Electric and acoustic guitarist, Fender bassist, drummer, electric sitarist, Rickenbacker 12-string jangler, ukulele guy, mandolin and banjo utility cat, lead and background vocalist, songwriter and record producer/engineer. A quick study, a good reader, knows lots of tunes. Nice guy, too.
Pete Kennedy's solo CD, "Guitarslinger"is here! Taking a different direction from the chiming 12-strings and lush harmonies of the Kennedys' acclaimed string of CDs, Pete's solo album is a stripped down, mostly acoustic project that focuses on his incendiary solo guitar work. Longtime fans will recognize "19 in Vietnam", recast here on a haunting electric sitar, and "Eldorado", a favorite from Pete's band Bound For Glory. The rest of the tunes are Roman candles of guitar pyro, or rootsy, sometimes spooky narratives that grew out of a rambling Southern tour, with a few tributes tossed in: Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me", Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy", and Pete's arrangement of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". Pete's wife and long-time duo partner Maura joins in on the closer; a raucous version of "Not Fade Away". After all, their first date was a road trip to Buddy Holly's Texas grave... There are two jaw-dropping nods to the great Les Paul, with Pete recreating Les' patented tape speed manipulations in real time on a custom soprano guitar. In many ways, the album is an homage to the heyday of the roots music scene in Pete's original home town, Washington DC, when guitar giants like Roy Buchanon and Danny Gatton were stalking the local clubs. Guitarslinger? Sure, there are some pyrotechnics, but when they are leavened with a deep love for American roots culture, and a life-long dedication to the instrument, the end result transcends flash. That's the guitar tradition that Pete grew up in, and with this long-awaited solo CD, he show's how it's done.
"I've been playing in a duo with my wife, rock singer-songwriter Maura Kennedy, since 1993. We've toured all over the US and the British Isles, and we've put together a few bands along the way, most notably the Strangelings and The Stringbusters. We've released a string of CDs, and we've had the good fortune to work in the studio with great people like Nanci Griffith, Steve Earle, Roger McGuinn, Nils Lofgrin, Eric Ambel, Kelly Willis, and the Dixie Hummingbirds.
Prior to hitting the road as The Kennedys, we were both members of Nanci's band, the Blue Moon Orchestra. I played with Nanci from 1991 through 1993, and did a lot of the lead guitar work on her Grammy-winning CD, "Other Voices, Other Rooms" (Elektra), recorded at Jack's Tracks in Nashville and Windmill Lane in Dublin. I shared the lead guitar duties on the album with Frank Christian, Leo Kottke, and Chet Atkins. Other guests on the album included Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck, John Prine, The Indigo Girls, and Emmylou Harris. I toured the US and Europe with Nanci, playing Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall in London, The Tonight Show, Central Park Summer Stage, and lots of other great venues.
Before joining Nanci's band, I traveled the US on a Silver Eagle tour bus with Mary-Chapin Carpenter, during her tenure on Columbia Records. In my hometown of Washington DC, I served on the NARAS Board of Governors, and freelanced with anyone and everyone, playing in a guitar duo with jazz great Charlie Byrd, and another duo/band with the legendary Danny Gatton, a close friend, and my guitar mentor. I also did studio work for Bias Recorders, Rounder Records and other creative clients, as well as sessions for jingle houses including Words and Company, Paul Christianson, and The Jingle Machine. All of this work led to a number of Wammy awards in DC, including Artist of the Year, Musician of the Year, and Best Freelance musician. The awards are great, but I've always kept my eyes on the real prize: playing in a smokin' band for a great audience.
