Bobby Kimmel is a very important musician in American music history. While he was growing up in Tucson, he would ask his father to bring home jazz records from the family music retail store that catered to University of Arizona students. His father played the double bass and these events would lead him to learn the guitar and bass. The folk revival era was in full swing when Bobby used to play around the local clubs - and that's where he ran into a young singer named Linda Ronstadt. They would play together here and there. Bobby decided to take a chance and move to Los Angeles where the music scene was flourishing. In a few months, he was gradually working his way into the L.A. scene and called Linda back in Tucson to encouraged her to join him there. When Linda finished school, she did just that. They formed an acoustic trio and went to perform at the Troubadour. Within a couple of performances, they were signed to a major record label and the Stone Poneys were on their way. After enjoying a nice run and a national hit with the song "Different Drum", the Stone Poneys disbanded and Bobby went on to other adventures. Bobby hooked up with a very popular music store in L.A. and promoted concerts in the store with artists such as: Bill Monroe, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Little Feat, Doc Watson and many more. At one of the shows there, he befriended legendary guitar player Doc Watson and eventually went on tour with him as their bass player. Bobby continued to work as a promoter by organizing tours to Japan for bluegrass artists such as: David Grisman, Bill Keith, Geoff Muldaur and many more. He played bass on a few of the tours. Today, Bobby is still going strong as he fronts his current vocal group, I Hear Voices! . They perform regularly in the Tucson area.
R.V.B. - Hi Bobby, how are you today?
B.K. - Hey, I'm alright... how are you?
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good. Are you having a hot day over there?
B.K. - Not too bad yet, but yeah - it's the summer in the desert - so it's hot.
R.V.B. - A buddy of mine lived in Tucson for quite a while and he had brought me back a cactus from the desert - and I still have it.
B.K. - You know, when you talk about Tucson, everybody talks about the heat but the fact is that it's really quite pleasant here a lot of the time. Even in the summer on the worst days, the very early morning is really beautiful. My buddy and I were out hiking early this morning at 6. If you get home by eight it's alright.
R.V.B. - Did you see any wildlife on your hike?
B.K. - Not really. Every once in a while you'll see lizards and an occasional snake but you don't see much. They tend to stay away from us.
R.V.B. - My wife and I take our dogs hiking in trails quite often. Our dogs see more trails then most humans do.
B.K. - Where do you live exactly?
R.V.B. - I'm right in the center on Long Island cheating towards the north shore... the Connecticut side.
B.K. - Ok, I know a little bit about where you are.
R.V.B. - Did you ever make it over here?
B.K. - I did spend a little time in New York but most of the time it was in Manhattan.
R.V.B. - Right - you played a couple of clubs in the village back in the day?
B.K. - Well, WAY back in the day. I hung out in the village and played in a number of the basket houses there.
R.V.B. - That was a very happening scene back then, the whole folk scene.
B.K. - Yeah, but it didn't exactly feel like it at the time - but we realize now that it really was. I mean, all those clubs where people could play.
R.V.B. - Did you run into anybody?
B.K. - Yeah - I remember a friend telling me a story. He said, "Don't you remember that time when you and I and Tom Paxton were on stage together?" and I went, "Really??? I don't remember that".
R.V.B. - (hehehe)
B.K. - I saw Bob Dylan at that famous show that he had at one of the village clubs right before he became Bob Dylan. When nobody knew who he was.
R.V.B. - Oh really?
B.K. - Yeah, I was just hanging out and I wanted to see who this guy was. He wasn't playing any original songs - and the songs he was playing. There were a lot of other guys around who played them better.
R.V.B. - Right, I guess he was still trying to find himself - so to speak?
B.K. - Yeah, and then a year later he was Bob Dylan.
R.V.B. - So what sparked you into playing music? I understand that your father was a double bass player, correct?
B.K. - Correct. A symphony bass player.
R.V.B. - Did you toy with the bass?
B.K. - Only later after he passed away and I inherited it. I had played a couple of things as a kid. I played the accordion and the clarinet. I was terrible at both of them. I didn't like them and I didn't practice. My dad died in my senior year in high school and when I inherited the double bass, I started going out and playing dance band jobs. Much as he had done, little casuals with a little pickup band and you would play for the Elks club dance on Friday night or something. That was really my first musical experience and then I found the guitar and that was kind of it.
R.V.B. - So you must have been fairly decent at the bass if you were sitting in for dances?
