Since playing with Commander Cody and
crew, Kirchen has released seven solo albums
and toured and recorded with such notables
as Danny Gatton, Emmylou Harris, Link Wray,
and Gene Vincent. For his latest album, Word
to the Wise, Kirchen invited a handful of
musical compadres and former bandmates—
including Commander Cody, Dan Hicks,
Norton Buffalo, Nick Lowe, Paul Carrack,
Blackie Farrell, Maria Muldaur, and Elvis
Costello—to join him in the studio for a series
of duets. The result is a deeply satisfying mix
of originals and covers that runs the gamut
from twangy honky-tonk to gritty pub rock.
We recently asked Kirchen to tell us about
recording Word to the Wise and what gear
he used to create his trademark Tele sounds.
With a seasoned storyteller’s dry sense of
humor, he delivered the goods.
Where did you get the idea for recording
an album of duets?
It was really the record company’s idea. I
was reluctant at first, because I didn’t want
to be the guy who drags other people into
his project simply to sell records. It got okay
in my mind when I figured out I’d only ask
people I’d worked with professionally to be
on the album. Once we’d settled on that
criterion, it became fun and I enjoyed asking
everyone to participate.
How did you choose your collaborators?
Some of them were musicians who inspired me
before I ever got up and running in this busi-
ness. Both Dan Hicks and Maria Muldaur fall
into that category. When I had my first band,
the Seventh Seal, back in Ann Arbor, I bought a
Charlatans record that featured Dan, and I drew
a lot of inspiration from it. And many times I’d
hitchhike to Boston to hear the Kweskin Jug
Band with Maria at the Club 47. I heard them
at the Newport Folk Festival in ’ 64 and ’ 65, too.
So Maria and Dan were heroes of mine from
the ’60s. I’ve played with Nick Lowe and Elvis
Costello over the years, so they were a natural
fit. Blackie Farrell and I have been writing music
since the Commander Cody days. The one
stretch is that I’ve never performed profession-
ally with Paul Carrack, but I have sat in on his
stage and he has joined me on my stage, so I
figured that’s okay. The fact that money never
changed hands is immaterial.
Where did you record Word to the Wise?
We cut the rhythm section in the UK and then
went around the world to harvest the vocals
with a laptop, recording people where they live.
For instance, we recorded Chris O’Connell in
Virginia and I got Cody in Albany, New York.
Sometimes we carried the tracks on a hard
drive into the studio to record vocals, like when
we went across London to record Nick and Paul
in Nick’s studio. We had to record Elvis Costello
by mail, because we had a brief window of
opportunity when he could do it, so I didn’t get
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