything they play is built around the rhythm. Those old guys played with such beautiful rhythm.
You do listen to a lot of the older musicians, Robert Johnson and even beyond don’t you?
Al Blake from the Hollywood Fats Band was a real influence on me about digging deeper. I knew about guys my parents listened to when I was growing up in Arkansas like Lowell Fulsom, Muddy Waters and BB King. Al Blake encouraged me to go back further, he was kinda the well, telling me about Charly Patton, Robert Johnson, Petey Wheatstraw and The Mississippi Shieks, just all of this great music!
I think most people are aware of your time in The Fabulous Thunderbirds but before that you played with Charlie Musselwhite for quite a while.
He’s really great. That was my first established artist I ever played with. Charlie is the man, he’s had a great career since the mid-60’s.It was wonderful being on stage with him every night. He just wanted me to be myself. That’s the biggest lesson I learned from him, just find my own way myself.
He didn’t limit you in what you played?
No, not that I could see anyhow. Wonderful times. The calibre of musicians around him too was kinda scary. I was just a kid trying to get started playing the blues. I was in Charlie’s band for about two years. Then I got the call from Kim Wilson. I probably could’ve stayed in Charlie’s band a lot longer but at that time I was so young and the chance to join The Fabulous Thunderbirds was like fulfilling a dream.
What was it like joining The Thunderbirds?
It was a completely different experience. It was wonderful, but also a lot of mixed emotions. I loved working with Kim but it was a sad time because I had just lost my mom. So it was like, man, you joined a great band and you’re getting ready to do an album but still in the back of your mind you’re still really sad, mixed emotions but those guys made me feel at home. At that time the great Nick Curran was in the band too and he was another sad loss.
You left them to do your own thing?
I was with them about four years and I felt the time had come. That was Kim’s band and his vision. And it was an amazing vision, Kim is probably my favourite singer and harp player ever, other than James Cotton and Sonny Boy Williamson of course. I loved that but I was delving back to the music of my childhood, stuff like Jimi Hendrix, so I wanted to be like a kid a little longer.
Also on your CV is The Mannish Boys.
Yep, I’m with them from time to time. I record with them. It’s kind of a blues all star thing. We don’t have the same line up all the time, it’s a sort of co-operative thing. We’ve done a few records together and it’s been fun.
I guess as a musician it’s challenging playing with lots of different people?
Well yes, but I’ve done it so much that it may be time I have to pull back a little bit. I have to focus on writing new songs, becoming a better singer and doing my own thing. My heart just wants to play with lots of people and jam and have fun but there comes a time you have to focus on your own thing baby. I look at my friend Joe Bonamassa and I get inspired. He’s incredible, I see how hard he has to work.
You played with Joe recently at Red Rocks didn’t you?
Oh wow, yes. He called me to ask if I’d play with him at Red Rocks doing Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters tunes. I’m like, yeah I’m in !
I bet it was quite an experience
It’s a beautiful venue with a wonderful sound. It’s just unique. It couldn’t be more comfortable. It was just a one off, we did a couple of warm up gigs. It’s going to appear on TV over here and hopefully there might be a DVD/ CD next year.
Joe’s been very complementary about you.
Oh when he said those things that was so unexpected. I really appreciate that. I don’t know about how true it is but it was nice of him to say it !
You are doing a session with Paul Jones too.
Really looking forward to that. The BBC. What can I say, I mean live at the BBC. They’ve recorded music by all my heroes. Great to meet Paul Jones too.
We mentioned Robben Ford as a big influence. Who else has inspired you?
BB King, all the way through, from the really, really early BB King, to the 60’s and how his style progressed. He influences my playing in different ways. There is such a wealth there. Also Lonnie Johnson, T.Bone Walker, Eddie Taylor, Otis Rush and maybe a million others. I listen to so much. Also 70’s singer songwriter stuff like Joni Mitchell. I try to make everything I play mean something.
Well thanks again for the chance to chat. Before we finish up is there anything you want to add Kirk?
I just want to give a big shout out to Dudley Ross and Katie Bradley. They have given endless hours of work and support to get this off the ground. I’m really looking forward to coming over, I’m so excited!