Bill Kirchen has forgotten more music than most people ever know, and he still remembers plenty. Thats on ample display on Hot Rod Lincoln, the hopped-up centerpiece track to Kirchens new album Seeds and Stems (Proper Records).
Forty years ago, Hot Rod Lincoln was a top-10 hit for Kirchens old band, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, in which the stinging twang of his Fender Telecaster guitar was a key element. This incarnation features a roll call of several score other artists, with Kirchen and band blazing through signature riffs from Johnny Cash, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Merle Haggard, Professor Longhair, Doc Watson, Sex Pistols, the Beatles, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and others, including The King Family Freddy, Albert, B.B., Ben E. and even Billie Jean; Kirchen imitates the plunk of a tennis rally on his guitar.
Its like a cultural history lesson in under eight minutes. Count on hearing an extended version at Kirchens Fourth of July show in Carrboro on Thursday.
That started out as a joke 12 or 13 years ago, with the riff from Johnny Cashs Folsom Prison Blues, and then it was off to the races, Kirchen says, calling from his home in Austin, Texas, on a rare day off from touring.
It was something we started and continued for our own amusement; our Wayne Newton climax, as it were. How long it goes on depends on how long-winded I get with the different Kings Pee Wee, Burger, there are a lot. Maybe it just seems like it goes on for a long time. I doubt weve ever gone beyond 15 minutes with it, but Im sure weve farted around with it for 12 minutes or so.
Hot Rod Lincoln is one of 13 tracks on Seeds and Stems, which makes a fine retrospective of Kirchens career going back to the Commander Cody era. Through the 70s, Commander Cody was the last word in beer-soaked bar-band blues-rock, drawing equally from rock and country. While Hot Rod Lincoln was its only top-10 chart visitation, the bands influence lives on in the rowdier side of Americana thats still around today. And in Kirchens hands, those songs still sound mighty fine.
A lot of these songs on Seeds and Stems are from the Cody days and theyve always been an important part of my set, Kirchen says. We never stopped doing Semi-Truck, Too Much Fun and Hot Rod Lincoln, but those songs werent on any of my other in-print albums. So we decided to make a record of it. It was fun to revisit them with this band, which is very tight.
For the Carrboro show, Kirchens band will also feature his main writing partner, pianist Austin de Lone (who doesnt play many of the bands live shows), which will add another element to the sound. But its mostly about the ever-spry Kirchens guitar and indefatigable spirit. At an age when most people ponder retirement and Kirchen is about to become eligible for Medicare hes nowhere near quitting.
My age is a badge of honor at this point, he says with a laugh. Im turning 65, still on my hind legs and touring, and Im making a living. Im not rich but Im not broke, either, so Im fine. Im lucky I can make a living doing something I love, which is to be cherished. Now I have to do a few more dates than Id like. Being gone a month, home two days and then gone another month is a bit much. Thats touring like a young man, pretty rough. Id like to be able to pick and choose a bit more, but I dont want to stop. Its a great job and a great life.
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