Arkansas Diamond | Bill Kirchen

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🎵 Arkansas Diamond | Bill Kirchen 🎵

Length: 0:4:11
Written by Bill Kirchen, Sarah Brown, Louise Kirchen
Recorded Live July 1, 2021
McGonigel's Mucky Duck  |  Home of the Livest Music in Texas™
Become a supporting member at: https://livefromnorfolkstreet.com/

Upon tallying how many decades he’s worked as a professional guitar slinger, Telecaster master Bill Kirchen quips, “Well, they don't make 50 years like they used to.” They don’t often make careers like his, either. 

From performing with his Who Knows Pickers jug band in Ann Arbor High School’s senior talent show (also on the program: the future Iggy Pop), to birthing the Americana genre with the original “hippie country band,” Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, this affable Austinite has been everywhere, man, flying alongside some of the planet’s coolest cats — including the Jesus of Cool, Nick Lowe, and Lowe’s old protégé, Elvis Costello. 

Kirchen has toured the world with Lowe, who produced an album by Kirchen’s post-Airmen band, the Moonlighters, and Costello recruited Kirchen for high-profile gigs like the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival — and even named his festival band after Kirchen’s Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods album. Lowe appears on that 2006 album, and its 2010 follow-up, Word to the Wise, along with Costello, Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks and other luminaries. 

Somewhere between steering Commander Cody’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” into a top-10 hit and scoring a Grammy nomination for Best Country Instrumental Performance, Kirchen dubbed his sound “dieselbilly,” wrapping his fondness for country’s truck-driving song subgenre. 

Kirchen’s right-place-at-the-right-time career has put him at the forefront of many musical movements; Commander Cody’s 1974 album, Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas made Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of All Time list.  

Kirchen likes collaborating; on Word to the Wise, a musical reminiscence of sorts, he tapped several favorite artists to join him, carefully selecting or writing songs for each. In the liner notes, he explains, “The criteria we used were that you had to be A) someone I had actually played with, either on stage or record, and B) not dead yet.”

A devoted Anglophile, thanks to two aunts who married Brits, Kirchen began recording for the label after owner Malcolm Mills promised, “I'm going to give you the best deal you've had in 25 years.”  He did, too. Mills not only supports Kirchen’s recorded output, he also supports the guitarist on stage, right alongside bassist Riley. “Where else do you get a record company where the owner plays drums, the producer plays bass, and they tour with you?” Kirchen says of his good friends. “They’re the best.” 

That’s just another twist in an incredible career trajectory set in motion, according to Kirchen, by two pivotal events: the 1964 and ’65 Newport Folk Festivals. As a high-school kid on a quest to catch Mississippi John Hurt, he thumbed to the first one, then went back the following year — and witnessed Dylan going electric. “That pretty well blew away the competition for what I was going to do before, or if, or when I grew up,” he says of those experiences.
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