How can you explain hearing Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” when you are twelve years old, and knowing at the base of your brain that this is the root of all the guitar music you have ever heard, knowing that the river is your own river, and that the two things can never be separated? How can we tell you what it felt like as a kid to have James Cotton come to your town, and to be blown away as Cotton blew the harp? The music is magical, and its power over us cannot be explained. But here are a couple of things to think about, if you are really determined to sit around and think about the Kilborn Alley Blues Band.
He had listened to a lot of rap and reggae as a kid, but there were those damned blues tapes around the house, so when Andy started the guitar in high school, he went straight to Johnson, but also Elmore James and Hooker, with Hendrix as a constant goad. He was drawn to the string bending of B.B. King, and the big psychedelic sound of Michael Bloomfield, but got deep into the sometimes broken and twisted lines and sometimes funky stomp of Buddy Guy, and went from there to Otis Rush and off into the Westside sound. He signed up for the Muddy Waters attitude and point of view, but committed the new band to the inspiration of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a powerful synthetic concoction where the drums, harp, lead, rhythm, bass, and voice each have a strong, distinctive, almost solo-like dimension, wound tight and sent off in a blues tidal wave.
Trying to explain Andy’s vocal influences would take pages, but just to get started think Sam Cooke and Junior Wells. Josh famously met Andy in a conversation about a Hendrix t-shirt in high school. At that age Josh loved metal, especially appreciating Metallica’s classical sophistication. Josh has always played open-fingered style. Today he has tremendous admiration for Hubert Sumlin, and has worked to bring some of those fantastic Howlin’ Wolf licks to the band. Josh has studied the rhythm guitar parts of soul music, and leads the band when they go exploring in those musical territories. A lot of Kilborn Alley fans would never know, but Joe is an excellent blues guitarist, who has spent many hours working through Son House, Skip James, and Robert Johnson, as well as developing a fast open-fingered rock style.
As a harmonica player, Joe has pushed the original inspiration of James Cotton through the two Sonny Boy Williamsons, Big Walter Horton, and Little Walter Jacobs. Little Walter has been a major influence on Kilborn Alley. Joe particularly looks up to living harp masters Kim Wilson and Mark Hummel. Chris came up on rap and reggae, and followed Andy into the blues. His family has a long interest in “old timey” music, and has Chris playing around with the stand-up bass. Ed,obviously, has the longest and most complicated musical pedigree in the band. He has been in rock bands, blues bands, and some very fine country bands. With Kilborn Alley, Ed has been compared in print to the young Sam Lay at his best. Ed plays a minimal kit, and that stands for the whole Kilborn Alley approach to equipment. As Josh once said in a published interview, “We don’t play amplifiers, we play guitars.”
Kilborn has played with a lot of great players– way more than will even be suggested here– but some have forced the band to really think about what they were doing and how it fits their own work– Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Joyce Lawson, Mary Lane, Taildragger Jones, and in his own weird way the late Harmonica Khan. As a band that thinks about what it is trying to do on stage, the huge influences on Kilborn Alley are Luther Allison, Muddy Watters, Paul Butterfield, Junoir Wells, Buddy Guy and most of all, Little Milton. Plainly, Nick Moss has had a big influence on Kilborn Alley, and very directly on PUT IT IN THE ALLEY. With Nick’s long work with Jimmy Rogers, this makes Kilborn Alley some sort of grandchildren in the Muddy Waters blues family tree. Finally, Kilborn Alley is the soulful band they are today through their long work with Abraham Johnson who has made them take seriously Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis, and whose influence marks everything they do.