Bill Kirchen first learned his musical chops in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he was a founding member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. From 1967-1976, his lead guitar sound helped the band incorporate rockabilly and western swing into their brand of good time rock and roll. Since the break-up of the original Commander Cody Band, he has remained active in the studio and on the road.
He has just released a new studio album, Seeds and Stems. He was named “the titan of the telecaster” by Guitar Magazine and his new album is a fine example of what that moniker means. The sound is similar to that of Duane Eddy in his prime. There is some reverb mixed in with the twang, plus each note is distinct.
He is still very much connected to the rockabilly school of music. There is also many times a tongue-in-cheek approach as he blazes through the material.
He re-invents the old Commander Cody staple “Hot Rod Lincoln,” but with some twists and turns along the way. It began as a stage concept with his band members yelling out the names of artists that the Lincoln was passing on the highway. Kirchen would then respond by playing classic licks of the artist. This recorded version features him channeling everyone from Johnny Cash to Count Basie to the Sex Pistols. Throw in the Merle’s (Travis and Haggard), the Kings, (Freddy, BB, Albert, Ben E, Carol, Billie Jean, and Elvis), plus Carl Perkins, The Ventures, and Jimi Hendrix to name a few, and you have an epic and entertaining track.
He reaches back to his Commander Cody days on several more tracks. He ramps up the first song he ever wrote for the band, “Too Much Fun.” Then there is “Here I Sit All Alone with a Broken Heart, I Took Three Bennies and My Semi-Truck Won’t Start,” which is reduced to “Semi-Truck,” but it retains its goofy nature. The title track, “Down to Seeds and Stems Again,” remains just about the most depressing song, lyrically, that you will ever hear.
He does travel in a different direction at times. His former rocker “Womb to the Tomb” is slowed down and given a bluesy treatment. Likewise, Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” travels in the same direction.
In the end, it always comes down to fun for Bill Kirchen. “Rockabilly Funeral,” “Flip Flop,” “Mama Hated Diesels,” and “Talkin’ About Chicken” are all lighthearted, amusing romps through his odd world of rock and roll.
The album was recorded very quickly in between dates on his two-week U.K. tour and thus has a live vibe to it, which serves his music well. Seeds And Stems was released June 18, and no doubt Bill Kirchen was somewhere on the road, twangin’ away.