B.K. - I was adequate. I was just a kid... I didn't really know the songs as well as I should have, but I had a really good year and I could fake it pretty well.
R.V.B. - I understand your dad sold records?
B.K. - It wasn't a record store. He owned a retail music store and we largely catered to the University of Arizona music students.
R.V.B. - Like renting instruments and things?
B.K. - No, mostly selling printed music. He could sell records and we had a little record bin but it wasn't a big part of our business. When I got interested in jazz, he bought me pretty much every jazz record I had asked him for.
R.V.B. - Give me an example of some that you asked for?
B.K. - Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, The Gerry Mulligan Quartet. I really liked The Dave Brubeck Quartet. I really preferred west coast jazz at the time, to the harder more aggressive east coast jazz stuff, but I listened to it all.
R.V.B. - Right. Obviously you probably loved "Time Out".
B.K. - Oh yeah
R.V.B. - That album still stands up today. It's fantastic.
B.K. - Yeah, I mean it was really unique when it came out. Nobody played in those time signatures.
R.V.B. - The college kids really seemed to grasp on to it.
B.K. - That really surprised me actually - that it was so popular.
R.V.B. - Now with the Miles Davis stuff - did you like the smoother stuff or the "Bitches Brew" stuff - or both?
B.K. - I liked the smooth stuff. I liked "Sketches of Spain", ''Round Midnight", you know the less crazy stuff.
R.V.B. - So you bought a lot of jazz records - how did you get exposed to the folk scene?
B.K. - You know, I think like a whole lot of people, it was probably the emergence of the Kingston Trio.
R.V.B. - Yeah, they really set off the scene with the "Tom Dooley" song.
B.K. - Yeah, and Harry Belafonte - but he didn't play anything- but the Kingston Trio did and it looked way easier than playing "April in Paris" or "Moonlight in Vermont". It just looked like fun and once I got hold of a guitar and started getting into folk music and into the blues - the great guitar players from the earlier days - I was hooked!
R.V.B. - I see that you named your early band after a Charlie Patton song.
B.K. - Yeah... although that was just a freak accident.
R.V.B. - Did you like Charlie Patton?
B.K. - I did. I mean, he wasn't a favorite - and frankly I never heard that tune. The way we actually got that name... we were under pressure from the record company to pick a name and we didn't have one. We had some goofy names that our manager had suggested. We knew this guy who was a musicologist back in the day. He was a folk music collector and he had a huge catalog of old blues and "old timey" records. We were just looking through the card catalog - just flipping through and looking for ideas and somebody saw that song and said, " What about that ?". It sounded like a name that people would have because every band had names like "The Grateful Dead" and the "Iron Butterfly".
R.V.B. - That's an interesting way to come up with a name. So this guy - this musicologist - was that a card catalog of the 78's that he owned? Did you go to his house?
B.K. - Yeah, his house was somewhere near where we lived in that sort of student section of Santa Monica. I don't remember his name and I don't actually remember the event. He was a friend of a friend and he said, "Yeah, you can come over and look through it".
R.V.B - So when you started out playing the guitar, did you start out as a solo artist? Did you start playing anywhere as a solo artist or did you start with your buddies?
B.K. - I started out by myself and eventually after a few years in Tucson, I started out playing with one group or another. For one thing, I played bass behind a trio with Linda Ronstadt and her older brother and sister. That was memorable - they could really sing well.
R.V.B. - How did you find them?
B.K. - It was a small community... it was a small town and a small folk music community within that town, so it was hard for us to miss each other. The answer to your question is, I never really liked playing alone. Occasionally, I would do it at the very beginning just to get on stage experience. There were a couple of pretty active folk music clubs here and one of them. We formed a little group - the four of us - and we used to sing there regularly. We were kind of like the house group. They also brought in some traveling people - some good people came through.
R.V.B. - When you started there, did you play standards of the time or traditional songs of the past?
B.K. - Yeah, we learned all the sort of folk music... if you were fingerpicker, then you learned Mississippi John Hurt songs and "Freight Train" that Elizabeth Cotton played. We learned all those songs and some things from Doc Watson if you could play them.
R.V.B. - Yeah, well that's some good fingerpickers.
B.K - Yeah we played the standard folk music repertoire.
R.V.B. - So when you met up with Linda, were they doing the same thing?
B.K. - They played different songs from the ones that I knew, but they were still kind of folk music standards.
R.V.B. - Now after you played around Tucson you moved to California - was that a big move for you?
