Artist Spotlight  
Kid Bangham
By Robert John, correspondent to
© 2006 - All Rights Reserved

We recently caught up with Kid Bangham, a former Fabulous Thunderbird, at the Carver School of Music in Carver, Massachusetts. Kid runs the school and teaches individual students and groups of students the intricacies of the art of music. And what a teacher to have!

We found Kid to be humble, thoughtful and affable.  We talked about his eclectic influences and his experiences on the road. It was a pleasure to speak with him.

A truly unique voice in contempory guitar, we hope you enjoy this interview Barrelhouse Blues ("BB") had with the one and only, Kid Bangham:

BB: Tell us a little bit about how you got started in music, and what drew you to the Blues?

KB: Well, Tommy James and The Shondells had a single called Hanky Panky. Remember that song?

BB: Yes.

KB: I heard that at the age of five. And that’s kind of what got the whole thing rolling. So I didn’t know it was Blues, I didn’t know it was rock n’ roll, it’s proof that I was always, for some reason I was always drawn to that form. It’s Blues, really. I didn’t know that was a twelve bar blues, I just loved it. So, I started to try to make the same sounds and my father ended up getting me a ukulele to play back then. And I just kept going and lovin’ it, just kept going. And not being part of the Texas scene, these Texas guys, being up here in Boston, they were all going to these old shops and being influenced by the old records they were finding. I wasn’t lucky enough to have that happen. I had to leave Pennsylvania where I was to go find people who had these records. I wasn’t able to wander into the stores in my hometown and see these things like the Texas kid, or other people in the country – depending upon where you were. So, I ended up hooking up with the Bluetones and they were Blues fanatics so they had a lot of these old records, they had a lot of these old recordings, they had been collecting these records for many years. So I had to catch up and these guys turned me on to a lot of great stuff, you know?

BB: The Bluetones from Rhode Island?

KB: Yeah. And they were older than I was, you know?

BB: How did you hook up with them?

KB: I was watching Duke Robillard one night and I’d given the band some recordings of me doing my own Blues stuff. It was pretty horrible. But at least it succeeded in getting them to realize I was a player, or at least attempting to play. And the drummer, came up to me during the break and said, “Hey, I heard your tape and it sounded pretty good to me. I know this other band, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones and they’ve got this tour booked in Spain. For some reason they’re having a hard time, they’re losing their guitar player so you can hook up with them.” So he gave me a number and I called Sugar, and they didn’t know who I was at all. I was a complete unknown. I was not part of the scene. And I auditioned and ended up landing the job and kept on with those guys for many years.

BB: And through them you learned about some of these older records?

KB: That’s right. Yeah, those guys were really knowledgeable and I was not at that time. They were really knowledgeable about all the really inside stuff. You know you walk into like, Cheapos in Central Square, it’s overwhelming, you know it’s just...I haven’t been there in a while, but I know when you go into a place like that and they specialize in Blues, it was just a sea of albums, two floors, upstairs and down. Back then you go in there and it was just an incredible amount of stuff, you just wouldn’t know what to do. I mean you couldn’t buy it all and sort through it. And the Bluetones were great that way cause they knew all the good stuff. All the kingpin classic stuff. We’d spend hours in the van driving to gigs and that’s all we’d do is sort through and play cassettes of all this great stuff, so on the road touring with these guys I was hearing Ike Turner, for the first time. Johnny Guitar Watson, Guitar Slim, you know, all these great guys. Little Milton, Otis Rush, Albert Collins, Albert King

BB: You have a pretty unique style. Who are some of the people you have named or have yet to name that influenced your style? Is there somebody that rocked your world?

KB: It would be hard to say that there was one. I tell you, I’m not trying to avoid answering your question, It’s just that I tell you, I’m forty seven years old, and I have been digesting music in a serious way, in a real intense way since I was five. I mean, I went through a period before I even came to Boston where I was really into Jimmie Rodgers, The Singing Brakeman, not the Bluesman. The Singing Brakeman. And for a while that was all I was listening to, was Jimmie Rodgers. I was obsessed with his music. Obsessed with getting all of it, listening to all of it, finding all the great songs. And that was just one phase of probably thousands, you know. Or at least hundreds of phases I’ve been through. But if I had to boil it down for guitar playing, I mentioned Guitar Slim, I’ve always loved his abandon. I think that’s a big part of my approach for playing guitar is do it with abandon, and not do it in a controlled way. So if you look back, look at the people who came before me who had a big influence on me doing that, it would be Guitar Slim, Johnny Guitar Watson, for the older players. But there’s just so many. B.B. King is a big influence on me.

