There are plenty of reasons as to why Bill Kirchen was named “Titan of the Telecaster” and the King of Dieselbilly is our guitarist to discover today.
His time with “Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen” is an extensive body of work. As I was looking further into their songs I had a revelation that my Dad was a fan of their music.
One of his random and favorite things to do was wander around singing “Smoke Smoke Smoke (That Cigarette). He solidified my theory he was not as innocent as he put on to be, Bless his Heart!.
Bill is even now still Burning the Tele neck up like that Cigarette. He is a Master with great talent and a great personality.
Bill Kirchen even has a public day named after him called National Dieselbilly Day
Bill Kirchen – Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods
Bill Kirchen Hot Rod Lincoln Live
The Ann Arbor, Michigan Born Kirchen has been involved in all manner of music. Post Airmen have seen him work with Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks, and many others. His first instrument was the Banjo, which his Mother acquired and was by all accounts a very proficient player.
Bill took to the instrument himself and studied at Folk music gatherings, as well as attending The Newport Folk fests of 1964 and 1965 and was witness to Bob Dylan going electric with another Guitar monster Mike Bloomfield.
His first Guitar was acoustic and he learned the fingerstyle of Mississippi John Hurt.
His fondness for the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens with Don Rich and his love of Merle Haggard and his Guitarman Roy Nichols prompted him to change from the Gibson SG to the Fender Telecaster.
Bill has been kind to give us a bit of his time to speak with us for Guitardoor and we thank him Tremendously…so away we Go!
What was your first Telecaster and what year did you get your hands on it?
“Got it in ’69 in SF, CA. It was all I played for at least 20 years. It was known as The Coalburner ‘cause I claimed that when I got it, I had to convert it to electricity from coal.”
Growing up in Ann Arbor did you make your way down to Detroit and The Grande Ballroom?
“A little. Played there once with my band The 7th Seal, saw early Cream there as well. But I heard way more music before that in Ann Arbor – Bob Dylan solo at my HS in ’64, Bill Monroe, Oddetta with Bruce Langhorne and Bill Lee, Big Joe Williams, Kentucky Colonels w. Clarence White, Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Jr Wells, and Buddy Guy, Mike Bloomfield Band, The Stooges, Brownie McGhee, Velvet Underground, Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger.
All that in Ann Arbor 64-66. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch too. “
“I would hitchhike a lot to the East Coast back then. I saw The Lovin Spoonful at the Night Owl Cafe and very early Fugs, both in NYC. Tom Rush and Kweskin at Club 47 in Cambridge MA. And my most unbelievable epic fantastic experience, The Newport Folk Festival in ’64 and ’65. Life-changing. You can go online, look up the programs and see who I saw.”
Covid has torn up our world, it took me from being a pro musician to fortunately creating Guitardoor and being a songwriter to a music writer of another animal. How have you found your “new normal” while we ride this mess out?
“Well, I’ve been doing a live stream every other week, plus a bunch of other miscellaneous online concerts. Trying to write and woodshed more. Had been saying that I ought to slow down and be home more, and voila. I of course didn’t know that meant at home, literally. In the house.”
The music business and society have changed so much with the digital world and all the other changes….what would you say is wisdom to a young player deciding today to pick up the guitar?
“For goodness sake do pick up a guitar. So many benefits to that, and who knows, maybe it will become your vocation. Just be aware that it’s hard to find a direct line to that goal from 2022, but it can be done. Tough odds, but hey, don’t let me stop you. I’m not much help with career advice, because many of the paths that I took back 50 and more years ago no longer exist. It’s a different world.”
“As for road lunacy, yeah, we had our share, got too drunk or whatever, did dumb shit, but it’s really kind of a short book. We weren’t quite as good at being bad as we thought we were. “
Bill Kirchen, King of Dieselbilly, talks Tele!
He was asked by an individual what genre of music he considered his guitar style and he jokingly said “DieselBilly” in his thoughts on his love of Truck Driving songs. The Term stuck and we are glad it did. Not often, jokingly or not can one have the chance to coin a Phrase for a musical style.
Bill Kirchen – Rockabilly Funeral
Bill Kirchen /Seeds And Stems Again Blues
Playing in the Style of Bill Kirchen Dieselbilly Licks
Bill Kirchen’s current works can be purchased via Bill Kirchen on Last FM
The cool factor goes beyond the music. Guitar builder Rick Kelly of Carmine Street Guitars has made a couple of custom Tele’s for Bill, the one that fascinated me is made from the floorboards of the Famous (or infamous) Chelsea Hotel in New York.