B.K. - Oh yeah, absolutely.
R.V.B. - Did you have a place to go? How did you go about it? You just picked up and left?
B.K. - Pretty much. I just picked up and left. I really had no plan. A good buddy of mine and I went together. He had just graduated the university of Arizona with a degree in journalism and had a job at the L.A. Times. That was our anchor really - that he had a place to go. So we went. We found a place to live.
R.V.B. - Now did he play also?
B.K. - No. He was just my friend - and so because he had a salary - we could guarantee the rent. So we got a place and he worked at the L.A. Times and I didn't do much of anything. I just started checking out the local clubs and the local scene.
R.V.B. - What did you find when you first got there?
B.K. - Well, there was a lot going on. There were coffee houses... what I found was that there were a lot of really talented people out there.
R.V.B. - So I guess you just started networking yourself around and joining in on the open jams?
B.K. - There were a lot of open mike nights and places where you could go and play. I just started going around and meeting people - and like I said at that time - I played by myself just to be able to play on stage. It was at that point that I started going to the Troubadour in West Los Angeles. That club at that point was pretty much the epicenter - I think - of the whole music business at the time.
R.V.B. - Yeah, everybody and their brother played there.
B.K. - Everybody and their brother played there, and "all" of the L.A. people hung out there. I was just reading a book about Linda Ronstadt about that. Long before any of us had careers, this whole body of L.A. singer/songwriter, folk musicians - whatever you wanted to call us - but I mean Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Michael Nesmith from the Monkees, and all of the guys from the Nitty Gritty Dirt band and most of the guys from the Association... everybody was at the Troubadour on Monday night for the open mike night. When I began to see what was going on was when I began recruiting Linda Ronstadt.
R.V.B. - Now did it take a little bit of talking in to, to get her to go there?
B.K. - Not that much. I think in her book and I didn't remember all of this... I think in her book it says she actually enrolled one semester at the University of Arizona. I didn't remember that. I thought she came straight out of high school. Basically what I said was, "If you come to L.A., we will get a record deal". I found this guitar player named Kenny Edwards in one of the clubs and he was just a kid like Linda. He was probably her age - seventeen. I was three years older than Linda I think - which seemed like a lot in those days. You know, I was twenty and she was seventeen. I said, "I found this guitar player and I guarantee you if you come, we would get a record deal because people with way less talent than you are getting record deals". It turned out to be true.
R.V.B. - How long did it take?
B.K. - (Hahaha) I'm only laughing at that question because when young musicians now ask me "What did it take"? I'm almost embarrassed to tell them. It took one appearance at the Monday night open night at the Troubadour.
R.V.B. - (Hahaha)
B.K. - We were there actually twice I think - but the first night when we came off stage guys were handing us business cards saying, "I'm from A&M Records, I'm from Columbia Records, I'm a manager, I'd be interested in talking to you guys".
R.V.B. - That's a pretty quick way of hitting it.
B.K. - Yeah, I mean it was - but that was the nature of things in those days.
R.V.B. - Do you remember what songs you tackled that first night that caught everybody's attention?
B.K. - I wouldn't be surprised if one of them was a song called "2:10 Train" which was on the first Stone Poneys album.
R.V.B. - So you were already playing some originals?
B.K. - Yes. We were playing some of my songs and "2:10 Train" was written by a friend of ours. I mean, that was part of the package. When I wrote to Linda I said, "I've got original songs - which is what everybody wants. You've got the greatest voice that I've ever heard and Kenny's a great guitar player. We have enough to get a record deal" - and I was right.
R.V.B. - So were you primarily a rhythm player and Kenny was the lead player?
B.K. - Yes. I was primarily the songwriter, so I wrote interesting finger style guitar parts for myself but Kenny played all of the lead guitar solos.
R.V.B. - When you went out there, did you bring the double bass along or did you leave it at home?
B.K. - Actually, I didn't travel with it. I left my father's bass here in Arizona and I traded it for the one I actually ended up playing for my whole career. I traded a guy in L.A., I had an amp I didn't need, and he had this bass that he wanted to trade, and it was the best deal I ever made. So I had a bass in L.A., but I really hardly ever played it except at parties or something.
R.V.B. - So when you got signed so quickly did you go to the studio real fast also?
