Ted Russell Kamp
“May you live in interesting times”, the apocryphal Chinese curse, could have been written for us as we approach the third decade of the century. With so much political strife flying around and tech meglomerates controlling our very thoughts, it comes as no surprise that some of us want to get off the grid. Country music in general seems to be having a bit of a moment in the UK, even Radio 4 are telling me that young people are turning on to twang in one form or another. The diverse styles of country music that we love at Whiskey Preachin are enjoying an upturn, certainly, as we appear to be in a golden era of this music, with excellent albums being released on a weekly basis. Ted Russell Kamp’s new album, Walkin’ Shoes, is a case in point.
As he will tell us later, Ted does not regard himself as a country singer, and, in the purest sense, he isn’t. A native-New Yorker with a deep love of Southern music, be it from Texas or Tennessee, Kamp moved to Seattle as soon as he finished his studies. By 2001 he was in LA, and it wasn’t long before he had hooked up with Shooter Jennings, for whom he has been holding down bass duties ever since. So, country and country-rock music infuse Walkin’ Shoes. Even if the album doesn’t wear no Stetson, I’m willing to bet, son, that Kamp knows something about honky tonkin’ and the outlaw state of mind (not only does he play bass for Shooter, he has performed the same role for WP favourite Whitey Morgan, original Outlaw Jessi Colter, the legendary Wanda Jackson and Rosie Flores, to name a few.
Maybe he wasn’t born in Tennessee, and he may not be as big a Texan as you are, but there are plenty of cowboys in California, and this is an LA record, after all. There’s a welcoming strum and twang to the opening bars of Home Away From Home that lets us know we are in safe hands, before the California country-funk struts in to the room to the sound of Paid by the Mile, which WP regulars should be familiar with from the Sam Morrow version we have been spinning regularly (Kamp and Morrow wrote the song together, and Kamp played bass on Morrow’s 2018 album, Concrete and Mud, also co-writing the album’s opening track Heartbreak Man, just issued as Morrow’s new single). Ted bares his country soul with the next tune, This Old Guitar, as the Hammond organ and fat back drums bring a taste of Muscle Shoals to LA; “If you play rock and roll long enough, the blues is what you get”.
Walkin’ Shoes moves ahead deftly, managing not to put a foot wrong as the music weaves in touches of west coast AOR and power pop (reminiscent of Brent Redemaker’s GospelBeach project, or maybe Brendon Benson, occasionally with a whisp of Tom Petty or even Rod Stewart in Kamp’s delivery). By the time we get to Tail Light Shine, we’re into WP prime-time choogle, with a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on QCNH, the new album form Quaker City Night Hawks. Then Get Off the Grid leans in the window with its easy-going charm and infectious Tulsa groove. Oh yes, baby!
Another WP favourite, Jamie Wyatt pops up on Heart Under Pressure and Freeway Mona Lisa, returning a favour, possibly, as Kamp played bass on Wyatt’s excellent 2017 debut, Felony Blues (produced by Eric Corne, who also produced Sam Morrow’s Concrete and Mud – starting to see a pattern here?).
That Kamp has produced such a confident and accomplished album should come no surprise, once you hear more of his story. Let’s hear from him in his words word…
Listening to your back catalogue, it seems that you started to focus your music towards the country soul sound around 15 years ago. Was there a point at which you decided you were a country musician? Did this coincide with hooking up with Shooter Jennings?
I started making music in the 4th grade playing trumpet in school bands. I enjoyed it right from the star and got pretty good, fast, so I started joining a bunch of jazz and big bands. Then in high school I got into some rock bands with my friends and started playing bass and guitar. We were doing mainly pop and classic rock and songs we loved from hearing them on the radio.
I really started getting into roots music and country when I was around twenty-seven or 28, when I discovered the Last Waltz by The Band. They are not country, per se, but they combined rock, soul, country and songwriting in such an honest and compelling way. They helped me understand country as something that was personal and not just a foreign genre. Then, about a month later, I was on tour with a band, it was late at night after a gig and we were watching late-night TV in our motel in Salt Lake City, Utah. I saw The Old 97s and Whiskeytown on an episode of Austin City Limits. Both of those bands were so young and rock & roll, but still inspired by country music. They made country feel relevant in a way that I hadn’t really felt it before. That was when I started finding other artists like Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and the country side of The Rolling Stones and Little Feat. I had been on the country path for about three or 4 years on my own, playing in bands and starting to be a band leader and write in a similar way that The Band blended genres. At that time, Shooter was putting together a new band and looking for players. Two different mutual friends of ours recommended he call me because I loved Waylon and Willie and the country side of things, as well as the Southern rock and Zeppelin, all influences he had.
