Kid Rock guitarist Kenny Olson talks Twisted Brown, Cartel and growing up rock and roll

Kid Rock guitarist Kenny Olson talks Twisted Brown, Cartel and growing up rock and roll
May 2, 2012 | By More
Kenny and Jimi Hendrix's dad Al R.I.P.

Kenny and Howling Wolf's guitarist Hubert Sumlin

Kenny Olson 2-26-11 in Detroit photo by  Shawn Thornton
Kenny Olson 2-26-11 in Detroit photo by Shawn Thornton

“Kenny Olson is one of the best rock guitarists on the scene right now.”-Keith Richards

“Those of us who play the guitar both young and old know Kenny Olson.”- Eric Clapton

“Kenny is and always will be considered part of the Metallica family. As for his guitar playing – that simply speaks for itself and needs no further comment.” — Metallica

Kenny Olson was described in Kid Rock’s original bio as being “born to play guitar” which really says it all.  The guy has earned respect and kudos from the likes of Carlos Santana, Kirk Hammett and countless others who also excel at the six string.  He’s worked with all of them and countless others but in addition to playing guitar Kenny is probably one of the most underrated songwriters of the rock and roll genre.  He made the hard decision to leave the Kid Rock band some years ago and has recently resurfaced with his new album Kenny Olson Cartel which features some of his best work yet.  I keep playing it over and over and it’s one of those rare records that can just make your spring/summer.  Kenny is a true artist and a very cool, laid back guy who has enough starpower in his technique and writing to overcompensate for his quiet and easy going personality.  I recently caught up with Kenny to talk about the Cartel band, his involvement with the Hendrix family and of course Kid Rock and the late Joe C.   Read on……………….

Legendary Rock Interviews:  Kenny, it has been far too long since I’ve enjoyed an album as much as this.  Was it your goal with the Cartel to make a true album, a long player, as opposed to just focusing on iTunes singles or only having a few strong songs like so many albums are guilty of?

Kenny Olson:  I’ve been working on most of this stuff for a while now, since I left Kid Rock I wanted to make sure that when I put something out it has soul and substance, which is always something that’s been important to me even dating back to DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE.  It’s important to me because I come from that era of listening to a record.  People would zone off and listen to the whole album, people would do the wild thing listening to records, records used to have a certain magic and people actually cared about how the whole thing played out.

LRI:  Were you pretty conscious of that during the sequencing of the album?

Kenny:  Yeah, I think the whole idea of just even making a record is a very big part of the creative process for an artist.  Generally, it’s not just about one song.  One of my favorite things too was always the whole artifact or package of the album itself.  Growing up, I always wanted to open a new album and see who played on what, look at pictures, that is a major part of what connects you to the music as a kid.  It’s weird, first the whole package got smaller and went into the CD format and now so many people only listen on their computers or iPods.  I listen to something on the computer and no matter how good it is, it could be my all time favorite album from my favorite artist, it still doesn’t hit me the same way as that good old warm vinyl or even just a cd.  It’s also found it’s way into some of the sessions we do as musicians, I enjoy sessions where we are all in the studio at the same time and working on our tunes.  Now, technically, you can do it all via your computer and send it to your guitar player halfway across the country but to me it’s like phone sex!  There’s a lot of “vibe” involved in making magic music.  There’s something to be said for that give and take between artists and chemistry.  If you listen to a lot of your truly classic music it makes you feel like you are in the room with them and that’s still what I am aiming for.  I was fortunate enough to grow up around the Detroit area and soak in everything from the blues greats to the Alice Cooper and Stooges stuff to Bob Segar and Motown from a very young age.  I didn’t get into this to become a “rock star” I got into it to really leave behind a body of work that I can be proud of.  The art of trying to make timeless music is important to me, you and I were talking the other day about trying to catch lightning in a bottle with our talks and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do with the Cartel.  It’s even an issue within the radio world to make music that doesn’t stay in one tight format because there’s stations that play classic rock and stations that play what they call modern rock.


Detroit loves some Kenny Olson

Detroit loves some Kenny Olson and Kenny Olson loves some Detroit

LRI:  Your album features the great Billy Cox and Eddie Kramer of Jimi Hendrix fame that should be good enough to get on classic rock radio in my humble opinion.

