Sunday, May 29, 2011
Ken Kinsey Speaks
On the May 14 Beldon’s Blues Points we announced that the Kinsey Report band is coming to the D.C. area to headline the Third annual Silver Spring Blues Festival, scheduled for June 18, 2011. Since then, we’ve had a chance to talk to Kenneth Kinsey, the band’s bassist. We learned a little more about the band. We hope you do too:
BBP: Well I guess one thing that everyone wants to know is, my understanding is you guys haven’t had a CD out since Smoke and Steel, right?
Kinsey: Yeah I think Smoke and Steel came out in 1998, ’99, and we haven’t done anything label-wise. We recorded a live album up in—it’s kind of a book store/coffeehouse called Grounds for Thought. It’s located in Bowling Green, Ohio. And we recorded a live record there. It was a limited edition, I think they only pressed about 500 copies. But what was really cool about it, they did a vinyl version of the record. So it was like six tracks on vinyl—and old-fashioned vinyl LP--and also as a bonus they included a CD in the packet which had an additional—I think—three tracks. So you got like about nine or ten tracks on the CD. But it was a cool package, to go back to that to that vintage LP style, you know. And that came out…maybe about a year ago. About a year-and-a-half ago.
BBP: Wow. But you said they only made about 500 copies. So I guess availability is probably very limited, right?
Kinsey: Yeah, (the promoter), actually he does a festival every year in September called The Black Swamp Festival there in Bowling Green. And we did the festival actually last year, so yeah it was released last year. And sold close to a couple hundred at the festival that evening. And so we have some and we just sell them off the bandstand for various gigs. In fact, we may or may not have some—it depends if we have some left with us when we come to the D.C. area.
BBP: Why did you decide to do vinyl? That’s kind of an interesting concept. You had your reasons for doing it that way, right?
Kinsey: Well, the promoter, he thought that it was cool. You have quite a few bands going back to vinyl. Maybe not for the full release, but like as just a bonus or a special edition or something like that. And a lot of collectors still have their turntables hooked up and ready to go. I don’t (laughs) but we, we thought it was a cool thing to do, and actually it’s been well-received.
BBP: Okay, when are you guys coming out with a new, more general release CD?
Kinsey: We hope to get back in the studio and do something soon. The last ten years has been a really rocky, up-and-down decade for us. We lost my dad (bluesman Lester “Big Daddy” Kinsey) in 2001 and it took a lot of just getting things settled down and back on track after his passing. He was such a strong force in the family. My brother and I—Ralph—we’ve been writing material and working with a couple of other people on their projects. We did a couple of solo projects. Donald’s been working strongly—I guess they have some anniversary of Bob Marley’s coming up pretty soon, I don’t know if it’s the..
BBP: It was his death. Actually it just passed about a week ago. He died 30 years ago.
Kinsey: Right. So they’ve been doing a lot of things with that. He’s been busy doing documentaries and providing a lot of detail and background for that. So that’s been going on the past couple of years. So I think this upcoming year if we can get past some things, we’re looking to get back in the studio and come out with that Kinsey Report record.
BBP: One thing I was curious about was, when you guys were young and you were growing up, did your father tell you “Donald, you play guitar, Ken you play bass, Ralph, you play drums,” or did you kind of gravitate to those instruments on your own?
Kinsey: I think everybody initially kind of gravitated. I think with Donald, though, my dad kind of wanted him to play guitar. My dad was a guitar player and, it would take them to tell you the story. But I believe that he kind of wanted Donald to play the guitar and Donald, he was such a natural for it, that it didn’t take much pushing or anything like that. And I think Ralph, you know, most kids, I think most kids initially are drummers. They just like to beat on stuff. And I just think that Ralph kind of—he’s beating on pots and pans and the seat of chairs and stuff. There’s a ten-year difference between myself and Donald but they were playing a long time before I got involved. They started playing at an early age, doing shows, local shows around town (Gary, Indiana), and then playing in my grandfather’s church on Sundays. And then by the time they did their thing, I think Donald went off and did some stuff with Albert King and he had a band earlier than that called “White Lightening.” Then he hooked up with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. But when he got done with all of that, by that time I had been honing my skills a little bit, when they got done with the reggae scene they formed a band out in California called the Chosen Ones. That was happening for maybe two or three years or so. But when they moved back that’s when we started the family thing and that should have been around ’82 or ’83, somewhere up in there. And by that time, I had been back at home with Dad, and we had been playing. I had been getting serious playing the bass a little bit. That’s when we put together Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report, and Donald produced my dad’s first record and things took off from there.
