Bill Kirchen, dubbed “The Titan of the Telecaster” by Guitar Player magazine, is touring California and fronting a special reunion all-star band with Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen.
Kirchen and fellow Cody alums Bobby Black (pedal steel and steel guitar) and Buffalo Bruce Barlow (bass) as well as long-time collaborator Austin de Lone (keyboard) and Paul Revelli (drums) will play at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 20, to The Palms Playhouse, 13 Main St. in Winters.
Kirchen first rode into prominence in the late 1960s and early ’70s on his big guitar lines that were such an integral part of the country-with-a-60s-twist sound of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, including powering their hit “Hot Rod Lincoln” to the tops of the charts — and Kirchen hasn’t stepped on the brakes yet. In addition to his band work with Commander Cody, The Moonlighters and extensive work with the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, Kirchen has recorded 10 critically acclaimed solo albums — including last year’s “Seeds and Stems,” an album of reworked songs pulled from Kirchen’s solo and band albums.
Trying to fit Kirchen into narrow categories misses the point of his extraordinary and joyful versatility as a musician and performer. He is a guitar player of jaw-dropping talent: Kirchen produces sounds from his Fender Telecaster that range from full-throated to soaring, from delicate bell-like runs to growling base lines — all accomplished with apparent ease and as if the guitar is an extension of himself, almost a second voice rather than a separate instrument.
Matching his baritone voice to the needs of each tune, Kirchen hits the right tone on songs as varied as country weepers (“Down to Seeds and Stems Again”), full-on rockers (“Man In The Bottom of The Well”), the swampy “Rockabilly Funeral” and the contagiously joyful of “Too Much Fun.” Writing songs in a range of tone and topics from fun (“I Don’t Work That Cheap”, with Blackie Farrell) to reflective (“Rocks Into Sand”) and a jaunty combination of the two (“Bump Wood”), Kirchen has something to say and the vocal, instrumental, and performance chops to say it well.
In less skillful hands, recording new versions of audience favorites is playing with fire, but “Seeds and Stems” is a thoroughly satisfying album bursting with vitality.
Kirchen said: “I could have called this record ‘Why I Love My Job.’ I got to write or co-write most of the songs, sing ’em, play a whole mess of guitar, and record with some of my favorite musicians on the planet. Thank you.”
With Kirchen’s recent rerecording of some Cody-era classics, the time seems particularly right for a rare reunion with some of his fellow Lost Planet Airmen. Kirchen said, “It’ll be an Airmen-heavy show.” The audience at Thursday’s show can expect romps through CC&HLPA songs and more recent selections.
Tickets are $20 and are available at Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com and billkirchen.com.