Kenny:  The thing is, the classic rock ones generally just play the songs you already know and some of the modern rock ones don’t really know how to introduce or incorporate  stuff like what we do which has a lot of that classic rock and soulful, punky vibe but is certainly current and modern.  Our single “Up All Night” has done really, really well in the areas where they’ve taken a chance on playing it but there’s the little line in the chorus “I was up all night but it wasn’t from the Cocaine, mean ol woman been messin with my brain”  so some stations have had issue with that.  It isn’t even about doing cocaine, it came from someone noticing that I looked ragged from the night before but I had just been up all night dealing with some relationship drama (laughs).  We have a new single that’s not even on the album called “Hands on the Wheel” which is getting out there.  But yeah, it is an honor to know and work with Billy.  He played on my album and I’ve played on his and Eddie Kramer, what can I say?? He is just such an amazing person and amazing producer, a legend.  I really wanted the album to have a pretty wide variety, that’s always how we approached the Kid Rock stuff as well, Bob has a lot of different influences.  I mean the majority of the Cartel album does feature hard rock but there’s more to it than that which again, goes back to those classic influences.  If you listen to Led Zeppelin or the Stones there’s several different approaches on each album for the most part, they weren’t afraid to take chances or incorporate other styles of music.

LRI:  The songs all take on different personalities too based on whoever is singing them, you sing some lead but you also have  other vocalists in the Cartel.  How did you decide who sang on what?

Kenny:  It really seemed to happen smoothly and all of these guys who sing are also amazing musicians, they play keyboards, rhythm guitar.  My friend Jon Nicholson  and I have worked and written together on a lot of things and he sang on “Up All Night”, Paris Delane has this total Screamin Jay Hawkins meets Howling Wolf style but can also morph into one of the Temptations in the blink of an eye so he was perfect for “Rebel With a Cause”.  Brandon Calhoun really nails a lot of the soulful hard rock stuff like “Loaded”.   My buddy Hugo Ferreira from Tantric and Donovan McCrary are also singing on it.   I’ve got tons of songs that have been done over the years with really well known vocalists like Chaka Kahn or even going back to the Kid Rock days, Sheryl Crow, Aerosmith and all these people but the thing with this Cartel record is that it’s really largely a Detroit thing and a lot of the people on it are people who have been a part of my life and my music for a long time, writing songs, playing gigs.  It’s really a circle of friends who are great musicians and great people.

LRI:  They are all great but my favorite track is the least hard rock song on the album, “Phoenix Will Rise” which you sing.  Obviously you were a big part of the music in Kid Rock but Bob/Kid Rock handled a lot of the pressures of the spotlight.  Was that hard being so exposed and vulnerable and basically bleeding your heart all over that song?

Kenny:  It’s something I try to do even when I’m not singing.  I mean, whatever has to come out of me comes out (laughs).  Whether it’s hard rock riffing or something real emotional like that song it will come out, it’s the only way I know.  Whatever I happen to be feeling is what I’m gonna tap into,  even the psychedelic, trippy stuff.  That song “Phoenix” is one that I just wrote on the fly, it came quickly.  I came up with the verse and chorus arrangements, picked up an acoustic guitar and some of these thoughts I had written for lyrics and went into the vocal booth.  It was pretty much one take, there might be a mistake or two but when you’re really feeling it you just go with it.  I often hear guitar players or singers make mistakes but they end up being beautiful mistakes because they’re real.  I can listen to a bunch of really talented singers sing the same vocal or melody line and tell which one is personally connected to it.  The others might sing it way better technically but there’s nothing like hearing the person who’s connected to it emotionally.  It’s the same thing with guitar players, one note can truly speak volumes and one bend can make all the difference in the world if you can go to or tap into that place.   I know a lot of guys, well known guys who can channel those feelings and tap into those spirits to get there but it comes with a price (laughs).  Look at Jimmy Page, amazing player and pioneer that so many people have modeled themselves after but look at some of those off the cuff runs he can go on, they are very spur of the moment.  All those little quirks and glitches that come with channeling and getting in that zone are the very same things I love about his playing.  I’m like “Yeah, yeah, get it Jimmy!”

Album available on Amazon, ITunes and all that shizz

Album available on Amazon, ITunes and all that shizz

LRI:  There are many people who can play “Sweet Child Of Mine” perfect but when Slash plays it there is an unpredictable element to it that makes it exciting.

