By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


June 8, 2006

Kevin Gordon's biography might read to some like that of a nerdy art major: poet, graduate of the prestigious University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, art collector and art dealer.

But his music is rooted in the earth. It's swampy, gritty, focused and full of razor-sharp imagery -- and propelled by blues, country and blue-collar rock 'n' roll.

Gordon, who plays at Twangfest at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room on Friday night, is not about to confuse the disciplines of poetry and songwriting, although the former has helped him refine the latter.

"It's just paying attention to sound, more than anything," Gordon says from his home in East Nashville, Tenn., interrupted just before beginning to paint (the dining room, not a canvas).

"That's another great lesson you get from Walt Whitman and Chuck Berry: how words sound together. They both wrote these great, long, American lines."

Gordon carries on that tradition with songs that stay in the brain -- with pictures. "Jimmy Reed Is the King of Rock and Roll," for example, starts over a simple, strummed acoustic guitar, flavored with electric slide:

"Dark sunglasses, sharkskin suit,/ standing in the broken glass of East Dubuque/ on a Sunday morning, on a Sunday morning/ ... Jimmy Reed is the king of rock 'n' roll"

"Songs have that great thing that help them along called melody," Gordon says. "For me, songwriting is a tougher craft because, as a guitar player, I'm pretty much self-taught. Every time I took lessons, it seemed, the teacher would either quit or die. Seeing my effect on them, I shied away (from lessons) after that."

Gordon, whose well-received CD "O Come Look At the Burning" was a highlight of 2005, says he remembers "trying to write songs almost as soon as I tried to play guitar. But even now, the poetry and the songwriting are two different things to me."

Gordon is from Shreveport and West Monroe in northern Louisiana and, while his family wasn't affected by Hurricane Katriana, many of his friends in New Orelans were. He had planned to attend JazzFest this spring but realized he no longer had anybody to stay with.

New Orleans blues singer Irma Thomas used one of Gordon's recent songs, "Flowers," on her Katrina-dedicated CD "After the Rain." It tells stories about tragedies that ended with flowers placed on crosses by the roadside.

Gordon's songs have increasingly been covered by other artists, including Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Kate Campbell, Webb Wilder and Ronnie Hawkins. "Deuce and a Quarter," a rocking car song from his 2000 CD "Down to the Well," was cut by All the King's Men -- Elvis Presley bandmates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, with some help from the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards and the Band's Levon Helm.

"Keith plays guitar on it. It's really ..." he trails off for a second. "I'm still in disbelief that it happened."

While country has influenced Gordon, early blues has been a bigger draw.

"I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated with that music, and with other artists who've been fascinated with that music," he says.

Gordon's love of music made by people who were largely self-taught also expresses itself in his art business (, run on the Web and out of the East Nashville home he shares with his wife, Pamela, and his two children, ages 9 and 7.

The gallery "is an outgrowth of an obsession I've had for 10 years or so with folk art, self-taught art," he says. "It was something I felt like I had to do to keep the obsession a healthy one, to not only buy but sell, because I can't afford to be a collector.

"It's a much more sort of Zen approach to things. You see things come into your life, and sooner or later, most go back out."

Like your songs?

"Absolutely," he says. "I do this because I love the art. Believe me, there are easier ways to make money."