by Dan Harr
Orange County in Southern California has been an extremely fertile place for blues artists, as notable names including harpist James Harman and guitarist Walter Trout, among many others, come from the large suburban-like enclave situated just south of Los Angeles and north of San Diego.
One of the newer names making waves in “The OC” (as it’s called) is Bluespower, fronted by dynamic guitarist-vocalist-songwriter, Kenny “Big Daddy” Williams. A California native, Williams has played in numerous bands throughout his career, and most recently co-fronted another popular Orange County group, Papermoon Gypsys, with stepdaughter, Lexi Kowalczyk. Williams is also an on-air radio personality at KX93.5 FM in Laguna Beach, where he hosts the “Laguna Blues” radio show Friday nights.
What attracted you to become a musician?
My father played in Les Brown’s Band of Renown. Listening to him play with other musicians in our living room was totally inspiring, but I guess, being kind of a loner in school gave me an interest in music because it was a way, I saw into the girl’s hearts and helped make friends.
Why do you play the Blues?
I play the Blues because of Freddie King. When I was around thirteen, a friend and I snuck into The Palladium in Hollywood and onstage was Freddie. He bent this one note and I was hooked. The tone and power of that one note had me going home and trying to replicate it. I started buying old Blues albums and just got more and more hooked. I then starting hearing the British bands playing a version of those same songs and I just couldn’t put my guitar down.
Then Hendrix came on the scene and that was it. (At first)I thought he was playing Jazz, having grown up listening to Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and a lot of Be-Bop which reminded me of Jimi..
What would you say are the three most important traits any musician should have?
Three traits every musician should have…hmm. Well you certainly need perseverance because of all the practice that needs to go into just learning how to play. Even to this day, I put time into practice. Humility would be another trait that I think is important. There’s always someone that is better and knows more than you and these days that could be a nine year old down the street. Most every famous guitar player I’ve met is more humble than the average person.
I told BB King once that I taught kids how to play guitar and he replied, “maybe I should come down and and take a few lessons”. I laughed and said BB, I’ve been taking lessons from you all my life and I still have a lot to learn! (laughs). Thirdly, I would say a love of music and people shows in your playing because I believe there is a spiritual thing that comes from music that is universal. I believe if aliens came down to Earth the one thing we would have in common, right off the bat would be MUSIC.
What topic(s) do you enjoy writing songs about the most? Conversely, are there any topics you’d never write songs about?
I like stories of all kinds. I’m not a very political person but I did write a song called “Little Town” which was a song about the Gaza Strip. The song wasn’t in favor of any one side or another. Instead it spoke of how truth has three sides and the actual truth is somewhere in the middle. But it does speak of the tragedy of it all. The chorus goes like this, “Where have all the children gone? They use to play in the street. Where has all the laughter gone? Now all the women weep”.
I recently wrote a song about a man walking down the prison yard, regretting killing a preacher’s son. The twist is he’s the preacher and it was his own son. I wrote it in the first person, too, which makes it unusual because I had to put myself in that frame of mind. So, I guess, no subject is out of the realm of a possible song. Songwriting, for me, is about being human or the human condition. Good and bad.
Besides Bluespower, you also own and operate a musical instrument shop, and have your own radio show. How do you juggle these so it all works?
Juggling my life can be tricky sometimes because it doesn’t leave a lot of time for just sitting around. I also teach many students, too, on top of everything else, and a lot of research goes into every radio show. Plus I like to support local music as much as possible. But conversely, I feel like a shark in that if I stop moving I’ll die (laughs). My wife thinks I’m a little ADD. She might be right. I’m constantly doing something, even at home. I paint, garden, study and watch the news sometimes all at once. (laughs).
Bluespower is an Orange County-based group, which, to those reading this interview who are not familiar with California geography, is not part of Los Angeles. Does that present any additional challenges to an already tough business to make it in?
We have made a name for ourselves, and I’ve been down here for twenty-two years, but I think it does pose a problem of getting exposed to the right people. I also travel to Nashville and play with my good friend Gil Gann at the Blues And Boogie bar on Printers Alley and get my jam on at Carol Ann’s, so I have a little following there, too.
Anson Funderburgh sent me down to Beale Street to play at The Black Diamond and I played The Juke Joint. So I’ve got some Memphis friends, too. The Internet does help make things worldwide but the money isn’t there like it used to be, so it makes it hard to travel these days and break into the bigger gigs. That’s why it has to be a love of music that drives you, not money.
What’s the latest on the recording front – i.e. anything new in the works?
I’m working on a follow-up album to The Papermoon Gypsys album I did last year with my step-daughter, and I’m slowly but surely coming up with an album that I hope will chart this year with the help of some great musicians that will be on it. One of my newest friends, keyboardist Ken Stange, played with Joe Cocker and is presently touring with Paul Anka. We became fast friends through a mutual friend, (L.A. blues musician) Peach, who also uses him. Ken’s keyboard playing is spectacular and really adds a lot to the sound.
If a ‘Musical Genie’ could be granted three wishes, as they relate to your music career, what would they be?
Three wishes. Okay, one, I would love to just be in perfect health for me and all my band mates. Playing live can take a lot out a person so health is important. Number two, is to finish the best album of my career with great significance to it and third, have tour dates all over the world for the next two years. We love playing live and I love seeing the world. I’ve seen a good part of it but it’s a big world and much more beautiful people and places to see so that would be big for me.
Do musicians really get more girls (than the average non-musical bloke)?
I have a beautiful wife and I don’t know if she would have even looked at me twice if it wasn’t for my guitar playing (laughs). I do have a lot of stories I could tell you about playing on the Sunset Strip in the 80’s but even my wife stops me in the middle of some of those stories (laughs again). Plus, your readers might be too young for those. But let’s just say, being a musician does make you a little more dangerous and interesting to some girls.
Five years from now, Bluespower will be (fill in the blank).
Five years from now I hope to be traveling the world, supporting my sixth album that has reached Number One (on the charts) and has moved people so much, they show up to our shows in groves! We have conquered the world!
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