Kenny:  Exactly.  Guys like Slash and I come from those same influences and the funny thing is, you learn all these techniques and everything as you’re starting and then you kind of unlearn it and as you try to become a feel player.  Part of it is trying to know what you wanna hear and how to produce what it is you wanna hear.  You have to really learn to locate your feel on your instrument whether your instrument is your voice or a bass or organ or a guitar.  You have to like let your instrument become an extension of you and let the strings become like the veins flowing from your heart.  There are players who are technically no good at all but the way they play, the way they tap in is something I would much rather hear than someone who is technically the greatest guitar player in the world but has no soul.  But then, I’m the kind of guy that would rather be in an old dual exhaust muscle car than a computer chipped, quietly powerful vehicle (laughs).

Kenny Olson Cartel

Kenny Olson Cartel

LRI:  I know how you feel about computers (laughs).

Kenny:  It’s just crazy, I am not really that plugged in.  All of this stuff on Facebook is just sort of funny, like everyone is posting their every thought and meal and it all seems so self-serving and forced to me (laughs hard).  People online can just lie and make up shit to make themselves look cooler than they really are rather than just be themselves and not give a shit.

Kenny and Keef

Kenny and Keef


LRI:  You touched on the importance of packaging before and your album succeeds at that too, there’s all kinds of photos of young Kenny catching air with his geetar and Kenny in the ripped jeans and leather jacket metalhead era.  Do you agree that one of the guys who influenced you and had chops but also had feel was Randy Rhoads?

Kenny:  I’m so glad you mentioned Randy.  Randy was so important to me, especially during those early years.  When I hear a song like  “Over the Mountain” in my car you will STILL catch me doing the air guitar.  He was everything to me and yeah such a phenomenal player with so much technical and raw talent but not one note that didn’t matter.  He had this crazy mojo and feel that just seemed capable of ripping your face off.  Whenever you hear him play you just wish you could feel whatever Randy was feeling when he played it.  I can still remember me and all my little denim jacket friends when we heard Randy died, it was so sad. I know that some of that hard rock or metal stuff I listened to has made it into my music.  I was just a grubby, ripped flannel shirt wearing Sabbath, Alice Cooper, AC/DC loving little bastard.  I think I identified with all of those groups because they were real, the same reason I identify with old country or great blues or jazz.

LRI:  Do you think your buddy Kirk Hammett gets it as well?  He’s technically brilliant but to me he plays with a tremendous amount of soul.

Kenny:  Kirk is a great, great player and my Scorpio soul brother.  I know, just from being really close friends with him that Kirk has a major, major passion for his guitar.  He’s really one of those guys who knows how to make the guitar a part of him and he plays with as much heart as he has which is a lot.  The thing about Kirk is you know how much he loves it because of simply how much he plays it (laughs).  He plays guitar constantly.  On the road, at home, I can’t imagine the guy not holding a guitar in his hands.  We’d be on the road together and be sitting in the hotel playing guitar until three o clock in the morning (laughs).   I spent the better part of two years living with the Metallica guys to the point that they’re like family to me, I even filled in for Hetfield a few times when he was injured and it was such an honor.  I mean, a band like Metallica just has so much longevity and so much of it is owed to the way that they command their instruments. James on the rhythm guitar just commands your attention and they both play with so much soul, I think that gets overlooked sometimes.

American Bad Asses. Kenny Olson and Kid Rock

American Bad Asses. Kenny Olson and Kid Rock.

LRI:  So you’ve been playing rock and roll guitar onstage since you were a young Kenny. How then,  did you manage to cross paths with Bob Ritchie, who was already a really serious rap player putting out HIS first album at a young age on Jive Records?

