Music’s elders and icons established the initial template for Rock ‘n’ Roll, but it’s the newer generation that keeps it thriving and moving forward. So credit the Kenny George Band for doing exactly that. Comprised of Kenny George (lead guitar, vocals, songwriter), Bucky Brown (drums, harmony vocals), Center Ely (steel guitar), Brooks Andrews (bass) and Scott Rankin (rhythm guitar, harmony vocals), this hardworking ensemble has earned their stripes the hard way. Performing an average of 150 to 180 shows per year throughout the heartland, they bring their music to the masses one gig at a time.
“Our goal has always been to connect with our audiences,” George insists. “Our music is honest and organic, and we deliberately avoid pretence. We may seem like a ragtag bunch, but there’s a passion, purpose and sincerity that underscores everything we do, and hopefully that’s apparent even the first time you hear us play.”
Hailing from Aiken, South Carolina, the Kenny George Band has created an indelible impression with fans throughout the Southeast and Midwest, playing 250 concerts in the last two years alone. They’ve travelled the highways and byways between North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Missouri, reconnecting with their fervent followers and picking up new fans along the way. Their explosive live performances have made them a band on the brink of a breakout, and it’s little wonder that in 2016, they were voted South Carolina Artists to Watch by the South Carolina Music Guide.
Tempered by the time they’ve spent on the road, the band’s latest album, Borrowed Trouble, looks at life, longing and relationships through the vast spectrum of constant tours and travel. Like the road itself, it dips and sways, advancing not in a straight line, but rather in a series of circuitous twists and turns that reveal a uniquely personal perspective every step along the way. These are songs infused with tattered circumstance and a view of life as seen looking out the windows of one’s touring van, where miles of highway offer plenty of time for reflection and contemplation. The music is underscored by a drive and determination that makes it both engaging and enlightening in equal measure. It’s melodic, it’s measured, and it’s often gritty, but it’s a sound that resonates in ways that are both tender and tenacious.
That’s no accident. George himself has been drawn to music most of his life. He picked up the violin at the age of eight, but didn’t take to formal lessons, so he then took up bass. Eventually though, he decided that guitar would be the better match. “My dad told me that the guitar players get all the girls,” he laughs. “So he bought me my first guitar as a gift when I graduated from junior high. I learned to make music on that guitar and I’m pleased to say I still have it to this very day.”
Slaton Glover knows what it means to feel pain. He served 13 years as a firefighter in Charleston and lost close friends in the Sofa Super Store fire. Years after that tragedy, he overcame his grief and married the love of his life — the widow of one of his fallen buddies. But it wasn't meant to be, and he soon watched as his love and his marriage unraveled out of his control.
On the day he signed his divorce papers — Nov. 22, 2013 — Glover wrote a song, "Change in the Wind," and dedicated his life to music.
He recalls, "After 13 years, I quit the fire department on a whim and said, 'This isn't for me anymore.'"
A year to the day after that shift in his life's trajectory, the band Glover leads, The Travelin' Kine, accepted the City Paper Music Award for favorite Americana band. It's a change in the wind, indeed.
It's been a fast rise for the alt-country collaboration that includes core members Dave Vaughan (mandolin), Jim Donnelly (drums), Mark Davis (harmonica), and Ryan Bonner (guitar and vocals). The band's inception occurred at the Thirsty Fish, a salty-dog bar on the riverside of Edisto Beach. It was Glover's first paying gig, and the bar's owner — a mutual friend — invited Vaughan out to hear the aspiring songwriter. Vaughan showed up with his mandolin in tow, and after an impromptu song together, Glover told him to stay put on stage.
"I've played with a lot of musicians, both good and bad, but I immediately felt this connection with Slaton," Vaughan recalls. "I liked his groove and his style, and it was easy for me to not just complement what he was doing but to actually mesh well together."
At the time — early 2013 — Glover was "begging for gigs," and bringing Vaughan into the fold (he's also a member of local groups Blue Plantation and James Justin & Company) helped to garner more attention from venue owners. As more accomplished musicians began to fill out the lineup, Glover realized that his dream was finally coming to fruition.
"It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to be in a band," says Glover. "If I had a free minute, I didn't stop playing and writing. That's all I did."
At a time when his life could have been in shambles, Glover picked himself up and found strength in music. At his family's farm in Barnwell, he'd sit down each night working on lyrics and chords and vent his frustrations.
"Honestly, I'm not one that has any reason to complain about anything in my life, but I went through a year of the hardest times," Glover admits. "I can't imagine anything that could have been harder, and the way everything is happening now, I just feel so fortunate. Not long ago, I couldn't find a bar that would let me play for free, and now I'm getting calls almost every day."
In less than a year, The Travelin' Kine has played over 100 shows and built a resume that includes opening slots for Yarn and American Aquarium, the former of whom they'll open for again on Friday at the Pour House. In early 2015, Glover and the band will finally release their as-yet-titled debut album, recorded at Plowground Studios on Johns Island.
Today, he has a reason to remember that week in November fondly.
"Nov. 22 was a date that I thought I would dread for the rest of my life, but now it's a positive thing," says Glover. "This all feels like the Supreme Being is patting me on the back and saying, 'You're doing the right thing,' because for the first time in my life, I feel like I'm taking charge and heading in the right direction."