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Pickin’ Sprouts - May 2017 Some Slick Advice from Kevin, CBMS’ New President
This month I was excited to talk with Kevin Slick, the president of CBMS, about the program and music in general. Kevin is a multi-instrumentalist; his repertoire consists of the guitar, banjo, mandolin, bouzouki and dulcimer. Kevin started to play guitar when he was 13, and picked up the other instruments later in life. Kevin is from Pennsylvania, and while in college there, he really started playing bluegrass. He took inspiration from local bands, such as Whetstone Run. Kevin remembers having fun being able to jam with members of that band. Also while in college, Kevin worked at a country radio station, where he talked the station into having a bluegrass show. He says he was exposed to a lot of bluegrass music through running the show.
When asked about something he learned from doing radio, he says, “A skill I learned that is useful when putting together a radio program, a festival, or a set is to be aware of what your musical taste and biases are. You can’t let your preferences run the show too much; you need to keep in mind the interests of your audience. Just because you think a song, like “Wagon Wheel,” is over played, does not mean you should just deny any and all requests of playing it.” Kevin said he became even more interested in bluegrass and old-time music while he was student teaching in Philadelphia through a rich local scene of bands and festivals. Though no one in Kevin’s family played instruments, Kevin says they had the largest record collection out of anyone he knew. He remembers both of his parents singing a lot around the house. His mom was the chorus director at the church, and his dad was an electrical engineer, who had fun building stereo systems. Kevin’s mom was drawn towards show tunes and big band productions, and Kevin’s dad was very interested in classic country and bluegrass.
Kevin said he and his family used to go to bluegrass shows, first exposing him to this style of music. He said that he was first drawn to bluegrass’ liveliness, however sometimes it was too intense for him to play, as he mainly grew up listening to pop on the radio, and singer-songwriters. Kevin’s main breakthrough into the genre was hearing songs that he knew played in the style of bluegrass. “Up until that point I had thought, bluegrass is bluegrass; it’s its own separate thing, that you had to play a song written specifically for banjo on a banjo. But hearing some cross over songs really opened my eyes, you could play anything on a banjo.”
Kevin started playing guitar, because of his own interest in songwriting. He says that through listening to old recordings of himself, and reading old songwriting books that he kept, that it was obvious he was trying to copy his idols. He went through phases and wrote songs taking inspiration from artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and John Denver. He says that through doing this he learned a lot about lyricism and song structure from studying the greats.
Kevin said one of the things he enjoys most about songwriting, is hearing another artist play it. Because each musician will have their own unique spin on the song, they will sometimes play it in a way that Kevin had never imagined. He says that this happened when a band covered a gospel song of his. The band utilized a choir and a trumpet solo in a way that Kevin says he would have never thought of.
Through working on the radio, he was able to listen to a lot of music and take songwriting inspiration from many different artists. Also, working at the station granted him access to microphones and the ability to record his own music. One thing that Kevin has recently been working on is writing a song that sounds like traditional bluegrass, but still feels honest. “I don’t actually know anybody who was raised in a one room shack in the hills of West Virginia, there is yet to be a bluegrass song about growing up on a cul-de-sac in Longmont,” he says. He is interested in how bluegrass is branching out as a musical style like jazz, rock and many other musical styles have already.
Throughout college, Kevin played in several “bar bands” with friends, and got lots of practice from weekly gigs at several different venues around town. Later, in the late ‘80s Kevin started a duo with a fellow songwriter. The duo expanded into a group, which named themselves Neo Pseudo, based on descriptions given to their sound by album reviews. The band played full time for five years, working with Sony Records. After a long time of touring, the members of the band decided to live lives where they were at home more than on the road. After Neo Pseudo, Kevin was living in New York City, but wanted a life less hectic. Kevin began taking lessons from Tony Trischka, who suggested Boulder as a place to move that had a blossoming bluegrass music scene. More recently, Kevin has been playing more regularly with bands such as The Steel Pennies and Savage Hearts.
As soon as he moved to Colorado, Kevin joined CBMS, after seeing a copy of Pow'r Pickin’ in a music store. Several years ago, Annie Savage, most recent president of CBMS, suggested to Kevin that he should join the board. Kevin did work to increase CBMS’ presence on social media, by going to festivals, such as RockyGrass, and taking pictures to advertise the scene. Kevin just assumed the position of president, and hopes to bring new ideas to the program such as expanding the Web site to have more information and news about the Colorado scene.
A question that Kevin asks is “What is bluegrass in Colorado?” As opposed to the deep traditional sound of the Southeast, the Colorado bluegrass scene spans from that traditional sound, to newer, more progressive sounds. “It’s pretty amazing, the range of material you could see at a bluegrass show or festival.” Kevin notices that the Colorado bluegrass scene is very open, making it all feel like one large family. Kevin said that for kids and other beginners, Colorado’s very large and open jamming scene could help you learn a lot about playing with others. CBMS offers kid’s jams at festivals around the state, as well as allows kids to play together in a band setting through Young Pickers.
CBMS offers a lending library of instruments, allowing kids to try out an instrument for a while before they decide if they want to continue playing and investing in one of their own. Kevin says he hopes CBMS bands will continue to perform in schools, and host workshops to keep kids engaged, and introduce them to the music. An idea of Kevin’s that is still in the works is the possibility of creating a radio station dedicated to Colorado bluegrass.
Kevin’s advice for kids wanting to pursue music is to play with other people as much as possible. He said that playing with people has made him a much better musician, and it is a fun way to practice. While practicing and working on your own is important for your growth as a musician, playing with other people, can allow you to feel more motivated. Kevin told a story about when he was just learning to play guitar, neither him nor his friends knew how to make an f chord. He says they all rode their bikes to an older friend’s house, and were shown how to play one. Kevin said that while they were by no means a band, playing and practicing together taught him how to play with other people, and how to have fun while playing.
You can find out more about Kevin here, and more about CBMS here. Kevin has numerous CDs of original material for sale, as well as CDs from his past projects. Keep Pickin’.