B.K. - Yep. I was gonna tell you an interesting story about getting discovered. We were in a laundromat one day near where we lived in Santa Monica doing our laundry and I said, "Well it has great sound in here" - because it was just this concrete block building - "We should all go over together and if nobody is in there we can practice singing". So we did - and these two guys were walking by and heard us sing and walked in and said, "Hey - we're managers and we want to manage you guys". That was even pre going to the Troubadour. So we played the Troubadour and a few people made contact with us. We went back maybe a month or so later and did it again. That's the one, I think we connected with Herb Cohen and that was it.
B.K. - Yes. As I said, Herb Cohen was a manager. At the time, I think he managed Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and a couple of other artists. He was a real manager and not a hope-to-be and he - in turn - connected us with Nick Venet at Capitol. We went in and cut a little three or four song demo and Capitol went for it and we were in the studio about a month later.
R.V.B. - So after that, when the album came out, did it get radio play?
B.K. - Nothing really came of the first record. We went out and did a national tour behind that record, but really nothing came of it. I think that the record company's philosophy in the day - and I believe Nick Venet basically told us this - I think our first record cost about five thousand dollars or something which is chump change by today's standards. The record company's idea was: It didn't cost that much to make a record, so they would just make cheap first records of all these different bands. Everybody saw Linda Ronstadt's potential, so Capitol decided to make a second record. The second one they put some money into. They hired a guy named Jimmy Bond who became my lifelong friend. He was a Julliard graduate, a double bass player who had played with Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie - I mean he had a fabulous career. He wrote charts for several tunes on the second record including "Different Drum" which was our hit.
R.V.B. - Right. Now that song... I understand was recorded already - right?
B.K. - Yeah, we learned it from the first really city bluegrass group who came out of New York City. I think they were called "The Greenbrier Boys". John Herald became a friend of mine who was the guitar player. It's a trio, a banjo, and Ralph Rinzler - the great folk musicologist who had done tons of collecting of early music was in that band. They had recorded "Different Drum". That's where we learned it. We never heard Michael Nesmith's version until much later.
R.V.B. - So obviously that one got radio play. Now , were you expecting it to be on the radio, or did you casually hear it somewhere?
B.K. - It was interesting what happened back then - especially given the situation now. If you remember, it was the days of FM radio and everything was wide open. Every radio station had their own music director and their own program manager and you could play pretty much everything you wanted. So records were able to be broken that way. There was a guy in northern California who heard and liked "Different Drum" and he started playing it. It was like the wild west. Everybody had a chance and this guy just started playing "Different Drum" in like - San Jose somewhere - and it became a hit on that station. Another station picked it up and then a San Francisco station picked it up. The next thing we knew it was national.
R.V.B. - Now you mentioned that you toured on the first album... I presume you had to do it again.
B.K. - Yeah, the problem after the second album was made, Kenny Edwards had gotten restless. As I said, when I first met Kenny Edwards he was sitting in the back of one of the little coffee houses in L.A. playing the guitar and he sounded really good. I said to him, "Hey, I'm gonna play a few songs in a little while - do you want to come and back me up?" and he said, "Well, I've never played on stage before". So I sort of recruited him and Linda came out and I said, " I want you to meet this guitar player" and we started playing together. One day, we were singing something - Linda and I started out a lot of things in two parts. One day, we wanted a third part and we said to Kenny, "Can you sing this third part?" and Kenny said, "I don't know, I've never sang anything before". So we made the first record together and we made the second record and at that point Kenny Edwards is now not a seventeen year old high school kid anymore. He's got a record out, now he's got a second record out, and he really did not want to play acoustic music. He really wanted to plug in and play rock and roll.
R.V.B. - Well, that scene was also emerging also over there.
B.K. - Absolutely - bands like the Buffalo Springfield. There were a lot of great electric bands. Kenny wanted to play electric music. That folky style was not his style, so he quit the band to go off and be a rocker.
R.V.B. - How did it work out for him?
B.K. - Well, (hahaha) it worked out pretty well. About six years later I guess, when "Heart Like a Wheel" came out, I really believed to this day that... well, let me back up. For years before that, Kenny and our friend Andrew Gold had teamed up and were trying to put a band together. I don't know if they were roommates but they were inseparable. I mean, they woke up in the morning and turned on the record player and were listening to music and that's all they did. They played music, they listened to music, they learned music, and they put this band together. Six years later when a number of different forces come together at just the right time - Linda switched managers and went with Peter Asher. Best move she ever made and Peter Asher chose this band to back Linda up on her next record. Kenny Edwards and Andrew Gold were the core of that band. That whole string of hits that began with Blue Bayou and through those early hits of hers, Kenny Edwards is singing the vocal parts on Blue Bayou. He was in her touring band for years so that combination of the three of us in the beginning was a good combination because he ended up having a long career with her.
