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Published: 2012/05/07
by Brian Robbins

George Kilby, Jr.: From Pinetop Perkins to Railroad Earth with a Smile and a Song

First, a few words from Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone: “I’ve known George Kilby a long time. He was Americana before they invented the term! George’s long and great association with Pinetop Perkins, coupled with his huge catalog of original tunes makes him a living link to pre-rock ‘n’ roll America – all the while looking forward to what American music can really be.”

Carbone knows of what he speaks: he and Kilby have been in the musical trenches together for a long time – we’ll get to that story in a moment – and are still playing music together whenever there’s an opportunity. (There’s one coming right up, in fact: Carbone and RRE bandmate Andy Goessling will join Kilby and his band at The Waterhole in Saranac Lake, NY on May 12.)

The only point I’d debate is Carbone’s reference to “Americana.” Any kind of label you try to apply to George Kilby Jr.’s music feels more like a wall – but if “Americana” allows for a blend of rock and blues and jazz and country and a few dozen other genres, than I guess it’s as good a description as any.

Kilby himself calls it “rough-cut Amercian roots music.” Works for me. The singer/songwriter/guitarist’s roots may be in Alabama and he might have been nurtured on ol’ Hank Williams and the Allman Brothers, but his music encompasses all the sounds and vibes he’s gathered up in his travels over the years.

Imagine if Ramblin’ Jack Elliott had been part of the roadhouse-style rock/blues/outlaw country scene rather than the folk world: now you’re starting to get a glimmer of George Kilby Jr. He’s paid his dues; he’s been there and back; and he can tell you just how far it was … with plenty of grins spliced into the stories.

Like when George was a roadie for the Beach Boys. That is, after he came back home from busking on the streets of Paris …

“See, the thing was, my girlfriend was a chef and we’d been over in France where she was in training. While she was doing that, I was a street musician in Paris. When we got back here to the States, I got a call from my cousin Ab, who was the guitar tech for the Beach Boys at the time. Ab told me, ‘The Beach Boys are doing a lot of double gigs this summer, so we need two different crews.’

“What was happening that summer was, the Beach Boys might play an afternoon gig in Virginia Beach and then an evening show in Charlotte, NC. They’d just jump on a plane, but the same crew couldn’t set up both gigs. They had two crews; two sets of gear; two of everything.

“Ab said, ‘Now, I don’t know if you wanna do this – these guys are some pretty weird guys …’ And I figured, ‘How weird can they be?’

“Ab asked me: ‘Can you set up drums?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah – I used to be a drummer.’

“Of course, I was a terrible drummer, but I knew how to set them up.” And the laugh that has been just bubbling under the surface while George has been telling the story finally bursts clear – and gathers you up in the process.

And the rest of that summer? “Oh, we hopscotched around the country by bus, man … and it was weird.” More laughter – and on to the next story.

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