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American Routes Shortcuts: Bill Kirchen

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Bill Kirchen

This is American Routes with a live session of serious guitar slingers. Our revered guitar agitators of today are onstage in performance and conversation, recorded live at the National Folk Festival in Salisbury, MD 2019. The players include Mississippi blues guitarist Eddie Cotton, Dieselbilly electric guitarist Bill Kirchen, Nashville Dobro übermensch Jerry Douglas, and house painter and guitar picker Steve Lewis. Bill Kirchen plays a style of guitar music he calls “Dieselbilly,” inspired by the sound and soundtrack image of 18-wheelers and truckers tastes on the road. He’s also known from his time as a Lost Planet Airman with Commander Cody. I asked Bill how he got into country music.

Bill Kirchen: I discovered country music kind of late. I was already, been through the Beatles, you know classical music first and then the Beatles, and then I became a folk nerd, which I still consider myself.

Nick Spitzer: You’re in good company here.

BK: Thank you, I like it. And I went to Newport Folk Festival in ‘64 and ’65, and it ruined me for normal work, the stuff I saw there. Then I discovered country music and one of the first records, first country stuff I heard was a truck driving song called “Truck Driving Man.” I was thinking of doing that. The quintessential. And I invented the term “Dieselbilly” so I could play whatever I want, since nobody else wants to be in that genre, I play Dieselbilly music. Anyway, this is “Truck Driving Man.” It was originally done by Terry Fell and the Fellers.

“Truck Driving Man” Bill Kirchen
American Routes Original Recording at National Folk Festival 2019

BK: Truck driving music, thank you everybody.

NS: Bill Kirchen in overdrive, 16th gear.

BK: Thank you!

NS: Okay so we got a little time left here, I was thinking you know Bill, you gave us Dieselbilly, maybe you could give us some straight ahead rock and roll or rockabilly and see what the guys can do with that? And you know, give everybody a shot.

BK: Absolutely. I’m thinking of a song, and I’m thinking, if you’re gonna say “Rock and Roll,” the first thing I’m going to think is Chuck Berry. This song is weird, it’s only got three verses, and it’s a story line. There’s a bunch of guys working on the railroad, and they built a tent on the track, and they’re gambling. And the next thing you know, there’s a train coming, and they’re trying to get the money up and get the tent torn down, and that’s the song. Anyway, it’s called “Little Rock,” I think. I’ll vamp in A.

“Little Rock” Bill Kirchen
American Routes Original Recording at National Folk Festival 2019

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.