BBP: Wow. How old were you when you started playing bass?
Kinsey: I was probably in my teens when my dad got my first bass. I was uh—think I might have been maybe like a freshman or a sophomore in high school when I got my first bass. And I think during the years we always had rehearsals at my dad’s house in the basement. So when different other bass players would come over and were playing with my brothers, I would, after rehearsal was over with, pick up the bass and thump around with it a little bit. Later on in high school, I started taking jazz band in high school and that’s when I really got to know the language of music and bass and stuff, and then I kind of felt like I was going to take this kind of seriously. And, like I say, during that time when they (his brothers) were out in California, my dad, some of his old blues friends started coming back around and I was hanging with them and playing bass, you know, just blues tunes. So I could kind of hang with those guys and stuff, and they came back and kind of polished me up a little bit. Like I say, during that time it was like around ’82 or ’83 and that’s when we formed Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report.
BBP: You say “around town,” by that you mean Gary?
Kinsey: Yes, Gary Indiana, that’s where we were born and raised. The brothers, my parents were born in Mississippi.
BBP: Okay, yeah. Big Daddy Kinsey from Mississippi.
Kinsey: Actually Pleasant Grove, Mississippi was where he was born.
BBP: Down in the Delta area, right?
BBP: Okay. Now Donald was ten years older than you. Were you playing in bands yourself when Donald and Ralph were out doing their thing?
Kinsey: Just neighborhood bands. You know just neighborhood kids, garage band type stuff. But looking back on that, though, all that kind of stuff was a helping hand in me just getting my skills and just learning how to play with other people. But it wasn’t anything serious. Like I say my first paying gig was with my family.
BBP: What direction did your father steer you in? Well you said it started with your grandfather, you played in your grandfather’s church.
Kinsey: Well my dad….that was kind of a conflict with him coming up, because my grandparents, my grandfather number one was a Pentecostal pastor of his own church. So he came up in a church family, but then when he went off into the blues, it was always a little rift in the family for a long time. Everybody was on speaking terms, but they, my grandmamma and stuff, she always wished her grandkids would play in the church and everything. My dad, because he played the blues, that’s naturally where we progressed. But we played a little bit of everything. I mean Ralph and Donald, they grew up listening to Sly Stone, rock stuff and like I said that early Bob Marley stuff. So we kind of had a background, really, of a little bit of everything and you probably can hear that in Kinsey Report music. I mean you listen to some of the stuff and you can hear a little rock, a little reggae. Obviously everything is rooted in the blues but we kind of branch it off a little bit into everything.
BBP: Oh yeah, I can definitely hear that. So did you actually play in the church? I’m asking because of the age difference between you and Donald.
Kinsey: No, I didn’t really play in the early days of our growing up. Later on in life I would go back to the church and play a little bit. I didn’t go to church every Sunday, so but after a while I would go and play every now and then. Like I say, Ralph and Donald, when they used to be teens, I think they played. They would do Friday and Saturday nights at night clubs with my dad, then my grandmother would make them go to church on Sunday. (laughs)
BBP: That must have been kind of strange growing up. What did you take from your dad in terms of music? I mean, what were some of the lessons he taught you with that?
Kinsey: I learned more than musical from my dad. I took a sense of business and trying to be professional. I did personally from my dad. I mean I think, especially on his career I mean early in his career I hear some stories, he was a wild one at times too. But after we formed Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report—and that’s when I really came into play—I learned just a sense of running things in a business way. This business can be, if you’re not really somewhat disciplined with the whole situation and the lifestyle, it can get out of control sometimes. And we had fun doing what we did, we enjoyed doing it, but there’s always that other flip to it where you have to be business and run it like a business. And I think I’m—that’s the one thing I hold on to today as I try to maintain that sense of business and keeping things on track. And I think I got a lot of that more from my dad, more so than even his music. He was a singer and a guitar player and I was a bass player so I didn’t really—I understood the music and I could understand how to follow but I didn’t pick up guitar licks from him or anything like that. Now lately here, the last four or five years I’ve been singing a little bit, so I go back and I listen to some of his records. I don’t know if I have any of his vocal phrasing yet or not. I guess time will tell as I keep on trying to sing.
BBP: What made you venture into that? I mean singing.