R.V.B. - I see that you toured briefly with The Doors and The Association - was that from the first tour?
B.K. - I don't even remember The Association show, but I absolutely remember The Doors. I think it was from the first tour.
R.V.B. - Did you just play one show with them or were there others?
B.K. - Two - one was in Rochester New York and the other was in Cleveland - I think. We were on tour and we played two dates opening for them. It's a horrible double bill if you think about it. It's like Beauty and the Beast.
R.V.B. - Who else did you get teamed up with?
B.K. - I remember one time where they put together four or five acts on a show in New York, and I think it might have been The Yardbirds.
R.V.B. - Now, does that club in New Jersey - The Stone Pony - have any relation to you?
B.K. - They picked that name - I guess - based on our band, but the club didn't open until years after us.
R.V.B. - Well, I guess things change and you came out with one final album.
B.K. - Well - as I said - Kenny had already quit right around the time that "Different Drum" became a hit and we had already committed to one more tour. So it was kind of thrown together. We picked up a friend of ours from here in Tucson to be the other guitar player. We got a bass player and a drummer which we never had before. When that group went out, it didn't look like The Stone Poneys at all. The Stone Poneys was an acoustic trio with a lot of tight three part singing. That group was a foreshadowing of what was gonna come which was Linda Ronstadt with a backup band. We played that tour and at the end of it... I remember our manager at the time coming to my hotel room in New York which was our next to last stop saying, "When we get back home to California the band is breaking up". I said "Herbie, I'm the leader of this band - how is it that I don't know this?" But in fact, the die was cast.
R.V.B. - It was beyond your control I guess
B.K. - Yeah, I mean when you look back on it, it was what needed to happen. Linda needed to be out on her own.
R.V.B. - I see that you got involved with McCabe's Guitar shop.
B.K. - Right
R.V.B. - Now that was a music store that didn't have anything going on until you started arranging things?
B.K. - Essentially - yes. Once the Stone Poneys broke up I spent seven, eight, or nine months in northern California deciding what to do, and I had such a bad time on both of the Stone Poney tours. I was so disappointed about the clubs that we played and they way we were treated.
R.V.B. - Why you weren't treated very well?
B.K. - Well, they were not really acoustic venues. They were venues for rock bands. It wasn't that we were abused, it's you know, clubs with no dressing rooms and very loud and just not the kind of listening rooms that we wanted to play in. By the time I got back I thought, "Wow - if this is what you get when you're traveling behind a number one record?". It's not that appealing and I decided that what I would do - because I didn't have a band - and I didn't have the kind of talent where I could create one around myself - I decided to open a club that musicians would really like. The people at McCabe's were friends of mine and they approached me. It was just serendipitous really. The owner of McCabe's came up to visit because I was living in this ideal spot in Big Sur and he said, "What are you gonna do now?" and I said, "Well I'm gonna try to open a club in L.A. " and he said, " You know we've always wanted to have concerts at McCabe's" and that was it. We started to talk and it was a natural.
B.K. - Well, in the original building, they just had one big front room.
R.V.B. - So these shows were right out where the instruments were?
B.K. - The instruments were all hanging on the wall. That was all part of the charm.
R.V.B. - Did you build a little stage or something?
B.K. - Yeah, exactly. We built a small stage and after about two years in the original store, we kind of outgrew it because the concerts were growing - everything was growing. So we moved a few doors away into a much bigger building and built the room that still exists today. It's still open - we're going to play there in November. The walls are still lined with guitars. I remember the first time Doc Watson played there. When he walked on stage the first time, he said to his son... I'll never forget it, I was there and he said, "Son, what's that sound?" because all of the guitars were vibrating.
R.V.B. - What a tremendous talent he was. It must have been a thrill to tour with him.
B.K. - Oh yeah, he was my hero. I mean he was an idol of mine as he was of everybody's. He was one of my teachers growing up. That's how I started playing the guitar. I listened to Doc Watson. We all listened to him, so yeah, he was a living legend. It was a huge thrill and a real honor and really big time fun.
R.V.B. - Where did you meet him?
