Kevin Kerby writes songs. Sometime around the fourth grade Kerby became obsessed with his dad’s record collection; a delicate balance of country, soul, and comedy. Make any connections you would like at this point.
Kerby would spend most friday nights layer out on the living room floor, headphones on, listening to Charley Pride, Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby. It was late on one of these friday nights that the fourth grader decided he needed his own record collection.
Kerby’s mother agreed to take him to the Gibson’s department store in McKinney, TX and let him pick out his first very own record. Trying to avoid duplicating any selections he had seen in his dad and older brother’s collections, Kerby quickly selected Styx’s “Paradise Theatre”. He based his choice on the “video” he had seen for “Too Much Time On My Hands” at his friend Nick Thelen’s house. His mother, afraid that the title was a sexual reference, sent him back to the record racks to make a different selection. It was then that the fourth grade mind took over and Kerby chose the Village People’s “YMCA” based on the “cool cover”. The next day, Kerby took his new record to school. John Harvel, curious about what information the disc held, picked it up to have a closer look. The record slipped out of the cover and smashed on the floor of Mrs. Helton’s fourth grade classroom.
Undaunted, Kerby continued his musical search. He eventually got a copy of “Paradise Theatre” and “The Best Of The Doobie Brothers”. At some point during all of this searching, Kerby’s younger brother (Josh) came along forcing him to share a room with his older brother (Todd).
Todd was cool. He loved Space Invaders and Billy Squier. He played football, drove a Pinto, wore 3/4 sleeve concert shirts, and listened to ZZ Top. He also left his stereo on all of the time. If he wasn’t there, it was on. If he was sleeping, it was on. It was usually tuned to 98 KZEW (the Zoo) out of Dallas, TX. When the radio wasn’t on, it usually meant that Kiss “Double Platinum” was. AC/DC was another popular artist. Though Todd once came home from a Church Of Christ youth rally and threw all of the Aussie’s records “in the bin”. Not to worry, they were quickly (and quietly) rescued by Kevin and a few days later were back in rotation without much discussion.
It wasn’t long before the oldest Kerby brother graduated high school and went off to college at a Church Of Christ school in Arkansas, leaving Kerby with his own room and a stereo. He quickly began filling his collection with records by Rush and Triumph (he was really into Canadian power trios at this time).
It was at this point Kerby started noticing lyrics. Maybe it was the influence of his dad’s record collection (top-notch musicianship, next to top-notch comedy writers who chose their words and timing so carefully) but something had gotten inside of him that made his sole focus the words. Good or bad didn’t enter the picture. Huey Lewis was just as good as Bob Dylan. If the story was good, and the chorus was hooky, Kerby was in. He became a man/boy obsessed with figuring out how it all worked.
Some of his favorites; Jason and the Scorchers, The Del Fuegos, Los Lobos, Peter Case; were masters to him. To his young mind, things couldn’t get better. Then came R.E.M.
In theory, Michael Stipe was a good lyricist. But who really knew? He mumbled obscure references over ordinary musicians doing extraordinary things with limited ability. It was glorious. Stipe’s mumbles allowed people to fill in the spaces between the words that could be understood. And this is how Kerby started writing songs. He also started playing harmonica because he couldn’t afford a guitar. But that’s a different story.
As his friend’s formed bands, Kerby stayed on the sidelines – sort of pretending he was a drummer while secretly borrowing neglected guitars and teaching himself to play enough chords to write songs.
Early cohorts included Brent Best. Kerby and Best were in their first band together. Kerby played rhythm guitar and Best played bass. Sylvester Howard was the drummer, and the lead singer was Steve Stemac. Stemac was hilarious and dreamed of combining metal music with John Denver type folk music. They played one gig on Christmas Eve at Club Clearview in Dallas.
Soon after, Kerby and Best started a two-man “Black Grass” band called Sad Monkey Railroad; a reference to a train that takes tourists around Paliduro Canyon State Park in Amarillo, TX. It was in Sad Monkey Railroad that Kerby and Best really started writing. Traditional chord progressions were discovered and more than one “public domain” song was parted out and repurposed. Best went on to form Slobberbone and Kerby went off to the same college his brother (and older sister) had attended in Arkansas. It was here that Kerby met a girl, joined a couple of bands, got signed to a major label, got dropped from a major label, and eventually started the regionally popular band, Mulehead.
Mulehead played weekends and made a lot of records before calling it quits in 2004. Kerby started making solo records shortly after. A couple of his songs found their way onto other folks records. “Josephine” onto Slobberbone’s “Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today” and “Paper Mills and Broken Wills” onto Joey Kneiser’s “All Night Bedroom Revival”.
Though relatively popular, Kerby kept trying to become a better songwriter. Turning his old formula on it’s head (make songs as general as possible so that more people can relate), he now writes about specific events and people in his life, banking on the fact that everyone shares the same feelings and experiences just to different degrees. The observant artist will feel things more than the partying frat boy, but both will feel it. And perhaps share a high-five. Kevin Kerby writes songs.