Will Kimbrough – Doing his own thing, with help from everyone
Since his gig as a member of Todd Snider’s Nervous Wrecks ended in 1998, Will Kimbrough has been a pretty busy guy. Besides playing on Snider’s latest, Kimbrough also has recorded and/or toured with Tommy Womack, Kim Richey, Josh Rouse, Garrison Starr, Jeff Black and Matthew Ryan, among others.
Somewhere in the midst of 1999’s touring and recording sessions, Kimbrough was able to piece together his own disc. And, with the July release of This on his own label, Waxy Silver Records, it’s finally Kimbrough’s turn to be in the spotlight again.
“It’s exciting to know that just when I was feeling, ‘Well, I’m a sideman and I’m a session guy and it’s really hard for me to make [my own] records’ — no, it’s not that hard,” Kimbrough said, a few days before heading out on the road again. “I just have to do it in a different way. I have to really chip away at it.”
Kimbrough began his recording career as the leader of Will & the Bushmen, who released three albums before splitting up in the early ’90s (the band’s first record, Gawk, was recently reissued on Waxy Silver). From there, Kimbrough joined up with the Bis-quits, which also included Womack, Tommy Meyer and ex-Bare Jr. guitarist Mike Grimes. The band recorded one well-received disc on John Prine’s Oh Boy label before splitting up.
Kimbrough’s original plan was to start his solo career at that point, but he received a call from Snider asking him to join his band on lead guitar. Impressed with Snider’s debut album and needing a job to pay the bills, Kimbrough accepted the offer.
Four years and many shows later, Snider sought a different sound and decided to tour by himself. So, Kimbrough became a “guitarist-for-hire,” taking to the road and playing various sessions when asked. Along the way, he resurrected the idea of a solo album and, bit by bit, This was recorded between tours and studio work throughout 1999.
Though Kimbrough says the CD began as a rootsier effort, it eventually emerged as more of a pop record, with nearly every song featuring a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head hook that demonstrates Kimbrough’s skill at crafting a melody. The album also is full of songs that carry echoes of the past without being half-hearted rewrites or lifeless copies. Hints of the Byrds (“Need You Now”), later Kinks (“We’re All For Sale”) and Fleetwood Mac — minus the Stevie Nicks caterwauling (“I’m On Your Side”) — abound, but all filtered through the talents and sensibilities of what Kimbrough calls the “Nashville left-wing community.”
When it came time to record This, Kimbrough began to reap the rewards of his session work, as he was able to call in many of the favors he had accumulated over the last two years. Doug Lancio pops up on guitar, Kim Richey provides harmony vocals, Lambchop’s Dennis Cronin adds appropriately mellow trumpet, and David and Ned Henry from Josh Rouse’s band contribute string arrangements. For Kimbrough, being part of this Nashville music community, and having access to so much talent, is one of the best parts of living and working in the city.
“I can’t really musically imagine living anywhere else because I have my pick of people that can play every instrument and play it well,” Kimbrough says. “And they’re all very imaginative and very sensitive and giving. It’s a big support group.”
This natural camaraderie also helped Kimbrough when writing some of the songs on the album. In several cases, the songs emerged simply because of the musicians who joined him in the studio.
“I’m very influenced musically by who I’m around; I don’t try to force them to be like me,” Kimbrough says. “I sort of meld toward whatever’s going on around me.”
That sort of adaptability not only serves Kimbrough well on This, but it also places him in such high demand as a guitarist. And, however successful the new CD is, Kimbrough still plans on making himself available for sessions or tours. In fact, even as This goes on sale, he’ll be splitting time between his own solo jaunt and various gigs with other artists.