B.K. - I met him at McCabe's the first time and then he came back. He subsequently played the club a number of times. My partner at the time, Nancy Cubby, was partners in the concert production event. We arranged a tour one year where we took Doc and Merle up and down the California coast. We did seven or eight shows with him and the "New Grass Revival" in seven different cities and it was big time fun.
R.V.B. - So you supported him with the double bass. I know you were primarily a guitar player - were you practicing the instrument? How did you wind up playing double bass for him?
B.K. - It's a great story actually. It's a great story about be careful what you ask for. I had gotten re-interested in the double bass and it was right around the time that I quit McCabe's after seven years. I had been practicing a lot. I had been practicing to Doc Watson records because most of his songs were fairly easy. They were simple songs to learn and I had been playing several hours a day for a while. So I finally quit McCabe's - and I'm so burned out, and just need a break, and I got in my car, and take off for New York just to go visit friends and just get away. On the way, I stopped in Colorado because Doc Watson and Merle were playing there. I stopped in to see them and I told them that I had been practicing the double bass a lot so if you ever need a replacement bass player - if Michael your regular guy ever needs a break or is ever sick or something -call me up. About two or three months later, I got a call from his manager and he said, "Doc's coming out to do a west coast tour and Michael doesn't want to come and he wants some time off. Doc wants to know if you want to play?". Fortunately I had about six months to really get in shape. After that,I toured with him several different times. They were short tours - usually two to three weeks at a time but I did enough to get very close to him and close to Merle.
R.V.B. - Now, approximately how many songs did you play? Did he switch up the set list?
B.K. - Uh, I don't know - 30? What I learned after touring with him for a while was they sort of had a template for what their shows looked like. So we had one or two openers that he would choose from and then one or two second songs that he would choose from. Then he would have a banjo song. There would be a few of those so there wouldn't be that many to learn.
R.V.B. - What did the act consist of?
B.K. - Well it was just Doc and Merle on guitars and me on double bass.
R.V.B. - That's it, back to your normal trio.
B.K. - Yeah. Doc sang and that was it. Merle never opened his mouth on stage.
R.V.B. - So was there any memorable shows with that act that stick out in your mind?
B.K. - Oh yeah. We played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival when it was maybe the best musical event in the country. That's what Bonnie Raitt said one day. She was talking to me and she said, " You gotta go" and when we played it, it really was fabulous. It was on this huge fairgrounds but it was all grassy - a huge lawn. There were about five different stages. It was easy to get around. You could just get a schedule and go "Oh, at one o'clock, I'm gonna go see Bobby "Blue" Bland and his band" and have crawfish etouffee. Later on, I'll get shrimp jambalaya. So I remember playing the Jazz and Heritage festival.
R.V.B. - That sounds awesome.
B.K. - We played Royce Hall at UCLA. I grew up basically - musically in L.A. - and that's where all the great players played - classical and otherwise. So that was a pretty big thrill for me to play what was then the best auditorium in L.A.. It's an absolute highlight of my career.
R.V.B. - So I sampled some of your new band - the "I Hear Voices Band". Why did you go back to Tuscon?
B.K. - Well I hated L.A. by the time I moved. L.A. was really fun when I got there and not very much fun when I left. It's gotten too crowded, too congested, too much traffic, too much crime, too much smog. Although more than anything else, I came back to Tucson because I had a house here - my family home. My mom had passed away. My dad had passed away when I was like seventeen. When my mom passed away, the house passed to my sister and I. She had no interest in it and I had a big time interest in it, so I bought out her interest. I was married at the time, and when my wife hit retirement age, we got out of L.A.. I loved it here and we had a house that was already paid for so...
R.V.B. - Yeah, I guess that's a no brainer. There's one thing I forgot to ask you about and that's the promoting of the Japanese tours. Now how did you go about setting something like that up? Isn't that a big undertaking?
B.K. - Well it's a huge undertaking - but again - it's just a right combination of people. There was a kid who had worked at McCabe's who had come from Japan. He was an apprentice as a guitar repairman. He ended up spending years and years here and finally ended up getting a green card and just lived in America for a very long time. Through him, I met his friend named Heroshi OSada. Hiroshi was a concert promoter and music businessman, small time in Japan. It was Heroshi's idea and what we did that was so unique... before us, if an American artist went to Japan... let's say they took Linda Ronstadt. They would typically do one show in Tokyo at the Budokan. The big huge auditorium and that might be the whole tour. A larger tour might have been one show in Tokyo and one in Osaka. Then the bands would go home. What we did is brought much lesser acts. We brought like a bluegrass all star band that really was the best that you could assemble. They were all the bright stars of bluegrass at the time. David Grisman, Tony Rice, Richard Green and Bill Keith, Peter Rowan - and it was truly an all star band. There was a big market for that in Japan. What we did was instead of playing one show in one city, we would play seven or eight different shows in seven or eight cities. They got to travel around and see the country. It was great for the musicians. They were treated like royalty and it worked for the most part.
