By Jeffrey Allen Federowicz
For The Daily Item
MILLHEIM — While other kids his age were tuning into cartoons, Kevin Gordon tuned to music, an experience that enthralled the youngster and set him dancing.
It was not an uncommon sight to spot the pajama-clad Gordon dancing next to the stereo console when his parents threw a party and would spin Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles records.
Music made him happy.
Today, the Nashville resident continues to be enthralled with music but now the crooner, often called the singing poet laureate of the south, enjoys making other people happy with his trademark rock n’ roll that’s seasoned with a heavy dose of rhythm to give it such a kick even Ray Charles would approve.
How good is his music?
Not only is Rolling Stone’s rocker Keith Richards a fan, he also recorded one of Gordon’s original tunes.
On Saturday, Gordon, along with two other music makers, will descend upon the Elk Creek Café in Millheim for a night of songs and suds.
“There’s no slight-of-hand, smoke-and-mirrors, card tricks, or mud wrestling. It’s just about the music. An unpretentious, energetic delivery of my songs,” Gordon said. “We have fun. Folks who come out to the shows tend to dance.”
Although the guitar is his musical weapon of choice, Gordon became high stung with the stringed instrument when the 18-year-old joined a punk rock band and started performing publicly. In 1988 he started performing professionally.
Over the years his music evolved from the crude punker style to that of a talented musician with a passion for words and song.
“Being someone who doesn’t pay much heed to categories, it’s always been hard to me to sum up my music in a nice, tight, elevator-pitch sort of way,” he said. “That said, I suppose what I’m doing is roots-based rock and roll, heavily rhythmic music, influenced by John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, et al., with a lot of attention paid to lyric content.”
And the lyrical content is where the crooner earned the moniker of a singing poet laureate since his original music weaves together lyrics that echo of life’s good times and times that were not so good.
His music has the raw power to connect individuals while at other times get them dancing,
“Since I’m a songwriter, live shows are primarily made up of my own material, though occasionally during a longer show I’ll throw a cover in, usually by a bedrock influence, like Slim Harpo, Hank Williams, or Tom Waits,” he said.
So what’s it like for this humble music maker to have one of his original tunes recorded by some of rock and roll’s most iconic musicians? Gordon is still trying to fathom the idea.
“Having my songs recorded by musicians like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Levon Helm of The Band, and others, is still slightly unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve never had a hit, but the artists who’ve covered my songs are artists I hold a lot of reverence for, like Irma Thomas, Ronnie Hawkins, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and others.”
In addition to penning songs for noted players, life as a traveling musician provides a wealth of material for Gordon’s original songs in addition to experience some great and not so great experiences of making a living from music.
“I had a great show with my band recently at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which is always a fine time, and being a Louisiana native, it’s always an honor to play that festival,” he said. “The downside of this, well, usually things go well on the road but there is the occasional crisis: I had my band vehicle stolen once, had food poisoning, flight delay and equipment failure.”
Gordon is expecting smooth sailing as he heads to Elk Creek this weekend for a show that will showcase his music stories that serve as a snapshot into his life and personal experiences that are both good and bad.
“My songs are often very personal — written about real people I know or knew. That alone creates an individual context, I hope. I think the music overall is an accessible hybrid: smart, but roadhouse friendly. I like that I can play the same songs in a rock club, or at a house concert.”