But over all, kind of rough, kind of wing it, swing it players, I guess. And then for contemporary players, I came into Boston in the 1980s, many years ago, I hadn’t heard about Ronnie Earl. So Ronnie Earl is somebody who was older than I was. He had come before me. He had played with the Bluetones before me. So here I was watching Ronnie Earl, a contemporary now, seeing how he handled himself. Seeing how he interpreted these same sources of Blues. And watching what he was spitting out. After hearing all that stuff, I was also being influenced by Duke Robillard, who once again is older than I am and studied the stuff probably much earlier than I had. And Jimmie Vaughan, in Texas, was also a big influence.

Jimmie Vaughan especially had a big effect on me because I was really struck by how far he had taken this idea of just playing with simplicity, and not really just showing off. When I was a kid, great playing was defined by how dazzling you could be and you had all these visions and dreams of playing these amazing guitar solos and girls dropping and fainting because you were playing so fast. Jimmie Vaughan was the one that really turned my head around – that’s not really where it’s at. It goes deeper than that. And that’s when I started to really understand that it’s OK to not play. (Laughs) It’s OK to not play! When I first heard Jimmie Vaughan’s playing, I was literally embarrassed for him. That’s how deficient I thought his playing was compared to what I thought guitar playing had to be. I was very, very embarrassed for him. I was thinking to myself, “This guy sounds like an ancient trying to play the guitar or something.” That’s how weird it seemed to me. Then I began to realize over time how ingenious it was. How heavy it was. So I think if people are honest, a lot of them are not, they’ll have to acknowledge that Jimmie Vaughan leads the way – has been leading the way for many, many years. And that goes for everybody in the world. I mean he really is the leading player as far as I’m concerned for contemporary. People who have broken new ground and really taken it as far as you can possibly go, it’d definitely be Jimmie Vaughan above and beyond anybody that I know.

BB: So you consider him an influence?

KB: Yes. Yeah, definitely, his whole approach. Not so much the licks, although they do rub off, but just his way of speaking with the guitar. That’s always been the way that I’ve approached the instrument too. From Day one, I’ve always wanted to speak with it. You know, I phrase with it and actually tell a story. There’s a certain way of expressing yourself with it that has to do with phrases. You’re speaking. It’s just a different language, that’s all.

BB: I’m intrigued because you said you’ve been listening intensely to this music since you were five. Five is when you first heard “Hanky Panky” and started listening to The Singing Brakeman. Did you actually start playing an instrument at that age? That young?

KB: Yeah, I was playing guitar, and I also had country leanings so I was also playing a lot of Hank Williams. Your Cheating Heart and that kind of stuff.

BB: At that age, that’s amazing.

KB: Well my father was a music lover, so was my mother. But my father was a free lance greeting card artist. And he worked for Curtis Publishing in Philadelphia. And he was always free lancing at night. We had a big family and he was always supplementing his income by stuff at night, drawings and things like that. His Wollensack tape recorder was always going. And he had things like Dixieland. A lot of Dixieland which I loved, and he had all kinds of stuff playing. And jazz, things like that. So I was always listening to music and always being influenced by stuff. And my older brother was turning me onto all the things that came down the pike – Stones, Beatles, when Cream came along. Eric Clapton, all that stuff. I was lucky, I had an older brother that was going through all that stuff and he’d be bringing the albums home. I’d go through that stuff and pick it apart.

BB: It was like a blast furnace listening to live Cream for the first time, wasn’t it?

KB: Yeah, (laughs) it was incredible! Who else? I guess, Earl Scruggs, Flatt & Scruggs, remember that band? My dad was into them, so he was always bringing them home. Yeah, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. Lester Flatt, of all people, was where I started to pick apart picking. That’s where I started to get alternating thumb picking. Things like that which came in handy as I started to get into ragtime and Blind Blake and all the old pickers, like Blind Boy Fuller. Going through all those guys and Lester Flatt when I was a kid, I would be going through that picking stuff, the alternating thumb was what you need, you know?