Kenny:  We actually had mutual friends and family friends and stuff.  I was out of school a year or two before Bob was and I had started hearing about him because he was very successful at a young age as a rapper.  He  had my attention and respect because he obviously had huge balls to be this little white kid onstage rapping.  Any little white kid in Detroit willing to step onstage and sing about putting his balls in your mouth……what can I say?  You just gotta respect that.  We met through these mutual friends and family members and got along great, really great.  I was moving back and forth between Detroit and L.A. doing my own thing out there and then moved back after the earthquake destroyed my place in 1994.  I came back to Michigan and was playing around with Scott Asheton and some of the original Stooges, MC5 Detroit Rock City guys.  By that point in like 94 or 95 Bob was wanting to go in more of a rock direction with a live band and that and had heard I was back in town.  Bob might have been known as a rapper but even back then he had a great appreciation for all kinds of music, old blues, hard rock, country, he was very much into all of that stuff as much as we all were.  He was telling me that he had a bunch of new songs and a lot of stuff going on and we started talking again.  We went through a lot of member changes and lineup shuffles in forming Twisted Brown but the one thing I immediately liked about him was that he had so much drive and vision as a frontman and nothing was gonna stop him.  That was really refreshing to me because I’ve dealt with lots of singers flaking out on me, I still deal with lots of singers (laughs) flaking out on me.  I knew he had it and that we could work together and have that kind of Mick and Keith, Steven and Joe kind of relationship, I just knew it based on our mutual drive and passion for creating.  We could see eye to eye on hard rock metal or bluesy ballads or straight up hip hop.  That track “World Class Sex Rhymes” with Snoop Dogg, the riff I wrote was kind of a drop key bouncy thing that fit perfectly into the song even though it was a total rap song.  I like putting little elements of other styles into a song rather than stick to a “Ok, now we do a rock solo” or whatever

LRI:  So you have this amazing music you’re working on and you’ve got Jason Flom and Atlantic on board but still you had to be surprised a little bit when it blew up.  The lyric on the album is “We’re goin platinum” but you did a lot more than that.

Kenny:  I had no idea it would do that well.  I mean we did that album just showing up at the studio with some riff ideas and come up with our arrangements and start laying it down right then and there.  Very much on the fly, in fact, we’re one of those bands that had to go back and relearn our songs the way we played them when it came time to do rehearsals for touring (laughs).  We’d just go for the most spontaneous performances in the studio so we’d have to go back and actually figure out what it was we wrote and played and how to recreate it (laughs).  The other thing was we never used the same equipment on two songs.  We always had different gear and a different setup so that was also very interesting.  I remember when Jason Flom from Atlantic heard the stuff he was like “I’m gonna make this record as big as Appetite For Destruction” and I was like “Really?”.  I mean, I love Jason, god bless him, if anybody could make that happen it was him and he did because we didn’t just go platinum we went all the way to Diamond Certification.    I can just remember being all excited when Bob and I had these songs and got the deal.  Atlantic liked  “Got One For Ya” and “Somebody’s Gotta Feel This” and then they were like “Okay, now you gotta go write a record” (laughs).    We always were writing and always had way more material than what ended up on the record.  It was never a struggle for Bob and I to write.  For instance, the music for the song “Jackson, Mississippi” that ended up on the self titled album was actually written years before during the DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE time.  I mean, I’m really proud of all of that stuff and I love all those guys.  We had our differences but we’re brothers and that’s the nature of the beast and comes with the territory when you’re that close.  We did some amazing things and experienced some things that may never come to pass again in the music business because so much has changed.  I mean, I think we are like one of the last big rock bands whose debut sold that many units.

"We're goin PLATINUM" and then some

"We're goin PLATINUM" and then some!! Twisted Brown and Kid Rock, all smiles

LRI:  Gun to your head, which is cooler having porn stars like Jenna Jameson dance with your entourage onstage, playing the Super Bowl or being on the Simpsons?

Kenny:  (laughs).  Actually, the Simpsons was the coolest.  If my son thinks I’m cool then that’s the coolest thing (laughs).  They get to a certain age where they don’t think you’re very cool and if you can give them a little something for bragging rights that always helps.  The music business is so up and down and a lot of times your family goes on that roller coaster ride with you and things like that can help.  If your kid sees you as a cartoon, he goes “Yeah, I guess my dad is pretty cool” (laughs).  We were able to do a lot of cool things.  I mean that’s the thing about Bob and I being into all that classic stuff, we ended up getting to work with and get the respect of so many of those guys and that was truly a blessing in all respects.  I mean we both loved the old school hip hop stuff and here we are working with Run DMC and we both loved the hard rock and metal stuff and we got to work with Aerosmith and Metallica.

Kenny Olson on the left, Bob/ Kid Rock and Jason Krause on the Simpsons!

Kenny Olson on the left, Bob/ Kid Rock and Jason Krause on the Simpsons!

LRI:  Everybody wants to find some beef or some heat between the two of you guys.  Once and for all, did you just want to leave the band because of wanting to do your own stuff or was there more to it than that?

