Blues Guitarist Bobby Kyle, Reading Blues Fest Preview
While the Reading Blues Fest will bring some of the bigger names in the business to town this month, there are plenty of artists that will be in support, but hardly on the undercard. One of those who has traveled the world for the better part of forty years, played with legends, and built a discography of his own is Bobby Kyle. He and his band, The Administers will play a Saturday morning, “Wake Up with the Blues” slot on November 20th.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” Kyle told me from his home in Milford, PA, “it’s been slim with the (pandemic) and all. We’ve gotten back into the studio, which is nice. Things have opened up, and so we're back into recording again for another record, which is, which is really exciting.”
No one has to be reminded that COVID-19 closed down entertainment venues, with many closing and others not yet fully opened up. “It's been very slow,” Kyle admits, getting back into the swing. We kept in touch. It was hard, because for everybody, not seeing your family, the band is family to me. And not being able to work was really difficult.”
The one thing Kyle was able to accomplish during the layoff was to write. “A lot of times you can't do that,” Kyle says, “because you're on the road, you're so busy. You don't get a lot of time to yourself. So, it was a good woodshedding period, you know, trying to rethink things and work on different things that I don't have time to do, so that was good.”
Kyle adds the band had begun work on the new album before the pandemic began and says the added time “to not rethink the arrangements or the material that we started but to help solidify where we're going with the material we haven't recorded. It's just great to be back.”
Kyle’s current lineup, bassist Everett Boyd and drummer Mark Copell has been with him for more than twenty years, with a horn section for larger shows. Previous to this, consider years of playing with numerous luminaries, but it all began with seeing a blues and rock legend.
“It really began when I was a kid,” Kyle recalls, “with my dad taking me out to see Lonnie Mack, (he lived) in the town here where I grew up. He kind of took me under his wing and helped me with a lot of stuff; he used to invite me out to shows, invite me to the studio, gave me all kinds of tips. We used to have sessions where we would just sit around in the living room and pass the guitar around. Every person would, in the group; they're mostly his band members, and a few other invites, like myself, and I was just a kid. And if you didn't play an original song, he would, he would snatch the guitar from you!”
The early to middle seventies training from Mack started Kyle out. “I was going to all these jam sessions everywhere and tried to get an opportunity to sit in for a song or two and, and that's when I met Bill Dicey.” The harpist was a mainstay on the New York blues scene well into the 90s, and Kyle joined him in the city, as part of Dicey’s band and as a duo.
Kyle remembered a curious quirk of New York City’s then cabaret laws, which kept him off the stage, though still in the band. “You weren't allowed to have more than three people on stage at a time,” he explains, “and I had to stand off stage, next to the door that went down into the basement, for getting beers and supplies. It was really awkward, but it was at least I was getting on to kind of perform.”
A later move to Florida brought a residency at the famous Stuff Pepper in St. Petersburg. “I lived upstairs,” Kyle said, “so every night I was pretty much downstairs, performing in the house band.”
The Who’s Who of the southern blues and R&B scene included the likes of Raful Neal, Whispering Smith, Henry Gray, and Johnny Shines. The band would be provided the artists’ records ahead of time, thanks to WMNF Radio out of Tampa, they would learn the songs and serve as the backup band. “It was just tremendous,” Kyle says, “every day, downstairs, the guy that owned the bar fed us, quite a deal.”
What followed was a meeting and longtime relationship with Eddie Kirkland, which led to six years in his band, then Kyle joined Johnny “Clyde” Copeland. “I got the debut gig with him in the fall of ’89. I did my first show with him in Philadelphia, right at Thanksgiving, and I stayed with him up until his death (in 1997). He was very helpful in my career,” Kyle continues, “everybody I met through him and all the things that I learned from him, but he was also always pushing me to do my own thing.”
Kyle appeared on Copeland’s later Gitanes releases, Flyin’ High, Jungle Swing and Catch Up with the Blues. Copeland’s heart problems, which eventually led to a transplant forced him to cancel several shows. Kyle and Copeland’s daughter Shemekia opened some of these, but Copeland also urged Kyle to “do my own thing.” That led to Kyle’s first album, After the Storm, which featured the Copelands and Kirkland.
After Copeland’s passing, Kyle tapped his piano player Floyd Phillips, who stayed with Kyle until his own passing. All the while Kyle was forging his own style on guitar, and he recalls how his mentors and bosses pushed him in that direction.“Eddie Kirkland was really, really, really important for that with me,” Kyle stresses, “every time you would try to play a lick that sounded like somebody else would, he would cut you off. So, you learned real quick, if you wanted to do a solo not to like, do BB King licks, or John Lee Hooker licks or whatever. Trying to get your own sound was important to him. Of course, he always wanted to do that, you know, keep straight to his music. That was my job to back him up and perform his music the way he wanted. But if he gave you a solo, he was really insistent upon trying to do it your own way not to try to sound like somebody else. So that helps. Just like him. Lonnie the same way, he was a bluesman at heart. But of course, as a sideman, you're doing what the artist is paying you to do. You try your best to put the rhythm down what they want to have, even if it's not what you're even if it's not what you want to do.”
Kyle’s plan is to return to the studio to finish the new project, but he aims to return to the road. “There’s still a lot of clubs have not really recovered from COVID and even if they are opening up there, they can't do full capacity,” Kyle says, “they're kind of easing into it. Unfortunately, a lot of places didn't make it through the pandemic and are not doing music anymore, but there's other venues that are going to be opening up to that seems to be the way it always works. I see it so slowly coming back though, which is nice.”
Kyle says whether you see him and the Administers in Reading or elsewhere, “they’re just going to get straight ahead, blues, mixed with R&B rhythms and they're going to be surprised. Some people say we're not really truly blues because we do a lot we do, so we mix it up. It’s just good, honest music.”
(Note: Bobby Kyle & the Administers kick off the Saturday festivities at 10 am, at Penske Amphiteater at the DoubleTree Hotel. Tickets, schedule and more can be found at https://www.readingbluesfest.com/)