I also did "legit" gigs, wearing a tuxedo, with the National Symphony, under Gunther Schuller and David Del Tredici, and in the pit orchestras at the Kennedy Center, the National Theatre, and Ford's Theatre. In that capacity, I played lots of touring Broadway shows, including "Cats", "Evita", "42nd Street", "Zorba", and "Man of La Mancha", and also backed a number of artists including Eartha Kitt, Bob Hope, Joel Gray, and Marvin Hamlisch, as well as classic soul icons like Martha and the Vandellas and the Fifth Dimension. Some of the most memorable gigs from that period include Leonard Bernstein's 60th birthday gala at Wolf Trap; the world premiere of Duke Ellington's symphonic suite, "Three Black Kings"; and the TV special "That's What Friends are For", when I got to groove along in the orchestra while Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Elton John, Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder staged a friendly battle of the vocal riffs a few feet in front of me.
In DC, I did lots of Society balls, industrial shows, dixieland banjo gigs, etc. with the Gene Donati, Howard Devron, and Peter Duchin orchestras, exploring the great songbooks of Gershwin and Cole Porter, and occasionally being let off my leash to drive the highbrow crowd into a rock'n'roll frenzy. I played for functions attended by US presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the elder (not W), and rocked out at Clinton's second inaugural ball. I once accompanied White House correspondent Helen Thomas as she sang "Billie Jean", and jammed on a classic rock medley with Senator Ted Kennedy at his McLean mansion.
In New York City, I play solo gigs, duo gigs with Maura, and I seek out situations where I can lend not only my chops and experience, but also my deep love for all kinds of roots music, and I include jazz and classical in that category. Maura and I were long-time cast members of the "Downtown Messiah", an annual event produced by the Bottom Line, with music direction by Peter Kieswalter of the East Village Opera Company. The show blended classical, jazz, rock, and gospel with the genius of Handel's oratorio, and deliberately sought to blur the division between musical categories. In that same spirit, Maura and I host "The Dharma Cafe", a twice-weekly radio program that blends singer-songwriters with Stravinsky, Coltrane with Kerouac, and the latest Brooklyn buzz bands with Lead Belly and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, in an eclectic concoction that challenges our listeners to constantly stretch their ears. The show has been broadcasting from Rockefeller Center since 2004.
Teaching is important to me, too, and I lead a year-long series of workshops in cities and summer music camps up and down the East Coast. The sessions are aimed at intermediate level adults who have limited time to practice and improve. I give them quick, practical tips to kick start their technique. My teaching headquarters is First Flight Music School, in the East Village. Call Paula Spiro at 212-539-1383 to schedule lessons.
I also write for Cherry Lane Music; songs, of course, but also bumpers and other useful bits for film and TV, from the laid-back grooves on "B. Smith with Style" to the cop-show action of "Cobra", and I offer a service that I call "Short Order Trax", where I furnish fully produced original tracks for songwriters to "finish", becoming co-writers by adding their own lyrics and melody. Co-writing is a tricky chemistry, so I am selective. Drop me an email if this is of interest.
Production-wise, I work with singer-songwriters, recording their own guitar and voice in a comfortable setting, and then adding layers, as needed, to make it "sound like a record". This might mean adding nothing, or doing a full "band", dubbing bass, drums, guitars, and sweeteners including sitar, ukulele, 12-string, keyboards, and applying compression, EQ, etc, for a radio-friendly mix that respects and preserves the artist's music. I can also record overdubs, anything from one guitar to the full "band" in my own studio, by downloading your working mix via email, and then uploading my new tracks at full resolution via my FTP site. This is a really time and money efficient way to add overdubs. When I produce an entire CD, I usually do the final mixing and mastering myself, so that the artist/producer vision stays on-track right up until manufacture or posting on-line. Search The Kennedys, the Strangelings, and Caroline Doctorow for production and mastering samples.
Having produced ten albums for the Kennedys, ten solo albums of my own, and a steady stream of CDs for other acts, I feel lucky to have spent most of my life on stage or in the recording studio. I'm also lucky to have learned a lot from some great guitarists who showed me things along the way, including Gatton and Tony Rice, Doc Watson, and jazz greats Charlie Byrd, Joe Pass, and Johnny Smith. I picked up a lot from each of them, and they helped me to achieve my goal of never having a day job!"