CSPS Legion Arts — Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m.
Kevin Gordon has made a career mining stories from his early life in Monroe, Louisiana. Monroe is closer to Arkansas than it is to the Gulf-and-bayou Louisiana of traditional lore, but it has provided a rich source of inspiration stretching over seven albums.
In July he released his latest album, Tilt and Shine, which continues that tradition of portraits inspired from his time in Monroe with songs like “Saint on A Chain,” which paints a picture of a man leaving a trail of heartbreak; “Drunkest Man in Town,” about a small town drunk; and a coming-of-age acid road trip, “Fire at the End of the World.”
Most reviews and interviews with Gordon mention that he spent time attending the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa in the late ’80s getting his Masters in Poetry. But during this time he was also performing his music around eastern Iowa. He was also part of the lineup of Bo Ramsey’s Sliders band.
That period of time was vibrant with new music coming from the collective of bands who would come to form the basis of the country blues scene in eastern Iowa, and Kevin Gordon still maintains a following around here that started in those days.
Gordon spoke with Little Village via email about his time here in Iowa and how it helped him cut his teeth as a musician.
“To luck into getting to know/watch/play music with Dave Moore, Bo Ramsey, Greg Brown, Dennis McMurrin, Steve Hayes, Rick Cicalo and others was quite an education in itself,” Gordon wrote. “And was something I needed. That year and a half I spent with Bo and the Sliders, playing gigs and recording, was so important. Those guys had incredible patience with me, the young(er), anxious newbie, still trying to figure out how to do this thing, in a very basic sense. I’m forever grateful to those guys. And to my friend Mitchell Moss, who joined Hayes, Mike Murray and myself as the versatile 4th member of the (ill-named) Rockodiles, with whom I played ca. 1990-1992.”
“I hadn’t known what to expect when I moved to Iowa in 1987,” he continued. “It hadn’t occurred to me that Chicago was only 200 miles away — and that all that great music coming out of there, on the Chess, Cobra and other labels, would have a profound influence on the musicians in eastern Iowa. And that was the common bond between most of us; Ramsey and me especially. I moved there already being a fan/disciple of Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, et al. so when Bo and I got together we already shared a certain vocabulary.”
Gordon moved to Nashville following his time here, and in addition to his career as an independent musician, he runs a folk art gallery with his wife. He’s a noted songwriter as well, with songs covered by the likes of Levon Helm (with Keith Richards), Webb Wilder and Irma Thomas.
“Overall,” he wrote, “just like the Writer’s Workshop gave me permission to be who I was, so did my experience playing music in Iowa do same for me when it came to the idea of writing songs and going out to venues and playing them.”
Kevin Gordon will be performing in Cedar Rapids at CSPS Legion Arts on Friday, Oct. 12. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door.