Kenny:  There was….there was some frustration about things in the band being the way they were and I felt like rather than be frustrated I would go and do my own thing and be in control of my own destiny.  I cherish those days and  I mean, I also left right around the time the music business took a big dive so it definitely hasn’t been easy.  It’s not that simple  to make sense of the whole thing especially when you’ve already done it all and been there and now you’re trying to get music out there in an era where everyone on earth is releasing everything on earth and they’re all releasing it at the same time in the same place (laughs).  It’s not as simple as even the late 90s or early 2000s where you’d go down to the record store.  You really have to get out there and play live and keep putting yourself and your name in front of people in order to stand out from the pack.

LRI:  I don’t wanna put words in your mouth but you were in one of the most FUN bands of all time, did some of that fun just run out and you had to reassess ?

Kenny:  Things were a little different at the end than they were in the beginning or during our run.  We definitely had a long, nice era where we were an amazing show and an amazing band.  I would never say that I wouldn’t play with Bob again.   I really chose my words carefully when talking about this because while there’s been no discussion of me working with them again it’s also not something I’m opposed to.  I also don’t really talk too much about how it ended because at the end of the day he and I can look across the room at each other and know that we saw and did some shit together that noone would ever believe we would’ve seen or done in a million years.   Our lives were so crazy that if a midget with pterodactyl wings and a unicorn horn growing out of its’ head flew by we would barely register a “Woah” (laughs). It was a crazy time and we were enjoying every minute of it.  It’s seriously a blessing to even think about all that we accomplished.

Kenny, with Steven Tyler, Joe C and Bob

Kenny, with Steven Tyler, Joe C and Bob

LRI:  You really light up when talking about Joe C.  What was it that made him so special to you and all of us?

Kenny:  I could write a book called “My Adventures With Little Smoky Joe” (laughs).   Joe was someone who had a life threatening illness since he was very young called Celiac’s disease.   That’s why he never really grew after the age of 6 years old.  He was such an amazing person though and such a powerful personality.  I mean, he truly fit in with everything we were doing and became a part of the family, we were all like the Island of Misfit Toys, every one of us combined to form something very interesting.  There were the hard rocker guys like me or Bones or Jason and Bob, the pottymouth rapper who just so happened to be a great singer who loves rock and roll and country and we had Stefanie  our amazing drummer.  It all just worked and was one big happy freakshow and traveling circus.  Joe C just delighted so many people and was able to touch so many people in his last few years.  It was just so amazing to be a part of that and see how he affected people.  You see people like Joe struggling with health issues and you see how their outlook is and it says a lot, I mean the guy had a heart of gold and made so many people happy where a lot of people with his problems just would take advantage, but he just was not like that.  He was so cool to people.  He was never treated like he was different because he was so upfront with you and he’d tell you “I’m not a fuckin midget!!  I’ve got Celiac’s disease” and he took shit from noone.  I mean it’s not just me, every single one of us in Twisted Brown has tons of Joe stories because he was so important to all of us.  That’s why the day before Bob and I did “Only God Knows Why” at his funeral we all went out as a band and got Joe C tattoos, every single one of us.  He was amazing and a real spitfire as well, I still can’t believe the pottymouth on that dude, it was funny to be places with him and have people looking at me with that look like “You let your kid talk like that??” (laughs).  The first time I met him I had no idea he WASNT a little kid.  I remember seeing him and this guy with a mullet who I thought was his dad hanging with some fans and around at gigs.  They had been hanging out after shows with Bob and Kracker and I really didn’t think much of it until one time I saw them later on at a rehearsal.  We were rehearsing some of the older rap stuff and Joe was there at rehearsal.  He knew every single lyric of the Kid Rock stuff and was on the mic talking about “Macking on hoes and suckin on titties” and I was like “Woah!!”.  I’m lookin at the guy with him like “Only a dude with a mullet would let his KID talk that way, Jesus” and I’m just stunned.  Meanwhile Bob and Kracker are just looking at my reaction and smiling so I’m thinking “What the hell”.  It was only after he lit up a big doobie that I later found out he wasn’t a little kid but was already like 20 (laughs).

