Kirchen proves worth losing sleep over
Jack's Sugar Shack, Hollywood, Cal., April 4, 1998
By Dan MacIntosh
HOLLYWOOD, Cal. - It's a quarter past midnight on a Saturday night (or make that Sunday morning, to be exact), on the very same night when everybody would soon be "springing forward," and losing an hour of valuable sleep. Bill Kirchen has just strapped on his Telecaster, and although he's graying around the temples, this lanky singer/guitarist sure does look and sound youthful on stage.
Almost 30 years have passed since Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airman (featuring Kirchen's songwriting and playing skills) came on the musical scene with an odd mixture of rockabilly, boogie-woogie, and county music.
On this night, Kirchen relied upon those basic elements to present a 12-song set of enthusiastic roots rock.
With his bellowing low voice, guitar pyrotechnics and silly songs, Kirchen serves to remind folks that Junior Brown wasn't the first alchemist to try this trick. Backed by piano, bass, and drums, Kirchen delivered an appealing buffet of country weepers, driving songs, and Bob Wills inspired boogies, and served up all of these dishes on a bed of country corn.
The old Commander Cody ballad ("Seeds and Stems (Again)") was a good example of the kind of country weeper Kirchen can really sell. He saved his best known driving song ("Hot Rod Lincoln") for last and turned it into an opportunity to present a condensed history of popular music. He achieved this by playing snippets of numerous other songs for a kind of show-closing medley. This roll call included everything from The Sex Pistols, to Johnny Cash, and almost everybody, who is anybody, in between.
The show's best moment came when Kirchen-noticing that the club resides in the shadow of the old Capitol Records building-decided to cover ("Excuse Me, I Think I Have a Heartache"), which is an old Buck Owens recording for that label. It was an apt reminder that Kirchen may be a silly gun-slinging guitarist, but he also knows a great song when he hears one.
Kirchen, like his old band Commander Cody, has never become a household name. Nevertheless, somebody's just gotta let this too well kept secret out of the bag because a chance to hear Kirchen's still unique music (after all these years) is clearly worth losing a little extra sleep over.