The ballad of Kenny T
He put aside crippling demons to create a stunning solo debut. It's a new beginning.
Published: August 1, 2012
He strolls a psychic road hardened by his own sweet-voiced rambling and experiences, and by those who strode such musical ground before him. Such facts aren't lost inside Rust Belt. No one sparks up a conversation over the four LP sides of music.
This album was created by this Kenny Tudrick? The same kid-punk who fronted Big Block and the Numbers back in the day, or with his most recent band, Bulldog, who skinned the world with the Detroit Cobras, played with the Go, with Rocket 455, with Kid Rock, who countless times sabotaged his own chances for personal advancement by hitting the bottle so hard it hit back? Same guy who doctors once told he'd soon be dead because his liver was done? Yessir.
But in a world where ringtones pass as musical experiences, who listens to whole albums anymore, much less double ones? Who does Tudrick think he is? George Harrison?
Tudrick offers sandwiches nervously from another platter he carries into the room, and talks of the album's woodsy, Laurel "Canyon feel." Yes, the album's beautiful, "canyon"-esque, but it's very true to the songwriter's own northern Michigan, as he sees and sings it. He played all instruments on the album except for Codish and Eric Lusch's keyboards and two guitar riffs, which Patti Smith's son Jackson added.
He penned tear-jerker "I'm Gonna Love Yours" while he recorded it; that is, what's heard on the album is the singer writing the music and lyrics on the mic, and it works in no small part as an unironic confessional of his love for Duchene and her children.
Whole album is full of personal truths, discovery like that.
It's 2006, inside Detroit's legendary Joe Louis Arena, and it's a sold-out crowd. Tudrick's performing his first-ever arena gig tonight, his debut as Kid Rock's guitarist. Bob Seger strolls onstage to a mad ovation. Tudrick closes out the night's final encore with a long guitar solo. Suddenly Seger appears before him, drops to his knees, and begins singing straight into Tudrick's guitar.
Hokey or not, and all fellatio cracks aside, that's a defining moment for any guitarist. Tudrick will never forget the Seeg singing "Rock & Roll Never Forgets" into his guitar on stage in front of 20,000 people. Who could?
Tudrick's father, Bill Tudrick, and one-time Detroit Cobra and Rocket 455 bandmate Steve Nawara attended that show.
"I was really proud of Kenny when I saw that show," Nawara says. "I mean things were blowing up. And it was big, in front of thousands of people, but I was amazed. He was professional, he pulled it off. I feel the same way when I see Jack White play in front of huge crowds, because I still see him at the Gold Dollar."
Nawara toured the world for more than six years with Tudrick in the Detroit Cobras, says the two traveled more than 100,000 miles together headlining everything from clubs in Greece to Australian theaters to supporting Cheap Trick in the United States. Each considers the other a brother.
"But then, from a personal point of view, that weekend seeing Kenny with Rock totally changed my whole perspective," Nawara continues. "I mean, the carrot was caught. I know I didn't want that level of fame. I'm pretty sure Kenny didn't either."
Tudrick didn't. A rock star persona is a shitty fit on him.
"I don't think Kenny is, or was, looking for anything spectacular," dad Bill says. "I used to tell him that you don't need a lot, a roof over your head, food on your table. I think he knows what's important. I sat with Kid Rock's financial planners at that Joe Louis show. They said I must be proud of Kenny. I told them I was no more proud than I ever was."
The ex-Marine, who says he's well aware of his son's battle with alcohol, continues the thought: "Kenny wears his personality on his sleeve. The first time I saw Kenny singing — I think it was in Pontiac with the Numbers — I got this bang in my chest and I almost started crying."
Tudrick's energy is boundless. He no longer wearies himself to dreamless sleep, and his days are filled with work, songwriting, booking tours, rehearsing, a relationship, putting a band together (so far he has drummer Luckett and Nashville bassist Jeff Cullum). The 10th grade dropout is deceptively intelligent, intuitive. He often jumps during conversation from one topic to the next with no transition, as if his words struggle to keep pace with his ideas. And he can tell stories, these funny, winding yarns like the time he cleaned wax from Charlie Louvin's ear, or when guitarist Rick Nielsen had his eye on Tudrick for a position in Cheap Trick.
When Tudrick was getting wasted, little was possible. He was ruled over by a kind of tragic vulnerability in which personal troubles were somehow continually augmented: What made an exceptional songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in many ways was the very thing that made it impossible for him to deal in the day-to-day, to live in present tense. Tudrick can translate such experiences, or the essences and sadness of such, into songs. That is what you call a songwriter.
But one particular Kid Rock memory sticks out: One day Tudrick came to, completely out of his mind, reeling to the sight of a million fans, the smell of grease and grilled dogs, and plumes of exhaust, and the ear-splitting sonic boom of cars rushing in circles at 220 MPH. He stepped from the tour bus and bumped into actor James Caan, and Jon Bon Jovi and Fergie were hanging around. It was as if he strolled into someone's surrealist take of South Park; Tudrick was dead-on sure he was hallucinating.
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