I don’t consider myself a country musician, although I love country music and often play and record it. I love combining rock, country, soul, blues and singer/songwriter music. For me, the song and story drive it all, which is why it often comes back to the songwriter or country roots. When it’s time to play country music, I love doing it and take pride in making it authentic, or blending it with other styles and my instincts.
It feels as if there has been a natural progression towards Walkin’ Shoes. Is this the album you’ve been wanting to make? How do you feel about the new record?
I’m very proud of this new record. I feel good about the songs on it as well as the arrangements and production. Every record I’ve made is the record I wanted to make at that time, and I feel I’m getting a little better at all the skills that enable you to make a great album with every record I’m a part of. As I was writing and compiling the songs for this record, I started to notice a bunch of the songs were either about traveling, about life on the road, or used the road as a metaphor. Some were directly about making music or missing my family while I’m away from home. All of those are all very current and honest themes for me in my life now.
I then shaped the rest of the record to work within those themes or expand upon those ideas and feelings. I decided to name the album Walkin’ Shoes because if you want to go out and explore or make a change in your life, the first thing you need to do is put on those shoes, get out of the house to get out into the world to make it happen. Most of the songs on the record have to do with the journey, the travels and experiences that make you who you are, rather than focusing on reaching any destination, even though we are always striving for one. I also feel I’m in the middle of my professional life now and, as much wisdom and confidence as I have gotten, I still get thrown curve balls regularly and I still need to learn and grow. This makes me proud of being in the middle of the bigger journey we are all on.
You have released two compilations of tracks form your earlier albums, California Country Soul Vol.1 - Rockers and Vol.2 – Ballads. Soul music informs a lot of the best country music and vice versa. How do you see the relationship between country and soul?
Often, musically, country and soul are quite similar. The difference between the genres has more to do with the singer’s vocal inflection, local vocabulary and the little choices they make when they sing or play. I didn’t grow up in the South, which I feel is really the birthplace of country, soul, jazz, blues and rock & roll, for that matter. I love them all and love combining those sounds and genres the way I feel them. I have always gravitated to artists like Leon Russell, Delbert McClinton, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, The Band and artists who just make music they love, regardless of whatever genre you want to call it. I feel it’s all American music and, as long as you do it authentically, you should make it your own and not label it.
In his book Sweet Soul Music, Peter Grualnick writes that, in his opinion, rhythm and blues became soul music when the white kids got up and danced. When does country become soul?
I like the idea of that because it focuses on the infectiousness of great music, but I think that’s more of a quotable soundbite than the truth. Any artist, whether in music or writing or painting, always wants to grow, change and explore. Once you do a something for a while, it’s natural to experiment and want to evolve. Artists hear another artist do something and they want to emulate and tweak and shift it and make it their own. As this happens over and over, new styles and trends are born (and, at some point, the white kids started to dance to traditionally black music). America really is a great melting pot of cultures that are constantly changing and interacting. Technology changing and new instruments being invented in the last 100 years has also changed things a lot too. I think classic rhythm and blues evolved into soul as many musicians tired of playing 12 bar blues and got more excited about other chord progressions, some from jazz and some from traditional white forms of music like country and folk. I think young people (the dancers, as well as the players) are naturally inspired to find something new and, after generations of this, the music evolves, and we need a new name for it because it’s no longer what it used to be.
You’ve been involved in recording a lot of different styles of music, both in your solo career, with Shooter and .357, and Hierophant, as well as with others. Country, soul, disco, heavy rock… Did you ever expect to end up playing on a cover of The Never Ending Story?