Kinsey: Well just sometime out of necessity, when things start slowing down a little bit. Just locally I have a side project that I have here at home that, in-between Kinsey Report shows, I do just local shows with my own band. So I go to some places and I see some local guys and I say “Oh man, I know I can sing as good if not better than that!” (Both laugh). I’m a bass player first, I’m not going to mess up the groove, I take pride in being able to groove. So I said “But if I can steal a couple of songs where I can sing and not mess up the groove I’m going to give it a shot.” I’ve been lucky in picking songs where I can play and groove pretty steady on.
BBP: What’s the name of your band?
Kinsey: My side project band is called Mojo Daddy.
BBP: And what style is it? Sort of like the Kinsey Report?
Kinsey: Ah we kind of dabble a little bit. It’s maybe a little bit more rootsy rock. We kind of dabble in a little bit of everything. Structure-wise, yes. Two guitars, bass, drums, sometimes we use a harmonica player, sometimes we have a keyboard player. Yeah, we might go a little rocky, maybe even a little bluesy, depending on the particular show. I have Jerry Porter on drums: that’s a veteran with Buddy Guy, Junior Wells for years. He’s currently doing some shows with James Cotton. And then I have Nick Byrd, which is also a Kinsey Report guitar player but he plays with me in Mojo Daddy.
BBP: Are you guys coming out with a CD anytime soon?
Kinsey: Mojo Daddy?
Kinsey: Yeah…well we came out with one in 2009, self-titled Mojo Daddy. It was basically our version of cover songs, but it did pretty well for us locally. Like I say we’re just a regional band. We’re not trying to venture out to your way or California, we just kind of stay around Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin with that, but it was well-received enough to where we can pick up some in-between shows and a few handfuls of local festivals and stuff, which is what that was meant to be. At this point right now I’m not trying to make it any major project. That’s not to say in the future it may not be, but right now, we just want to create something to keep us busy in between our major and main projects that we are with.
BBP: I see. Let me ask you something about the Kinsey Report. Like your grandparents having issues with some of the music your father was doing, did your dad not like some of the stuff that you and Donald and Ralph were doing and listening to? Sounds like you guys were listening to rock…
Kinsey: I think he generally liked what we were doing. My dad used to always say when we would come up with a groove, when we were downstairs and we would hit a groove and he would like it, he would come to the top of the stairs and say “Hey, you all stay there. Don’t be going off and changing and going all off somewhere (laughs)!” But the key to our package back in the day with Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report was people loved the idea of Kinsey Report coming out and doing the contemporary blues thing, if you want to call it that. My dad also carried a harmonica player with him—for years we had a couple of different guys—but the harmonica player would come out and do a couple of songs usually, and then my dad would come out. So, say we were doing a 75-minute show, Kinsey Report would come out and do maybe 20 or 30 minutes, the harmonica player would come out and do ten minutes, then my dad would come out and close out the remainder of the show. But he would do more traditional style blues, and later on he got a little funky too, but basically across the board the audience got a night full of everything. You know we got the contemporary rock stuff from Kinsey Report, the harmonica stuff…and then the traditional stuff that dad did. So that was um—I think that was our niche and our package that we were touring across the country and the world with at that time.
BBP: What made your father get a little funkier?
Kinsey: Just because, I think—for the most part we wrote everything together and I think some of the things that came out of us that we thought might befit him might have taken on a little funkier groove. And then he did two more records with the Verve label. His last two C
D’s. And I think they wanted to go a little more back to traditional. They brought in the guys who used to play with Muddy Waters: Jimmy Rogers, Pinetop Perkins, Johnny Johnson, Calvin Jones on bass, James Cotton. I think Buddy Guy actually was our special guest on some of those guests. The first record I Am the Blues was kind of more traditional little bit. We had a couple of funky grooves on there. And then the second one got a little different, we had some outside writers on that. I think just as an artist and stuff, you are who you are. But I think just as a creative side of any individual, you’re going to throw one or two curve balls out there. And he was the same way.
BBP: Your father was known around the Chicago area. That’s where you guys used to play, right?
Kinsey: Yeah, that was our home base. We lived here in Indiana but we pretty much played out of Chicago.
BBP: One thing I kind of noticed, I remember you said you guys collaborated on songs. Your dad, and I guess Donald was in there, and that’s how, I guess, there was a lot of cross-influence. Is that how the Kinsey Report writes its songs?
