Called the “Titan of the Telecaster” by Guitar Player magazine, Bill Kirchen is one of America’s living guitar legends. A virtual encyclopedia of rock and roll knowledge, Kirchen’s live performances, inspired by guitar heroes like Merle Travis, Danny Gatton, Duane Eddy, James Burton, and Buck Owens, are high-energy romps through the last 50 years of American guitar history.
As a kid growing up in Ann Arbor in the 1950s and ’60s, Bill Kirchen started on the trombone but quickly found a musical home as a guitarist and banjo player in the folk music scene. Kirchen says, “I’ve always considered myself a folk musician, though I tend to be one that plays too loud and too fast.” That speed was evident in the song that made his style famous: it’s Bill’s fretwork that powers the high-octane, 1972 Top-10 hit version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” recorded by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. Kirchen played with the Commander from 1968 to 1976, helping to bring the deep American traditions of hard country and rockabilly to rock and roll fans across the nation.
Over the four and a half decades since his break-out hit, Bill Kirchen has developed a career as one of America’s leading guitarists, playing sideman to rock and pop greats like Nick Lowe, Emmylou Harris, and Elvis Costello. He’s also a legendary bandleader in his own right: for years he headed the D.C.-based Bill Kirchen and Too Much Fun, rave-up darlings of the District’s music scene. Now based in Austin, Kirchen remains steadfastly committed to the American roots music tradition he sometimes refers to as “dieselbilly.” Bill describes it as “country-flavored music … as well as western swing, rockabilly, bluegrass, country tear-jerker, and truck-driving music.” No Depression magazine said, “He’s the closest thing to an auteur that the truck-driving song, one of country’s most noble subgenres, has nowadays.”
Kirchen’s most recent album, Transatlanticana, solidified his stature as one of the foremost exponents of American electric guitar traditions; the album spent five months on the Americana Top 40 radio chart, cracking the Top 10 in 2016. Now sought out as a teacher of guitar and of music history (he’s shared his expertise in such diverse locales as the Smithsonian and TNN), Bill Kirchen lives up to his billing as “a one-man living history museum of the coolest guitar licks ever performed.”
Performing at the 79th National Folk Festival brings Bill back to the state he called home for many years. The one-time resident of Calvert County will be joined by his longtime, Maryland-based collaborators, bassist Johnny Castle and drummer Jack O’Dell.
He will also be making a guest appearance in the Maryland Masters program on the Maryland Folklife Stage, where he will join Arty Hill & the Long Gone Daddys as well as Ann Porcella for a knock-out Maryland honky-tonk revue.