Kevin Denney Biography
Last updated: 08/01/2007 11:00:00 AM
Kevin Denney can remember the moment his calling settled down around him. It came after six months in which he had drifted away from music for the first time in his young life. He had grown up in tiny Monticello, Kentucky, surrounded by musicians. His parents, who comprised half a gospel quartet, bought him his first guitar when he was three. He became enamored of the classic artists he heard on the Grand Ole Opry and on the radio, and played for years in a cousin`s bluegrass band. Then, at 17, he had backed off to reassess his future.
"I got to thinking maybe I should go to school, or begin putting time into something more beneficial in the long run," he says. "Then, my girlfriend at the time took me to a George Strait concert for my 18th birthday." It was there, in the stage lights of Rupp Arena in Lexington, 140 miles up the road from Monticello, that he saw his future.
"When I heard that band fire up and saw the reaction in that arena," he says, "I changed my mind. That`s when music became more than playing around and having fun and I started thinking, `Man, I really love this. This is what I want to do.`"
The next day, he called a band he knew was looking for a singer, and Kevin, who had heretofore sung only bluegrass on stage, ended his performing hiatus and became a full-fledged country singer.
Fortunately, his newly awakened passion for the spotlight was accompanied by a great deal of natural talent that had been honed over the years as he sang those bluegrass harmonies and learned the art of performing. The road that wound from that Lexington concert through clubs and festivals in the hills and hollows of Kentucky, led finally to Nashville and to a debut album that showcases a remarkable young talent.
Kevin Denney`s debut album introduces a young man whose genuine passion for country music permeates every note. "I wanted to make music my heroes would be proud of," he says, "people like George Jones and Merle Haggard and Porter Wagoner."
The result, in an era where many new artists seem to fumble for direction, is an assured collection of songs as rooted in classic sounds as it is cutting edge in its production. While his voice shines in songs like "We Rhyme" and "Takin` Off The Edge," with their disparate takes on romance, and "That`s What I Believe" and "Daddy Was Navy Man," both of which display a depth and resonance uncommon in present-day country, he is perhaps most impressive in the songs which also display his writing abilities--"It`ll Go Away" and "It Don`t Matter," with their treatments of regret, the poignant "That`s Just Jessie," and "My Kind Of Song," a tail-kicking musical manifesto.
Throughout, there is an obvious respect for country`s legends that has been part of Kevin`s life since that first guitar he received. "I`d sit in front of the TV with that guitar on Saturday nights watching the Opry on TV," he says, "acting like I was playing along." The only child of a family whose living came from raising tobacco and cattle, he learned simple pleasures, and music was first among them. As his interest in the gospel and bluegrass music being played in his family grew, his grandmother bought him a banjo when he was 11. He took part in family jam sessions and evidenced an affinity for the three-part harmonies and soulful styling the genre calls for. He was eventually invited to play festivals with his cousin`s band.
"I remember seeing some of the biggest names in bluegrass-Larry Sparks, Ralph Stanley, J.D. Crowe, some of the real innovators. I can`t tell you what a big influence it was on me and my music at that age. The thing I noticed most was the soul behind what they did. They lived their songs and believed what they were singing. "Of course," he laughs, "there was also the fact that when you`re young and you play, then somebody goes on after you that you look up to, you can`t help but being somewhat intimidated."
Then came the epiphany in Lexington, and the attempt to get out on the road. With two guitars, a bass and drums ("It was kind of hard to find a fiddle or steel player in Monticello, Kentucky"), he played top 40 country and the classics, always looking to improve himself. He opened for Wade Hayes and Kenny Chesney at the Black Gold Festival in Hazard, Kentucky, and for Little Jimmy Dickens at the World Chicken Festival in London, Kentucky. "That`s one of the best memories I`ve got playing music," he says. Two years into that roadwork, at the age of 20, Kevin decided it was time to try Nashville. He saved money and moved into an apartment building, taking a job doing maintenance in the complex to help make ends meet.
A friend who was tour manager for Lorrie Morgan got him a job selling merchandise on one of her tours for several months, and he worked in a Western clothing store for a few more. All the while, he was haunting the city`s writers` nights, meeting people and learning the business. He began writing seriously, and landed a publishing deal with March Music that allowed him to write full-time.
"I made it a point to meet other people in town here, especially those producers and writers I looked up to." Among those he met was Leigh Reynolds, who spent several years as Reba`s bandleader and had written hits for Garth Brooks and Aaron Tippin, among others. The two hit it off, and agreed that Reynolds would produce some of Kevin`s work.
They began cutting guitar/vocal demos in Reynolds` basement studio, then moved to fully produced cuts in hopes of landing Kevin a record deal. After just a few weeks, they played some songs for Lyric Street Records` Sr. VP of A&R, Doug Howard, who offered encouragement and an open door. For the next two years, they searched for songs and refined their recordings. "We had a lot of time to get our marbles in a row," says Kevin.
Finally, Lyric Street gave the go-ahead for the two to cut four sides. They cut two of Kevin`s songs--"That`s Just Jessie" and "It`ll Go Away,"--and two outside tracks--"Ain`t Skeered" and "That`s What I Believe"--and sent copies to the label. "Two weeks later," Kevin says, "we were in the studio and I heard Leigh on his cell phone with Doug, shouting, `You`ve got to be kidding!` I knew it had to be good."
It was. The label was offering Kevin a record deal and they did it in the manner that means the most to an artist. "The label was very open-minded, very understanding of who I was and what I believed in, and they pretty much let me be myself. That meant a lot to me."
It also gave Kevin the opportunity to pour himself, heart and soul, into the debut album that introduces him to the public. "When I listen to music," he says, "I want it to make me feel something. I want to feel good or sad. I think good music should just move you in some way. If it does that, it`s done its job, and that`s what I wanted to do with this album."