Kinsey: The conception of an idea may come from any one of the three of us. For example, if I’m sitting down and I’m feeling something here, most of us got portable studios in our homes. So I put a bass line down with a drum machine, and maybe hum a melody over it. And when it comes time to start putting some ideas together, I say, “Wait, I got a couple of ideas, this is what I’m humming and grooving to,” and if everybody give a nod to it, we put that in the pile to work on. And sometimes music will come from me, lyrics will come from Ralph, either/or may come from Donald. Things come from different people, and we just kind of put it there and go from there. There’s no one particular writer or anything. Like I say, one concept may come from any one of the three of us.
BBP: How do you choose your subject matter in terms of what to write about?
Kinsey: It varies. You heard me saying before, blues is life. So whatever, it doesn’t necessarily have to be current events, you know, it’s just whatever one is feeling at that time. Sometimes, some things, it’s really like just in the news and just like bothering the world and the country. Sometimes we might write on that, give our take on that. For example, with my dad’s record, Bad Situation, he had a track on that one called “No Nuclear War.” That’s when I think—it might have been—Reagan, I forget who was in office during that time, but that was the whole nuclear war thing, was in the news all of the time. So we wrote a song about that. Later on, on the Midnight Drive record, we wrote a song called “Free South Africa.” That’s when the whole apartheid thing was in the news. So, sometimes we do takes on current events. And like I say, blues is life, so whatever’s going on, you know, we can get personal with it. And then sometimes, we can just see somebody else’s problem, or happiness. Blues is not always about strife.
BBP: I remember one song you guys did, “When the Church Burned Down.”
BBP: I thought that was a very—I heard you guys play it at Buddy Guy’s club in Chicago…
BBP: ...and it really caught my attention. I was wondering about the history behind that.
Kinsey: Well, that was another one. I forgot about that one. That was the late nineties there, I think they were burning churches down in the south and stuff, and that was just another thing that was unbelievable to see and hear, that people are still going around doing that. So that was just another one of those current events that we felt like we needed to write something about.
BBP: Right. You guys also did another one called “Code of the Streets,” on Smoke and Steel. Was that a reaction to someone you actually knew personally or was that just a song on the whole…
Kinsey: That one there came from my brother Ralph, and I don’t believe it was a personal relationship with that one. I think it was just kids—you know teenagers on the streets nowadays—and how they just view certain things, and the life for inner-city young men growing up. I think that was the inspiration for that one.
BBP: I guess you guys have a lot of songs that you’ve written and possibly even recorded that are maybe still “in the vault” so to speak.
Kinsey: Oh yeah, we got a lot of ideas that we haven’t recorded. There’s a couple of things in the vaults but there’s a lot of things that’ve been written that haven’t been recorded yet. That’s why I say once we get in the studios, it’s going to be a lot of things that are potentially going to come out. Everybody’s been putting down ideas all along. We haven’t stopped writing, we’ve just haven’t had a chance to really—right now we’re not with a label, so you got to look at how, when we want to pursue this or whatever. But once we try to work those things out, creativity-wise we have a lot of things to draw on.
BBP: You guys used to be with Alligator. What happened with that?
Kinsey: Just after that last record things just kind of got….. like I said —my dad died, just the whole thing of going with that, things just weren’t working out for a long time. So Alligator—that’s the place where we can always sit down and go back to. And when we get the material together, I think they may still be a label that we want to sit down with. We consider (Alligator founder) Bruce (Iglauer) not only just for the label, we consider him a friend. So I’m sure when that time comes we’ll be sitting back down with him.
BBP: I see. Have they made overtures to you?
Kinsey: Bruce was always open. He’s always open to listen and that’s all you can pretty much ask anybody to do is just say “hey, give an ear to it, let me know what you think.” Everything starts off with the music and once we get the ideas down, you shop it—shop it number one to the people you feel that can feel it. And then the process starts from there.
BBP: One thing I was curious about. The album that you made in Ohio, is it possible that you could maybe expand production of that?
Kinsey: It’s possible. It’s pretty much stuff that we do on the bandstand, just some standard covers that we do on the bandstand. We didn’t include any other release material or anything like that on it. It’s possible. It’s possible to widespread it. We haven’t sat down with the producer of it to discuss that. That’s an idea.
