Asbury Park-based singer-songwriter-guitarist Keith Kenny talks about the vinyl release of his latest album; his Light of Day and New Hope, Pa. shows that are coming up; and his next venture out West, including the next NAMM Convention in Anaheim.
Whether touring Laos, the U.K., the West Coast, Las Vegas or closer to home, Asbury Park singer-songwriter-guitarist Keith Kenny has a wide range of organic sounds in his arsenal, including folk, country, old-time, world music, jazz, blues and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
Since 2008, all have been showcased on five releases, including a second LP, the vinyl rendering of which will be celebrated on Jan. 6 at John & Peter’s in New Hope, Pa. (where Kenny has developed into a popular regular). The self-titled LP includes “Teenage Dream,” which features a guest appearance by fellow New Hope fave, Dean Ween.
With his mix of fine picking, righteous jams (on an amplified acoustic guitar) and strong story songs, Kenny at times recalls Dave Matthews, Keller Williams and Neil Young, but with his own stamp.
He will perform at the Light of Day festival’s Sandy Mack Wonder Jam on Jan. 11 at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park; Jan. 23 at the House of Blues in Las Vegas; Jan. 24 at the World Famous Doll Hut in Anaheim; Jan. 27 at The NAMM Show at the Anaheim Convention Center; Jan. 28 at The Love Song Bar in Los Angeles; and Jan. 29 at Legends in Las Vegas.
Before hitting the road again, Kenny took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat about his successes, aspirations and inspirations in the following interview.
Q: One of the complaints a lot of Asbury Park musicians have is that they don’t get to tour enough. Given how extensively you tour, you are not one of those acts. Is it easier to tour as a solo act and do you ever tour or even perform with a band?
A: I basically started touring solo out of necessity. The original vision I had for my music was with a trio, drums and bass, but it’s hard to keep a band together. I was fortunate enough to meet some great musicians to play with early on that I still collaborate with to this day, but it is a big sacrifice for musicians to leave behind a steady job and/or significant others. I always knew that I wanted to do it but just couldn’t seem to find a couple other guys willing to take the leap of faith.
Q: What made you gravitate to Asbury Park and do you feel like you’re part of the scene there?
A: Back in 2005, I applied to play a “Super Tuesday” at the Stone Pony, and they gave me my first shot at playing my solo gig on the big stage. After that night, I had a steady gig in Asbury at the Pony, playing there about every two weeks or so, but I really wanted to explore all the venues since I knew that there was always some sort of musical event going on in town. After a few years of bopping around, I met a ton of great musicians who really liked my music, and I really liked theirs. That was what really made me feel like a part of the scene there.
Q: Given the extent to which you tour, do you ever feel like you’re just passing through Asbury?
A: Playing anywhere in the tri-state area always feels like home to me. I spent about seven years working a full-time job and playing music at night, so I got used to driving anywhere within striking distance to play a gig and still manage to get into work the next day.
Q: So you have toured all over the country and in the U.K. and Laos. Out of all the places you’ve played, which have you enjoyed the most and why?
A: Touring the U.K. was a huge milestone for me last year. It was something that I had always wanted to do since I started playing live, and I can definitely say that I enjoyed the crowd response the most out there. At first, it was a bit intimidating to see how intently they listened to the musicians out there, even in small pubs. But after the shows, the crowds were so supportive and encouraging that I’ve started looking at another tour in the U.K. for 2018.
But the place I enjoyed playing the most was definitely in Laos back in 2013. The events that I played there were to raise awareness about UXO (Unexploded Ordinance), and it was such a unique and perspective-changing experience. A company named Aqua Survey sponsored the trip and set up some very memorable events, including performing an acoustic set at a disabled women’s center. For all of these women, it was their first concert experience, and it was such an emotional exchange. It is one of those experiences that I will always be grateful for.
Q: Would you say that event was your greatest accomplishment so far? If not, what is?
A: Last year, I got to open for three of my favorite acts at the Capitol Theatre (in Port Chester, N.Y.) on Garcia’s Stage: John Butler Trio, Keller Williams and Ween. Being a part of these shows was definitely a huge accomplishment for me.
Q: Why is it important to you to release your latest LP on vinyl and to have the release party at John & Peter’s?
A: Vinyl is my favorite kind of listening experience. I love the sound. I love the involvement that the listener has with the music and the artwork. I’m so happy that I was able to press this record to vinyl. It’s actually the highest fidelity experience that you can have with the album.
John & Peter’s is simply my favorite music venue in the world. There is just nowhere else in the world where I feel more comfortable experimenting with new sounds and trying to push my performances a little farther. I try to play there every other month to keep tabs on where I am at as a performing artist trying new ideas.
Q: One of the guests on the album is Dean Ween, who’s even more of a regular at John & Peter’s than you are. What did you like most about what Dean contributed to the album and do you have plans to work with him again in 2018, given that he has a new Dean Ween Group album coming out?
A: Dean’s contribution to the album is awesome! He’s been a huge inspiration for me these past couple years and a huge motivator in keeping me moving forward with my music. What I love about his part on the record is that there is no way that I possibly could have come up with that solo. It is completely unique to Deaner’s guitar style, and I think it adds an unexpected element of surprise to the song. I’m sure we will be together again this year.
Q: So you have a very busy January, including Light of Day in Asbury and the NAMM Show in Anaheim. Have you played those events before? If so, what are most looking forward to, and if not, same question?
A: Yeah, I have played both events before and definitely looking forward to playing them again this year. NAMM has been one of those events that seems to get a little better every year, and I’m really excited to get back out there with the new album. Light of Day is for a great cause to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s disease, so to be a part of that is always a fulfilling experience.
Q: What are your plans for the rest of 2018, beyond January?
A: Well, I’m definitely working on another U.K. tour in 2018 along with some other regions of the U.S. to tour with the new album. I’m hoping to hit the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast in the spring and summer this year. There are two residencies I have been playing for the last few years that will continue into this year. One at the House of Blues in Las Vegas and the other at Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg, Pa. Since the new album is officially out now, it’s time to start working on the next one, so I’ll be working some new material into the live shows this year. I’m also talking with a few artists about recording projects this year, so looking forward to keeping busy!
Q: Are you making a living as a recording and touring musician or is there a day job to which you have to come home?
A: For the past five years, I’ve been working on my music full time. The first three or four years were a real challenge, but it takes a while to get established in any business, I think. I definitely still struggle with it, but this was my best year yet, and I just hope it keeps getting better. I recently started producing music for other artists out of my studio, Studio 303, in Central N.J., which has been a great secondary creative outlet and a way to make some extra money while I’m not on the road.
Q: What and/or who inspired you to be a singer-songwriter, how old where at that time, and looking back, what has surprised you the most about this song journey on which you’ve embarked.
A: My father was the biggest inspiration to pursue music. He would come home from work and pick up his beat-up nylon string guitar and just make up a song out of thin air. He only knew a few chords, but that was all he needed to write a great song. Eventually, he got me into playing along with him, and I got obsessed with the guitar and writing. As I started getting my own songs together, he would always encourage me to go out and play live.
I am really surprised by the journey of music because it has made me more of a social creature. When I was younger, I used to be a bit of a hermit. I was happy staying home and playing guitar by myself. Now I find myself really enjoying the social interaction of being a musician and finding people who can connect with it. It’s a great way to meet people, and it has taken me places I probably never would have gone.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.