Guitar Player Magazine dubbed him the “Titan of the Telecaster.” Rolling Stone said he’s “an American treasure” and “one of our best.” No matter what you call him, Bill Kirchen is a founding father of the Americana movement. Now at the peak of his impressive career, he’ll return to his hometown of Ann Arbor with his band (David Carroll on bass and Rick Richards on drums) at 8 p.m. July 31 at The Ark.
Kirchen was originally known as co-founder and lead guitarist of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, one of the first and only rock ‘n’ roll bands to infuse their honky-tonk sound with pure, blood-and-guts country roots and western swing. It was Kirchen’s indelible guitar licks that drove their hit, “Hot Rod Lincoln,” into the Top 10 in 1972; the song eventually took on a post-Cody life of its own. Today, Kirchen’s extended version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” is his universally loved signature masterpiece, a pumped up joyride through the last 60 years of guitar-god history, described as “epic” by Rolling Stone.
In 2001, Kirchen received a Grammy nomination for his instrumental “Poultry in Motion.” The following year he was inducted into the Washington Area Music Association Hall of Fame, neatly sandwiched between John Phillip Sousa and Dave Grohl. Kirchen has recorded and/or played guitar live with a who’s who of Americana and Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll, among them Gene Vincent, Link Wray, Bo Diddley, Hazel Dickens, Doug Sahm, Hoyt Axton, Emmylou Harris, Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks and Nick Lowe. Bill is pretty sure that he is the only person to have, in a single year, stood on stage and played with both Ralph Stanley and Elvis Costello.
Kirchen has released 10 albums on his own; the latest, “Seeds and Stems,” debuted last summer. It’s a studio album that manages to capture the essence and vibe of Kirchen’s shows: his astounding guitar virtuosity and near-magical, joyous connection with his audience. Featured are some perpetual crowd-pleasers from the Cody days, his sublime, poignant take on Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”, and an amusing bonus track with old friend Jorma Kaukonen, finger-picking through a tune that asks the musical question, “Are you talking ’bout love, or are you talkin’ ’bout chicken?”
Thursday night promises to be a homecoming show you won’t want to miss, a breathtaking display of Telecaster mastery covering the gamut of Americana roots influences.