BBP: Have you as a band thought about expanding into other forms of music? Because a lot of what you play, they could play on the rock stations and if you didn’t call it blues…
Kinsey: Yeah, we’ve kind of been there, done that. We did the two records with Alligator, then we went to Point Blank/Virgin and did a couple of records. And I think once again you hear that cliché “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” Well I think during that time, because we were established as coming from Alligator, we were established with the blues community strongly. I think they (Virgin) wanted to promote the more rock side of us than the blues side. So when they started doing that, I think we kind of offended our blues fans and then the rock fans, they would listen to the total thing and say, “well, I don’t know, I hear some rock, but it’s more blues.” So we kind of ended up like, the blues stations weren’t playing our stuff because they thought we went too rock and the rock stations weren’t playing us because they thought we were still too bluesy or whatever…
BBP: Oh boy…
Kinsey: ….So we kind of lost some momentum, especially with that first record I think it was the Powerhouse record. But the second one we did, Crossing Bridges, we kind of gained back some ground a little bit with that record there. So it’s one of those things. That was a major label, major money, but I think the plan just wasn’t completely thought out. But you know that’s how it goes.
BBP: You’ve got to experiment, I guess, and see how things turn out.
Kinsey: Yeah, once again radio, you know, the kind of radio play that we were getting back during that time, I don’t know. I mean, the internet radio for now is pretty much for blues. Other than the public radio and the ten o’clock blues hour shows and stuff like that, some of the radio airplay that we were getting, college radio-different things like that, I don’t know if anybody is getting that kind of radio play right now, blues-wise and stuff, you know. It’s a new time now, and you just kind of have to get a feel for what’s going on out there and just basically get back to your base and let things go from there.
BBP: Interesting though is that I’m hearing blues in two places that I didn’t think I would. One is commercials and the other is movies…
Kinsey: Oh yeah! Yep. Yep. Yeah, commercials are—especially a lot of the old-time stuff. And a lot of times that’s what labels and publishing houses have been doing, they’ve been cataloging the music and waiting and then putting it out there and that’s a big money avenue for artists is commercials and movies and stuff. We had a couple of opportunities where we had some Kinsey Report music in a couple of TV pilots back in the—well actually from Smoke and Steel we had “This Old City” was in a—I think it was a TBS or TNT show they used to have. It didn’t last for more than maybe a season. And then “Midnight Drive” was featured in a pilot. So we’ve had a couple of our songs in some TV series.
BBP: Ken, one thing I wanted to ask you was—you play bass, Donald plays guitar, and Ralph plays drums. But what roles outside of the instruments do you each play in the band?
Kinsey: When it comes to the creativity of the music, we all put in equal—we try to. Like I said, ideas could come from any one of us. As Kinsey Report we work as a team, so we are partnered with that. Outside music, different one of us has different responsibilities. I mean for a long time I pretty much did the road manager stuff and kept the books and made sure monies was right, different things. Like I say, early on I got a sense of business from my dad, so I kind of like make sure that the business part of things is kept up to date. My brother Ralph, when it comes to our music publishing, things of that nature, he makes sure that all of that is in order, makes sure ASCAP is doing what they’re supposed to do, and/or talking with labels or whatever to say “hey, man I think this song here would be a good song for this show or whatever.” So he kind of handles that. So we each have our role outside of the music part of it, do as much as we can because right now. We haven’t had a manager in some time, so we try to do as much as we can in-house.
BBP: What you said about your dad, his death kind of throwing things out of kilter. How specifically did it do that? What changed after that?.
Kinsey: Well, my mom passed first (Christine, in 1995) and then after dad passed. He had business and property, and just like in any other normal family you just have a ton of stuff that you just kind of have to deal with. Not only business but then everybody else emotionally reacts to different things and stuff. So you just kind of have to just really put everything—with it being just the three of us being in the business it’s not like we had a sister or another brother that wasn’t in the business that could stay at home and administrate stuff. We try to handle business, stay on the road and dealing with the loss of a loved one at the same time, things just got a little loopy there, and we said “Okay, something’s got to give. Let’s slow down for a minute and handle one thing at a time and get back to doing what we do best.”
BBP: Do you have an ETA on when the new CD will come out?
Kinsey: No, I can’t tell. All I can say is that we’re constantly writing and putting down ideas. It’s just a matter of time where we come together and record it. But I can’t really put a time on it or anything. Soon as I say that…
BBP: It changes.
Founded by the D.C. Blues Society and the Silver Spring Town Center, Inc., this year’s festival will also feature The Big Boy Little Band, Jonny Grave and the Tombstones, the D.C. Blues Society Band with Stacy Brooks and Ida Campbell & the Blues. It will take place on two stages along Ellsworth Drive between Georgia Avenue and Spring Street. Admission is free.
Later that evening, the Kinseys will travel up the road to the Baltimore area perform in a show sponsored by the Baltimore Blues Society at the Rosedale American Legion, 1331 Seling Avenue, Rosedale, Maryland. The Rosedale show begins at 10 p.m.