R.V.B. - and you got to go along also, right?
B.K. - I got to go on some of them. I went as a player my friends Geoff Muldaur, Amos Garrett and the other time I just went as kind of like a baby sitter. To make sure that everybody didn't get lost and got on the bus in time, because if you missed the bus to the auditorium it was like a real big deal. I got to go five different times, twice as a player and three other tours. I went on a tour with David Grisman and Tony Rice who was probably one of the greatest flat picking guitar players of all time.
R.V.B. - You played with them?
B.K. - No I was the road manager.
R.V.B. He's very active, I know he did a lot of work with Jerry Garcia. He is still going strong.
B.K. - He's still going strong. I see him every once in a while. He played here in Tucson not too long ago. So that was really, really fun. It was always paycheck to paycheck in those days. We survived and we had a wonderful reputation. My partner would occasionally book shows himself. He booked this English rock and roll band and the night they were supposed to play Tokyo there was a typhoon and nobody could come to the show. We had to pay the band anyway and that pretty much broke our backs and put us out of business.
R.V.B. - Well, it sounded like it was fun while it lasted.
B.K. - Oh, it was great fun while it lasted.
R.V.B. - So you're back in the saddle. You got yourself a good little group. I sampled some of your music on your website. The singing is wonderful.
B.K. - Thanks. We're pretty excited about this band.
R.V.B. - I see you brought in some string players on the album. Do they play with you or were they just for the album?
B.K. - Well, both. They don't play with us all the time because the fiddle player and the guitar player both have their own live and their own groups here in town. So they play all the time. We have a couple of shows lined up together.
R.V.B. - Yeah, I saw that you're playing at a church or something?
B.K. - Yeah, we play at a local church and do you know who Laurie Lewis is?
R.V.B. - Not really
B.K. - Laurie Lewis is now a bluegrass icon. She's been around forever. She's one of my favorite musicians of all time. We're bringing her to town in September and we'll be playing with her and the strings will be playing with us on that show.
R.V.B. - So, is that Linda's cousin in the band? Bobby Ronstadt?
B.K. -Yes, that's Linda's cousin and soon to be ex-wife. They were married for many years. They both are still in the band together.
R.V.B. - Is she the one with the curly hair?
B.K. - Yes - the blonde
R.V.B. The other woman in the band is Kathy Harris - where did you find her?
B.K. - We started playing together largely because her husband had died in a tragic accident. He was not only her husband, but her life partner, her musical partner and they did everything together. It was a while after Roger had passed away and I knew they played together all the time. They just loved to play. We got together a couple of times socially just to play some tunes together because I was sad that she had lost her partner. We played a couple of things and she plays the autoharp. She was not a great autoharp player, we tried to figure out ways to play together. It really wasn't working out, but I said ,"You know what? I wrote this song and really wrote it as a duet. Let me record the duet part for you. See if you could learn it and lets see if we could sing it together". It was not an easy part and she came back a week later and just had it down. I thought to myself "Wow, she is a much better musician than I thought she was". So that was the beginning of it. We sang that song a couple of times and I said," Boy, there's this part here in the middle where I really wish we had a couple more voices". Like a string section. I love to have these ooh parts in the backround and she said, "You know, my friends Bobby and Suzy are great backup singers" I knew who they were but we weren't really friends. We got together once and heard the four part vocal sounds...
R.V.B. - It was like magic?
B.K. - Yes, and I knew that we were on to something. We continue to grow as musicians and we are singing better than we ever have... doing more interesting music. We're starting to play better shows. It's sort of a culmination of my career.
R.V.B. - Do any of the other members play instruments also?
B.K. - Yeah, as I said, Kathy plays the autoharp, Bobby Ronstadt plays several instruments, but they're not skilled players and my theory in the beginning was I wasn't all that skilled myself, but I was the best of the three of us. My theory was : If you're not a very good guitar player and you try to compensate for it by getting a friend who is not a very good mandolin player to play with you, you also get a bass player who also is not very good, the end result is not very good. So what I decided right at the very beginning, was in order for us to really focus on our vocals, I wanted to be just a vocal group. We're just gonna sing and I'll play rhythm guitar and that's it. I thought it would change over time, but it turned out to be the right move. Because there were no other instruments, everything had to be done vocally. Then when we finally went out to get other players, we got two of the best players around. It's a better formula.