No. I’ve done a lot of sessions where my job is to help the artist do whatever they want to do but I had no idea that after years of knowing Shooter Jennings, he would one day show up and want to do a Georgio Moroder tribute album, or that Brandi Carlile would be singing The Never Ending Story with us. Like I was just saying, we all want to keep growing and experimenting. One of the reasons I love working with Shooter is that his tastes are as eclectic as mine and he’s not afraid to try things he’s never tried before, not just to keep things interesting but more to follow his passions and keep saying what he wants to with music.
The 2016 album Countach (For Giorgio) was a tribute to the Munich disco machine, the legend, Giorgio Moroder. As a bass player, where do you see the link between disco and country? What’s your favourite country disco tune?
Even though a lot of Georgio’s music is thought of as disco or technology inspired, his music is also very blues based. As we got to making that record, I was surprised how close to blues rock or The Velvet Underground or John Spencer Blues Explosion some of the songs were if you were to simply change the instrumentation and the approach a little. A big link and discovery for me while we were making that record was Shooter’s idea to have real musicians play a lot of what was keyboard and synth and drum machine on the original records. Jamie Douglass, who is our drummer, and I have both played a lot of soul and dance music over the years. We almost combined that shared background with some of the acid jazz we’d played mixed in with a little John Bonham on the drums and a little Soul Coughing on the acoustic bass.
Tulsa Time is a very disco influenced country tune that is not out-and-out disco, but it has enough of those elements as well as being a great country or rock song that is just as powerful if you play it solo on acoustic guitar.
Walkin’ Shoes is a fine example of how healthy today’s country music scene is. A lot of commentators are as keen to point out the faults of today’s mainstream pop “country” material as they are to celebrate what they consider authentic. What is your view on the health of country music today (in LA and in America in general)?
Mainstream music (especially mainstream country) seems to be less and less inspiring and relevant to me each year. It’s big business, so I’m sure it’s providing some people with a healthy living and giving a lot of people music they like. Once-in-a-while, I hear a popular song I am moved by, but that doesn’t seem to be that often. I chose a long time ago to make music I like, that I can get emotionally attached to, even if that means I take a pay cut or play to a smaller audience. There are a lot of more independently minded folks out here making soulful and quality music once you scratch beneath the surface. One joke I say to friends on recording sessions and gigs sometimes is that we are here to make adult level rock & roll. It may be too complex for “the kids” to get or enjoy, but we do it and try to make it high quality and deep. Thankfully there are enough people out there with good record collections that they respect and enjoy what we are doing.
What is your view of “authenticity” in music generally, and in country music specifically?
Authenticity is the most important thing. I guarantee you that there are better singers, guitarists and song writers out there than I am, but I am the only one who can say what I want to say. If I strive to say things honestly and eloquently and record them well, I believe there will be an audience. That’s what I look for in music and that’s what I try to put in my music hoping that other people will enjoy it.
Does the message delivered by Willow the Wisp on Hierophant’s 2010 album Black Ribbon seem ever more prophetic today? Is it already 13 o’clock?
In a way, yes. Our world is getting more and more complex and crazy each year. Politics, technology, and questions about how to deal with our growing population and global warming are creating more hatred and confusion with each passing year. I’m realizing that I write more and more songs each year dealing with how we can comfort each other and help each other through these overwhelming and lonely times.
Other than Walkin’ Shoes, what project are you most pleased to have been involved with?
I’ve been proud of many of the records and bands I’ve worked with over the years. Here are some of them:
All the records I’ve done with Shooter: Put The O Back IN Country, Electric Rodeo, The Wolf, Live at Irving Plaza, Waylon Forever, This One’s For George, Countache, a new one that we already recorded that should come out later this year. All my own records, which I really feel are getting better and better with each new record. I have eleven solo records now.
Some of the records I produced that I really love are:
AJ Hobbs - Too Much is Never Enough
Funkyjenn - Rock and Roll Voodoo Queen
Creekwood - 2000 Miles West
Richie Albright - Poets, Prophets, Heroes and Friends
Grant Langston - L.A. Duets
Lars Kolberg - Sort Blod (Black Blood)
Nate Smith - Around and Around
Robin Wiley - Texicali
A new one I’m in the middle of producing now for a super talented woman Emily Zuzik, a new one I’m in the middle of producing now for Clay DuBose, a new Tanya Tucker record which is getting mixed now and should be out later this year, an artist named Brad Raisin.
