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Bill Kirchen "at" The Ark, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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It's been a long run for Bill Kirchen, dating back to playing folk clubs during the mid-60s in Ann Arbor -- where he grew up and, in 1967, co-founded Commander Cody and the Lost Plane Airmen.

Kirchen, who's also lived in Washington D.C., California and now Nashville, went on to form another band (Too Much Fun) and eventually went solo during the mid-90s, continuing to hone his guitar mastery (primarily on the Fender Telecaster) and quietly becoming an elder statesman in the Americana music scene.

His new compilation, "The Proper Years," collects the best from the three albums Kirchen, 72, released for the British record label between 2006-2013. He's working on material for another release, and he's been spending parts of the pandemic getting the hang of playing online shows every second week...

Kirchen says that his livestreamed shows "have been successful, both in responde and financially. I'm not getting rich doing it, but at this point it's working out. It's a whole lot of fun, and as I go on I'm more comfortable. I've learned to look at that little camera and really kidn of engage with people out there."

Playing a show for The Ark in Ann Arbor on Thursday, July 30, brings Kirchen "back" to the area where he began his music career, starting as a youth trombone player before picking up the guitar. "(Ark co-founder) Dave Siglin was my camp counselor at Interlochen (Arts Academy) when I played trombone; To this day he remains the longest-running adult I've known in my life. When I started playing guitar and doing folk music he got me into (The Ark) and I played there right up until we started (Commander Cody).

A graduate of Ann Arbor High School and a student at the University of Michigan, Kirchen still considers the city to be home. "I've been gone so long, but it feels like my home in kind of a traditional way. It feels like where I'm from. I used to come back and always wish I'd lived there for years and years and years, but by now so much time has passed it's kind of wobbly. But I still do think of it as home."

Kirchen says that assembling "The Proper Years" was "really pleasurable," and he says the label's support demonstrates a reverence for indigenous American music in the U.K. that's even more pronounced than on these shores. "They've always been that way in England. It's haven for all kinds of jazz. It's a haven for blues musicians. The English, to me, are the ones that got it, y'know? that got what was going on. That music really sprang up in this country (the U.S.), but in England they seemed to get it better than we did. I guess it's just an old country and they respect and appreciate traditions a little more. When they looked to America there was this whole love affair with the Wild West and the big-ass cars with fins and cowboys and stuff -- it's sort of a false narrative but that's what we were selling, and it worked over there."

With live shows tabled for now, Kirchen has been "working on a video for the title track of 2003's "Hammer of the Honky Tong Gods" with his son-in law. "That's the first song on the first of those English albums, my love song to the Telecaster." He's also been writing new material with an eye towards a next album. "I've started to get back in the writing mode, yeah. I have to make myself write; I don't just automatically go do it. I love writing songs,b ut part of me would be happy just singing Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard songs, which I can't do for a living -- with good reason. It's been done!" (laughs)

Bill Kirchen plays for The Ark Family Room Series show at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 30, via theark.org/ark-family-room-series. Free, with donations accepted for the artists and venue. theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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