R.V.B. - Well, it sure sounds like you set yourself up for some more fun. Is there anything that you like to do other than music? Do you have any hobbies? I know you hike.
B.K. - I hike a lot. I have a beautiful garden. I'm a lifelong meditator. I'm deep into my spiritual practice and that's my life here. My singing group really is the centerpiece of my life now.
R.V.B. - That sounds awesome. I'm glad it's working out for you.
B.K. - I'm really thrilled with this group - that we get along so well because of the combination of our voices and because we're all so much older - we've been around the block - we know all the pitfalls of why bands don't stay together.
R.V.B. - So you're healthy and you're feeling ok?
B.K. - I have no serious complaints. A lot of little minor nagging things but nothing serious. I did want to say one last thing about Linda before we get off this subject. A fellow called me up from Detroit, I think his name was Mark Watson and he's writing a book about Linda and he asked me if I'd write the introduction to it. I'm thrilled to do that and I said in the book that what we did in the Stone Poneys is that we launched one of the most impressive careers that came out of popular music. Linda, over the course of her career sang pop hits, she sang Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, she sang the American songbook with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, she made a couple of best selling Mariachi CD's.
R.V.B. - Yeah, she covered a lot of genres.
B.K. - She covered a lot of genres and she did them all really, really well... That's the thing. The stuff she sang with Nelson Riddle is the stuff that I grew up with. I thought she sang those songs great. Really beautifully.
R.V.B - I saw Linda here in a theater called Westbury and I got to shake her hand. The theater has a rotating stage and I happened to be sitting on the aisle seat where she walked down. She did start some stuff there. I guess she made a political statement and people started yelling things. She had a tendency to rile people up.
BK. - She did - and I've always admired her for that. When I wrote in this introduction - when I think back, there was no other artist whom I can think of who came out of our generation and covered that kind of musical ground. She was brave because I know her management didn't want her to do those songs from the 40's and 50's with Nelson Riddle. They thought she would lose her rock and roll audience and it had just the opposite effect. They didn't want her to do the Mariachi records and it had the opposite effect. She never compromised artistically. Everything that she did she did with remarkable artistry.
R.V.B. - She did the country route and did that very well.
B.K. - Yeah exactly. I was happy to be able to put that in print.
R.V.B. - That's very nice. Well you're a big part of her career. You started out with her and talked her into going to L.A.
B.K. - Well I certainly didn't know what we were starting and neither did she. I'm honored to be part of a career that just got her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won her the National Metal of the Arts at the White House.
R.V.B. - She was just inducted this year.
B.K. - Yeah, and President Obama place the National Medal of the Arts around her neck.
R.V.B. - Right, now I heard that she came to meet you and she and actually sang on one of your tracks not too long ago.
B.K. - It's probably one of the last vocal things she ever did. Several years ago... probably four or five years ago there was a song I wrote. She had come to visit Tucson and I had mentioned that we had some takes on our new CD and she wanted to hear them and so I was all excited. I was playing the song and she was humming along in the backround. I said,"Linda that's beautiful, would you sing on the record with us?". She said, "I won't do a solo, but I'll sing in the chorus with you". It was real gracious for her to do that so late in her career. As I said, "It probably turned out to be one of the last things that she ever recorded".
R.V.B. - It's very sad what is going on now. Do you stay in touch with her?
B.K. - We are still close... we talk regularly if not frequently. Once a month I'll call her or she'll send an email or I will. When I go to L.A. in November to play McCabe's, I'll probably go up to San Francisco and visit her while she's still in some kind of physically decent shape.
R.V.B. - I'm very sorry to hear what she's going through.
B.K. - Yeah, It's pretty sad. The Parkinson's is really progressing. She can hardly walk. It was a big deal that she was able to get out of a wheelchair at the White House and be on her feet for the President to give her the medal. I think she walked about ten yards and sat back down. Is there anything else I can tell you?
R.V.B. - Thank you very much. It was an honor to speak with you. I really appreciate you taking this time to speak with me. I learned a whole lot. Have a nice day.
B.K. - Thanks - Bye now.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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