An Interview with “Titan of the Telecaster” Bill Kirchen (2013)


For a guy who was christened “The Titan of the Telecaster” by Guitar Player magazine, psycho-folk legend Bill Kirchen speaks with a salt-of-the-earth drawl that suggests he’s just another artist blessed to be doing something he loves for a living.

Rather than embracing the vacuity and barefaced narcissism of 2013’s reality television generation, he maintains an old-school attitude predicated on supporting his family, writing killer tunes, and rocking every house he plays into submission.

His latest album, “Seeds and Stems,” features 13 selections from throughout his 45-year career that are updated in such a way that they come off just as blazing as the day he initially laid them down.  Because he inhabits an area of the musical landscape that isn’t given its due by mainstream outlets, he’s able to say and do things without acquiescing to major label pressure.

He makes the music he wants to make, and, whenever his career comes to close, not a soul will be able to say that he didn’t do things his way.

Kirchen and his band, Too Much Fun, will hit the stage on June 28 at Buffalo’s Sportsmen’s Tavern, a venue known for its living-room intimacy and impeccable sound crew.

I spoke with Kirchen recently about his new album and why he loves the Telecaster so much, which, as he says, “is the Coke bottle of guitars.”

Question: How did you select the songs to record on “Seeds and Stems?”

Kirchen: They’re just the songs that have had staying power through the years.  They’ve managed to maintain their energy during the live set, so we decided to put a new spin on them.

Question: How did growing up in Ann Arbor lead you to put together a band like Commander Cody?

Kirchen: It was an interesting place, because of the influx of college kids.  I was a townie, so I constantly tried to interact with a diverse group of musicians.  I had a big pool to draw from and the bands I was in always had a floating membership.  I met a piano player from Long Island, which was another cool element.

Question: What’s been the best part of being able to make music without interference from a major label?

Kirchen: It’s a wonderful sense of freedom, because I can travel around and play the music I love to play.  I’m not fighting restraints or worrying about pleasing everyone.  I’ve been able to carve my own niche in the marketplace, which is pretty cool.  Obviously, I’m just blessed to be able to tour the country and make a living to support my family at the same time.

Question: What made you decide to play a Telecaster?

Kirchen: I had a crash course in rock and roll and rhythm and blues when I was younger, so the guitar just felt right.  I loved the Beatles and Stones growing up, but most of my favorite guitar players who came from the folk scene played one.  I use it 99.7% of the time on stage and haven’t looked back.  It’s the Coke bottle of guitars and about the same age as me.  To me, it’s the shortest distance between two points and I’m able to get the sounds I want out of it.

Question: How did the song “Talkin’ About Chicken” come about?

Kirchen: A friend of mine named Sarah Brown had come over to write some songs and we sat in the kitchen for a while.  I think we wrote for 11 hours straight and just came up with it when we noticed that some chicken was being cooked for dinner.

Question: What era of your career do you consider to be the most satisfying?

Kirchen: Now, because of my age and appreciation for everything.  Sure, I would’ve wanted to be The Eagles in the ‘70s, but I’m happy with the amount of success I’ve achieved.  I feel like I’m getting better every day and I’m always learning.  I don’t take anything for granted and I’ve gained a deeper perspective on things.

Question: What are some of your lasting memories of playing in San Francisco during the ‘60s?

Kirchen: The summer of love was over by the time I got there, but it was still an amazing place to be.  I was able to play with icons such as Gene Vincent and Link Wray, as well as The Dead, The Eagles, and The Doobie Brothers.  It was still a very groovy time to be a traveling musician.

Question: Are there any artists you’d still like to play with someday?

Kirchen: Bob Dylan, I’d say.  His first 10 albums are golden.  I know some of the musicians he plays with, but that’s the difference between fantasy and reality.  I won’t get my hopes up or hold my breath over it.  I actually enjoy being on my own, because it allows me to do what I do.

Question: What can fans expect during the live show?

Kirchen: A rocking good time.  We’ll probably play most of the new record, and it won’t be precious.  We’re going to rock your world.



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