Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blues at the Library with Kenney Mitchell

Like many before him, singer-guitarist Kenney Mitchell took a roundabout path to finding the blues.
“I listened to Jimi Hendrix, mainly, that was my first influence, and The Beatles,” said Mitchell, 52, a Detroit native who will perform live with his band Third Stone From The Sun on Wednesday at the Southfield Public Library. “Jimi led me to Van Halen, Frank Marino (of Mahogany Rush), Robin Trower, and Ernie Isley, people like that. I also liked Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics. I listened to a little bit of everybody.”
Mitchell was exposed to blues, R&B and soul through listening to his parents’ music at home as a kid, but really became interested in the blues after venturing down to John’s Carpet House outdoor jam at St. Aubin and Frederick in Detroit.
“The first time I went there it was Van Halen and Jimi meets the blues,” Mitchell chuckled. “They were impressed for about five minutes.
“I just got into it. My dad always listened to it. I started studying Jimi’s licks and that took me to Otis Rush and Albert King. I said to myself, ‘Dang, that where he got that.’ ”
It was at one of the John’s Carpet House jams that Mitchell’s talent was exposed to Don McGhee, noted blues photographer and producer of the Jazz & Blues at the Library monthly series that is sponsored by the Friends of the Southfield Public Library and the Detroit Blues Society.
“One of the things I like is his passion for the music,” McGhee said. “I did a photo piece for the Detroit Blues Society’s Blues Notes newsletter featuring Kenney, (singer-songwriter and guitarist) Mo Motyka and (guitarist) Carlton Washington. There’s something about their approach to blues music and that they are making a serious attempt to learn and play it.”
McGhee digs the passion Mitchell has for the music.
“I love that style, it’s very moving. Kenney has moved more and more to the blues now and he’s paying attention to the blues masters. He has intensity and a passion for the music. I enjoy the rock licks he brings to it as well.”
Over the years, Mitchell has played with bands in a variety of styles, ranging from R&B to rock and even punk rock. But, now he’s been bitten by the blues bug.
“I love its simplicity, yet its complexity,” said Mitchell, who listens to older blues artists such as John Lee Hooker as well as newer artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Gale, and Indiginous. “A lot of people can’t play it and I’m still trying to learn it. I like the emotions that it can convey.
“Put it this way: You can have two guitar players side-by-side, Yngwie Malmsteen and Buddy Guy, or B.B. King. Yngwie can play a thousand notes in one second. B.B. or Buddy will hit one note and you know exactly what they’re talking about. You can feel it. It will hit you. I like music you can feel and that will actually take you somewhere. That’s one of the reasons I like Jimi so much.”
Mitchell will be joined by keyboardist Rico, bassist Mo Hollis and drummer Perez at the library. They’ll perform mostly cover tunes, with selections from The Meters, Freddie King, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and, of course, Hendrix.
“I’ve got to include some Jimi,” Mitchell said. “It’s funny, when I first started playing guitar, folks would accuse me of being a Hendrix clone and I tried to get away from it. Now, they say, ‘You’ve gotta play this (Hendrix tune), or you’ve got to play that.’ People love Hendrix, especially if it’s done right.”

Kenney Mitchell and Third Stone From the Sun will perform from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at the Southfield Public Library, in the Southfield Municipal Complex, 26300 Evergreen Road. Admission is $3, with children under age 12 admitted free. For more information, call (248) 796-4224 or click

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