Look up the word "revolution" and you'll see it refers to the overthrow or renunciation of a government by the governed. While the idea of someone "taking up arms" springs to mind, there are those who fight this good fight not with swords but with steel strings and songs. Kevn Kinney is this kind of revolutionary. Over the course of seven albums with crackling southern rockers Drivin' N' Cryin' and a quartet of folksy solo records, Kinney has been chronicling modern life and its challenges for thinkers with open hearts. A Midwestern blue-collar man who's lived in Athens, GA for years, he sings about the stuff that rings true, something we need now more than ever to help balm America's broken spirit.
"I don't like America the bully," says Kinney. "If you come see me play and when you get done listening to what I do, hopefully you feel something happens to you, just a little bit, to say that you've got somebody out there, a friend out there, who believes the same things you believe. It's gonna be okay. We're gonna be okay. We're gonna win, not the war, but this country will be the society we need to be eventually."
After going it alone for the past few years, he has put together a new band, Kevn Kinney's Sun Tangled Angel Revival (STAR), which builds on his earlier work by dipping into dustbowl anthems and a decidedly '60s Dylan-esque vibe on their dandy 2004 debut. Kinney tells us, "I've been playing with Dave Johnson (drums) for four or five years. He took the place of Joe Sullivan in Drivin' N' Cryin'. And Bryan Howard (bass) was in a band called Slackdaddy, this kind of Thin Lizzy-meets-Alice-Cooper band from Athens. We started a band about two years ago because I got tired of doing folk shows." Joining them is jam scene favorite Gibb Droll, who's currently playing guitar in the Marc Broussard Band, who Kinney describes as "the most incredible musician."
Kinney wears his influences on his sleeve, openly referencing Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and the Ramones as his spiritual ancestors.
"There's just a lot of channeling going on. Something bigger comes through me all the time," explains Kinney. "I've told people the closest thing to me in music is Bilbo Baggins, the great thief (laughs). I haven't had an original idea ever. I'm just a great thief. I've stolen everything from somewhere. I haven't come up with any new Indian scales or anything like that. Every hit song I ever had I can tell you where I stole it from (laughs). It all comes into our subconscious from what we learn. The Beatles had a certain number of influences, and then anybody who came after the Beatles had that certain number of influences, and so on. By the time you get to me in '75, you have all of that. If you can't put a dinner together with that then come on!"
Warren Haynes & Kevn Kinney by Brittny Teree Smith
He also cites Jesus as a folk hero who helps show us how to conduct ourselves in the world, giving folks tools to fight against an intellectual imperialism that keeps people enslaved to a lifestyle that benefits only a small, select group.
"I try to use the word 'Love' in my live shows as much as possible. It's amazing how, especially in the South, all the fear they saddle onto that myth as opposed to what it really is," comments Kinney. "Also, most of my records are pretty Christian in that way, well, Buddhist or Christian or whatever -- a belief in community and being a good person and contributing to the greater society and being accountable and being a peace maker."
He continues, "That's the problem with America trying to sell itself, as it is, to other people. It is a multicultural place that people come to. Why try to export that idea to other countries? If they're Chinese people, let them be Chinese. If they're Arab people, let them be Arab. Why do we want them to be like us? Why can't we respect their beliefs? The exporting of America after 9/11 was very traumatic for me because I knew they were going to do it, I knew it was coming. And I was hoping after 9/11 -- of course there needed to be some repercussions around the world to let people know they can't do that to us -- for a little bit of the Who-Ville from (Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas), where we would wake up and be strong and not shut down our airports and say, 'Bring it on.' The true strength of someone is how to not react and to be intelligent."