BB: And you still use that today on the guitar.

KB: Yeah, I’m still picking quite a bit. I’m glad I picked that well from the beginning because it came in handy years later when it came to being chosen for jobs or whatever. It was that picking background that really set me apart. Cause a lot of players, they can play lead, they hold the flat pick, you know? But I was always doing all kinds of funky stuff. And that was with my right hand. My right hand was really good. And I can really do some funky stuff you just can’t do with a pick. All the great players are like that if you think about it, they can all use their fingers.

BB: Jeff Beck.

KB: Yeah, all my favorite players are actually using their fingers. Gatemouth Brown, all of them, you know.

BB: That’s a perfect description. You said that it sets you apart, and that was what was going through my mind. You really set yourself apart from almost everybody else.

KB: Yeah, there weren’t a lot of players that were able to digest the stuff and then actually spit it back out in a genuine way. There weren’t many and I guess I just always loved the music, that’s why, you know? I had a real love for it.

BB: Tell us a little bit about how your relationship with The Fabulous Thunderbirds came about and what the experience was like when you were touring with them.

KB: It was an exciting time, it was a fantastic experience, but I have to say it was very intimidating in the beginning. I’m pretty much a fighter, and I’m pretty tenacious so I handled it OK, but I definitely had to find my way and find a way to contribute in a valid way.

But in the beginning, it was very intimidating to be following somebody as stylized as Jimmie Vaughan. You know, when you come in and you’re replacing somebody who in many ways defined the band, that was a predicament that I didn’t particularly enjoy in the beginning. At the same time, I was traveling and I was making better money, and getting better treatment. You know I’d gone from carbon monoxide filled vans, you know, waking up on top of your bass player in a van without a shower for a week, you know, freezing cold somewhere in the Midwest. You know it was just horrible conditions. Being treated terribly by the club owners, you know, everything was your fault. To, all of a sudden, everything was everybody else’s fault. You were treated like a king and paid a lot of money. You automatically had a whole lot of admiration from a whole lot of people. But I had a lot of fun with it and I didn’t get too carried away with it. I still don’t let the audience define who I am, and didn’t then. But it was a lot of fun. Just a lot of fun.

It was great traveling, and I loved the guys in the band. I got along with them really well. There’s just so much to tell I don’t know where to start. It was such a great experience. It was fantastic.

BB: How did you tie up with them?

KB: The Bluetones were doing a tour, we were going around the country. We went to Austin, Texas and at that time Jimmie had given his notice. I don’t think anybody knew, but he’d quit the band. Contrary to what all the papers said and what everybody said, he did not quit the band, The Thunderbirds, to go play with Stevie. That was just another side project that he’d planned to do – one of many. He’d quit for a number of reasons.

So, they knew they needed a replacement. And like I said, it was pretty much well known and understood that there are only a few people in the world that were playing in that niche, that were going to fit in there. They weren’t really a rock Blues band, even though they were. They were really a small niche. There were only a few people that could have filled that job, I think. Ronnie Earl might have been one of them, and there were reasons why that couldn’t work. You know, Stevie had his own thing, and that left Duke and I. So we were gigging in Austin, and they came out and saw me with the Bluetones. And we had a great night that night, and we were performing well, and I was doing well, and based upon that gig I got back from the tour and they called me and offered me a job at that point. Cause they had knew about me. Kim had been coming into Boston and we had been jamming together, the Bluetones with Kim. And Fran knew about us, and Fran had relatives in Rhode Island who were recording down there, “I just saw all the Bluestones last night and Kid was really smokin’,” or whatever, so they were getting reports here and there and hearing about me for a while. So I was one of the people they were considering. And that’s how it went.

BB: This Music School is something new for you, is that correct?

KB: Yeah, it’s about a year and a half old, maybe a year and three quarters now. I just wanted to do something different. I’ve been a musician for many, many years – not to mention I was seeing the whole scene just really go south. I’m not sure what you’re seeing, but you must be getting a lot of information too, about how dismal it is out there.