Some records I’ve played on:
Sam Morrow - Concrete and Mud
Jaime Wyatt - Felony Blues
Calico the Band – Rancho California
What was it like recording the posthumous Waylon Jennings album, Waylon Forever, with his son?
That was a truly awesome experience. Shooter recorded eight songs with Waylon when Shooter was maybe 16 years old, on a home recording set up. Waylon was not doing well, health wise, and was not making his best records at the time, but he was truly excited to be making home recordings with Shooter, his son, so he really gave it his all and sang is heart out. Because Shooter was more into rock & roll than country at the time, they recorded most of the songs at slower rock and roll tempos. It then became our job to make new and powerful music to support Waylon’s vocal takes, and I think we were all proud of how we did that. It was pretty amazing to be recording with our band at the time and hearing Waylon’s vocal come through the headphones as we played. I’ll never forget it.
What do you like to listen to when you get the chance?
I usually listen to classics when I’m not making my own music or working with other people. Van Morrison, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Cole Porter, Gerry Mulligan, Ahmad Jamaal, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Waylon Jennings and Bob Dylan are some of my go-tos. Some newer artists I really like and listen to are Jack White, Ryan Adams, The Band of Heathens and Andrew Combs. I listen to music for inspiration and to learn something. When I listen to these artists, I enjoy it and feel it and learn things I can apply to the music I’m making.
Who would you have performing at your fantasy festival?
All the ones I just listed. We’d have to invent a time machine and away to prevent my head from exploding.
In your opinion, which new country artists should we be looking out for?
I love Sam Morrow and Jaime Wyatt. They are both current L.A. Americana / Country inspired artists I work with and have played with and written with. They are both smart and soulful and have a lot to say. I also really love The Band of Heathens and the South Austin Moonlighters out of Austin, neither are country per se, but are great and eclectic and have some country and a lot of Texas musical roots.
Is it difficult to find time to write, record and promote your own music while holding down the role of bass player for Shooter Jennings?
Yes, but it’s worth it. My hobby became my job. There is a lot of organizational stuff to do and traveling to organize and do, but making music is what I love. When I’m not touring with Shooter, I am touring on my own or writing, recording or producing a record.
Millions of people will have seen you in the opening scenes of season 2 of Punisher. What was it like getting to perform in such a prominent TV series?
It was a fun experience to go to NY for two days to shoot those scenes. It was also really great to get noticed and thanked by fans of the show who maybe were not such big fans of my music or Shooter’s music. That opportunity really turned a lot of people onto what we are doing.
I have recently caught up with listening to your considerable solo output, of which I wasn’t aware of before Walkin’ Shoes. Have you had much interest form Europe and the UK?
Yes, I love playing in Europe. I have been coming to Europe to do a three-week tour every year for the last 10 years or so. Thankfully I’m getting some good radio play on the Euroamercana stations and there is a wonderful community of friends and promoters who love independently released singer-songwriter and roots music.
What's next? Any plans to come you Europe to tour this album?
Yes indeed. I’ll be coming back to Europe; I already have three or 4 shows booked for a tour I am planning this November and December. For most of the rest of this year, I’ll be touring with Shooter. We will also become the backup back for Duff McKagan (from Guns n’ Roses). Shooter has produced his new solo record that comes out soon. I’ll be playing bass in Duff’s band and it’s looking like we will be doing a short tour of Europe in August or September.
As for my stuff, The Walkin’ Shoes European CD release tour was in November and December of 2018 and I flew over to play a three-week tour of shows in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. I’ll be back again to play for three more weeks this coming Winter. Here are the shows I already have booked (and I’m looking for more)…
4th December 2019 - Soest, Germany
6th December 2019 - Steendam, Netherlands
13 or 15 December 2019 - Uddevalla, Sweden
14 December 2019 – Uddevalla, Sweden (private party)
So, folks, if that hasn’t made you want to go and listen to Walkin’ Shoes, you are dead inside. If like me, you don’t have an invite to the private party in Uddevalla in December, we can take heart that Ted Russell Kamp will be returning to these beleaguered shores some time in the not too distant, and we will all have a chance to catch him performing his music then. If you happen to know a friendly promoter in your area, maybe you could have a word in their shell-like.