Eminem, Joe C and Kid Rock saying hello

Eminem, Joe C and Kid Rock saying hello

LRI:  You guys were a family and you got to see the world which had to be pretty cool for a bunch of punks from Detroit.  What was the biggest indicator of the fact that you were truly on a magic carpet ride?

Kenny:  It’s funny, talking about Joe C.  Every time I hear that song “Devil Without A Cause” I always think of him.  I’d have to say the biggest wake up call to the fact that we’d made it wasn’t the awards shows or the giant gigs but was a thing that happened to me when we were in Amsterdam for a show.  I had woken up early and got off the bus because it was my first time in Amsterdam.  I had a friend from America who had moved to Amsterdam and was walking around by that canal there where everyone says that if you fall in you will die from a thousand different infectious diseases.  Needless to say I almost fell in but didn’t and met my friend who was gonna show me around Amsterdam and let me be a tourist.  I had some time to kill before soundcheck at 4pm so I wanted to go see the Red Light District and check out all that stuff.  We got down there and were walking around all the “coffeeshops” and had the proper frame of mind and got to the Red Light and saw all these girls in the windows, all kinds of girls, it was crazy.  We go down a few alleys and are taking it all in and I stop because I hear some music.  I listen some more and I’m like “Hey, I know that, that’s my guitar, that’s my riff” and we start following the sound.  We come upon this girl sitting in her window blasting our music right at the part where Joe is about to come in with his part “I’m the J-O-E- to the C hoe, call me Joe C” that part.  Just then, this girl peeks out the window and can barely speak English but makes it clear that she’s gonna be at our show that night and I was just like “WOW”.  I was like, “Okay, I guess we’ve made it”.  if some lady from halfway around the world is playing our stuff while she’s at work selling her body then we must be making progress (laughs).

Kenny livin the life with one of the dancers

Kenny livin the life with one of the dancers

LRI:  For the Kid Rock fans who haven’t seen a Kenny Olson Cartel show yet what can they expect?

Kenny:  A lot of energy and hard rock, things will get knocked over and we will leave our mark.  Check out some of our videos out there like “Up All Night” or the cover of “Maggot Brain” by P-Funk that we did, those are good and give you some idea.  Of course, we slow it down at some points and pour out some heart and soul but then it quickly revs right back up.  All of the fans of the old Kid Rock stuff that we’ve talked to are really taking to it just like the old stuff which is cool.  They’re walking away from the shows very happy and into what we’re doing.

LRI:  What are your feelings on the KID ROCK live album?  That had to be a highlight for a kid growing up on all those old classic rock live albums like “Live At Budokan” or “Live Bullet”.

Kenny:  It’s hard.  I mean, first of all that’s not just one show, there are several shows there going way back.  I hear the Joe C stuff and it’s just….I probably haven’t really listened to the whole thing all the way through more than once or twice.  It was also a really hard time for me in general because that was being prepared and packaged for release as I was making the decision to leave the band which was no easy decision.  Leaving that band was leaving behind a big part of my life, they had become my family and we played those shows and saw the world in ways most families would never experience (laughs).   On top of that, I was going through a lot of stuff in my personal life as well so it was a tough time for me personally when Live Trucker came out but the live shows were everything to Twisted Brown.  I love Cheap Trick and I go see them everytime they’re around.  Tom lives down here in Nashville and is friends with my singer Jon and I love Rick and Robin.  It’s so awesome to have had Rick sitting to my right on the stage watching my shows and he always lets me sit there and watch him, I LOVE Rick!  I can never get enough of the pick flicking master, I always try and study his pick flicking technique because he is the absolute best.

Live as Fuck

Live as Fuck

LRI:  DVD’s seem to sell better than CDs in this day and age and are pirated less.  Would you be open to doing a Kenny Olson Cartel live DVD or album?

Kenny:  Oh totally John, I absolutely wanna do that.  I just think that’s a really good idea.  I mean I realize I’ve been out of the public eye for a while.  I left Kid Rock and I spent a lot of time recording this album and getting things exactly as I want them to be and now the next step is to get out there in front of people live and get back in their faces.  A live thing would be the perfect next step and I’d like to include some special guests in addition to the main core of guys who are on the Cartel album.  That whole concept  sounds like a really cool, fun thing to do.  We’re a live band first and foremost.

Kenny Olson Cartel at S.I.R. rehearsals in Tennessee

Kenny Olson Cartel at S.I.R. rehearsals in Tennessee

Kenny and Jimi Hendrix's dad Al  R.I.P.