BB: I hear it a lot.

KB: The other thing too is, Blues is at an all time low as far as, maybe you don’t want to hear this, or be dwelling on this but it just seems, they talked about it being a cycle, but nobody thought it might actually be disliked. You know, forget maybe reviving it every so many years. It’s almost like people are like, “Please don’t play the Blues.”

Whereas before it seemed like it might always be revived and now it’s almost like there’s a dislike for it. And people are going more hard rock and things like that and there’s a lot of great music out there – it’s not just the Blues, but I’ve been noticing it, in terms of appreciation it’s really at an all time low.

So, I’m not one to cling. Never have been. So I’m always one to move forward and try different things. And I’m loving this right now, I’m just having a ball. I’m still doing music. I’m still writing, mostly Americana type stuff. It’s not really Blues stuff. Blues is always in there.

BB: Do you give individual lessons here as well as group lessons?

KB: I do, yeah. It’s group stuff and individual stuff.

BB: As far as performing, are there any players whom you’ve not performed with that you would like to at some point in time?

KB: Lately I’ve been thinking about how cool it would be to work with Merle Haggard. And he’s not a Blues guitarist, which is what we’re talking about here, but Merle Haggard is somebody I always thought would be fun to work with. Tom Waits, is somebody I always thought would be great, a lot of fun to work with. Maybe especially Tom Waits, because a lot of what I do could fit into what he’s doing. And I always thought he’d be a lot of fun to work with and very interesting to work with.

BB: Do you have any unfulfilled goals?

KB: There are a lot of women that I still have not met.

BB: You’re married.

KB: (Laughs) No, I’m not married. Married and divorced.

BB: Oh, we must have read an old interview. But, musically, something that you have not done yet.

KB: I’m thinking it would be kind of fun, writing. As in writing a book. I’m not quite sure what kind of book it would be. I’m into writing as well. But Musically, I’d like to get this school to the point where I’m not so busy. And if I had some extra time I could do some writing again, musically. Do some more song writing. I got a lot of writing to do. A lot of things I still want to express and create musically. And I don’t have time for it. Because now, I’m attacking this, happily. But I’m caught up in running around, trying to do a million things at once, you know?

(Phone rings and Kid excuses himself to answer. Another demand on his time. Someone wanting to know how soon he will be coming to a previously scheduled engagement. Apparently a performance with students from his music school. Kid informs them he is just finishing up an interview and will be right there..)

KB: (Laughs) They’re freaking out down there. Kids are all set up and ready to go. Their fearless leader is not there.

BB: One last question. What do you value most about making music?

KB: Umm, well I hope this answers your question. Occasionally, over the years this has popped into my head. I like the fact that music bring out the oddball in everybody. I haven’t really though about the best answer I could give, but music causes people to become silly sometimes. You know what I mean? In a world that is so serious. Everybody takes everything so seriously. And music transports you somewhere else. It’s got another definition to it. It removes you from the world, the way things are supposed to be. You know what I mean? I’m not saying music is silly. I’m trying to describe something that is not describable. But it takes you to an absurd place. Where I’m more comfortable. Do you know what I mean? I don’t like being in the serious world. It brings out the individual in everybody. When I’d be with other people or other bands, say at a recording project, you have all these people coming together and they’re all bring their own person. Their own creative self. It’s not like building a bridge or something. It goes deeper than that.

I’m failing miserably at describing what I’m talking about. I guess I like insanity more than anything else. It’s a wonderful thing. And music somehow manages to be a great manifestation of that insanity. (Laughs) Try to figure that out.

BB: You have only to watch people on the dance floor to see what you are saying.

KB: Yeah! That’s it exactly! And that to me is what people are about. That to me is what life is about. It’s not about everything being in a compartment. Unfortunately, for most of us, we have to operate that way, very seriously, in order to make ends meet. In order to survive. But I’m comfortable in the other world. And music is still my number one way to go the that place.

I gotta go.

BB: Thank you.

© 2006 - All Rights Reserved

You may contact Kid Bangham at:

Carver School Of Music
38 N Main Street
Carver, MA 02330