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Real Music - February 2015 - Plain Dirt Fashion


Real Music - February 2015 - Plain Dirt Fashion

by Robert Feuer

“Music is the most elegant, refined expression of what it is to be human.” Those are the words of Kevin Russell, journeyman vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, whose varied styles are popularly called Americana: the intersection of bluegrass, country rock classic country, folk, Western swing and blues.

Russell, a Seattle native born in 1952, lived with his parents in the South for five years, where his musical journey began with what he calls “hard-core, real-deal country music,” what Merle Haggard described as “white man’s blues,” Russell says. An Elvis record grabbed him “like a bolt of lightning,” but after discovering bluegrass in college, “It was all over. Bluegrass musicians are the Olympic athletes of country music.”

Currently a member of several bands, he says different kinds of music represent different parts of himself. This versatility allows him to avoid getting stuck playing one style. He started on bongos in his first band, and is adept on mandolin, Dobro and banjo. Guitar is his favorite, but “my primary instrument is my voice. There’s not much that’s more fun than singing a song well.”

Russell arrived in Sonoma County in 1978, “following a woman” who became his wife for ten years. In those days, the county harbored more small venues and less musicians, he says, which granted him numerous stages to explore. As he ages, it’s become tougher, with venues oriented toward younger folks, leading him to gravitate toward festivals, such as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and the Kate Wolf and Strawberry Music Festivals.

Real Music - February 2015 - Plain Dirt Fashion - Kevin RussellRussell also promotes shows, often by connecting touring musicians with local venues, especially the Sebastopol Community Center, with whom he has an “arrangement.” He originated the idea for the annual Sebastopol Guitar Festival there. “I’m the guy who puts it together,” he says. That includes the nitty-gritty stuff like setting up the stage, chairs, and the P.A. system, and selling tickets. “I’m trying to create a scene where people can have that feeling of excitement and discovery.”

For four years, on KRCB, Russell had a show, “Down from the Mountain,” something he’d like to do again when his performing schedule slows down. He describes walking into their studio with no radio experience, and talking to Program Director Robin Pressman. They’d never met, but she knew his reputation, and said “great – you’re in.”

Russell has written a handful of songs, a process that begins with a phrase that occurs to him or he overhears. When driving, he has been known to pull to the side of the road, get into the back seat with his guitar, and “things just start a-poppin’.”

You can listen to him at home on his latest release “Plain Dirt Fashion,” part of a large collection of his CDs, one of which was Grammy-nominated in 2008, or catch him regularly at county hotspots like the Twin Oaks Tavern, Redwood Café, and Lagunitas Brewing Company. Upcoming is a May show with his dance band, the Rhythm Rangers, at the Occidental Center for the Arts.

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