Kenny and Jimi Hendrix's dad Al R.I.P.

LRI:  How did you get involved with the “Power of Soul, Tribute to Hendrix” album or the Experience Hendrix live tours?

Kenny:  I was involved in those projects from the very beginning.  I’m not sure if everyone is aware but I was involved in that even during the Kid Rock days.  The Hendrix family had gotten control of the estate again and I had met Eddie Kramer (producer) and he and Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s sister were standing at the side of the stage during Woodstock 99 when we played.  Janie’s son was a fan of us and she was interested in watching me cause her son told her “Mom, Kenny’s got a tattoo of Uncle Jimi on his arm”.  Yet another Joe story enters into this (laughs).  I was standing sidestage next to Janie and Eddie and playing the Star Spangled Banner while Joe was dressed up and acting like he was playing while wearing a wig looking like mini Jimi Hendrix center stage (laughs).  Which was, the definition of surreal.  After that they invited me to perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that was the first thing.  Then we did another one in San Diego because that went so well.  That went well so then we started to do  little tour runs.  One of the ones I did I had Paul Rodgers as my singer and now they’ve been doing the Experience Hendrix tours for something like 13 years.  Only now are some people hearing about it and realizing what they missed back in the day.  I’m still involved but in the last couple years I’ve been really busy working on the Cartel record and have mostly done cameos rather than full shows.  It’s very sad that we lost Mitch Mitchell and Al Hendrix but Jimi’s music keeps reaching new people, it always will.  The “Power of Soul” album started with Chaka Kahn and I.  Jimi’s dad wanted Chaka to sing “Little Wing” because she was his favorite singer and that was his favorite song that Jimi ever wrote and he always wanted Chaka to sing it and he and Janie both loved me and my playing.  He was like “Kenny, what would it take to get you to play on Little Wing” for us and I was just blown away by the entire family’s kindness towards me so of course I was wanting to do it.  It started just with that one song that we went in and tracked and then after that one thing led to another in the next three years and Prince came on board, Sting, came on board, Clapton, Cee-lo.  It turned out great but it didn’t come out until after Al had passed, I was so glad he got to hear “Little Wing” and be a part of creating the album though.

Kenny with my IDOL Robbie Krieger of the Doors

Kenny with my IDOL Robbie Krieger of the Doors at Experience Hendrix

 LRI:  I’ve talked to a few of these guys who’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame and Kid Rock was recently there at the event this year.  Has it occurred to you that there are petitions and that Kid Rock and Twisted Brown will be becoming eligible soon enough?

Kenny:  It would be very cool yeah but I’d be highly insulted if I wasn’t a part of that (laughs).  The songs that really would get us in there were ones that I was a big part of (laughs).  I mean, that’s why I never say never about working with Bob again.  If something like that came along then I’m pretty sure that despite our differences we could work together on something like that.  I mean, I haven’t talked to him in a while, we’re due for a nice long chat again but we’ve shocked some people here and there in the last couple years when we’ve crossed paths and stumbled on stage together down here in Nashville.  It’s not unthinkable because it’s a big part of our history and we’re both very proud of what we did together and I still love and respect Bob a great deal.  I’ll always love him like a brother and would never close the door completely to something in the future.  I don’t know how many chances I’ll have in my life to be a part of something as magic and life changing as that.  I don’t live my life dwelling on it or have expectations of rejoining the band or the Hall of Fame or any of that but I’m very proud of what we accomplished and would never rule out working with my brother Bob someday if it came to that.  The differences we’ve had are just the nature of the beast when it comes to singers, songwriters and guitarists.  It’s happened with the greats, guys I grew up on like Mick and Keith, Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, and Joe Perry and Steven and Bob and I have had that kind of thing.  There’s still a lot of things to be resolved that the pubic doesn’t need to know because then it gets all twisted but this music business can really put a big dent in your personal relationship with each other.   Bob and I still have that bond, we always will which is why I would never write the final chapter in that book.   Hopefully there might come a day when we can make that magic between us again but I’m just glad that I have something now in my band that I will always have no matter what happens in the future.

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Category: Interviews

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  1. Connie Jo says:

    Love the article!!! It brought both smiles and teary eyes reading it. Love you always, Kenny O!!! ROCK ON FOREVER!!! ♥