The Proper Years
The Last Music Co.
Connecticut born Bill Kirchen attended high school in Ann Arbor. Later as a student at the University of Michigan he was a member of a country band with George Frayne and John Tichy. In 1967 they became the nucleus and co-founders of Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. After relocating to San Francisco they began to combine traditional country, rockabilly and boogie into their own “high-octane mix”. In 1971, they released their debut album “Lost in the Ozone” featuring the single “Hot Rod Lincoln” which reached the Billboard top ten; included was a fabulous solo Kirchen played on his telecaster.
Kirchen developed as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter; on their 1972 follow up “Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Truckers Favorites” he sang lead on favorites like “Mama Hated Diesels” and “Down to Seeds and Stems Again”. The band followed up with hit singles like 1973’s “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke! (That Cigarette), and 1975’s “Don’t Let Go”. My favorite album of theirs is 1976’s “We’ve Got a Live One Here!”. Kirchen left the Commander later that year, and worked with both Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. In 1986 he relocated to the D.C. area and formed the band “Too Much Fun”. In D.C. he became a contemporary of Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, Link Wray and Tom Prncipato; and was named a “Titan of The Telecaster” by Guitar Player magazine.
In 1994, Kirchen released his solo debut “Tombstone Every Mile” on Black Top Records. The title track written by Dan Fulkerson had become a huge hit for Dick Curless in 1965, spending seventeen weeks on the Billboard chart. The song is one of the best Truck Drivin’ songs ever recorded, about the treacherous route in Maine that was the cause of many deadly accidents. Kirchen’s follow-up albums included 1996’s “Have Love, Will Travel”; 1999’s “Raise A Ruckus”, and 2001’s “Tied to the Wheel”. In 2006 Kirchen signed with Proper Records and released three albums for the label. Kirchen’s last album “Tranatlanticana” was a 2016 collaboration with Austin De Lone on Red House Records.
Kirchen has twelve solo recordings to his credit. This 2 CD set, “The Proper Years” is a re-issue of his three albums with Proper and document his career from 2006 to 2013. It is also being released on vinyl as “Waxworks: The Best of the Proper Years”.
The band on 2006’s “Hammer of The Honky-Tonk Gods”, features Kirchen accompanied by Nick Lowe, bass; keyboardists Geraint Watkins and Austin De Lone, and drummer Robert Treherne. Other contributors include Chris Gaffney. Dave Gonzales and David Berzansky from the Hacienda Brothers; steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, and fiddler Danny Levin. The backing vocalists include Lisa Best and Sandy Carroll. Among Kirchen’s co-writers are his wife Louise, Sarah Brown, and Blackie Farrell. The title track is an ode to the Telecaster.
2010’s “Word to the Wise” features a band including Johnny Castle, bass; De Lone, keyboards and acoustic guitar, and Jack O’ Dell. Drums. Among the musicians added are Commander Cody, Dan Hicks, Norton Buffalo, Peter Bonta, and vocalists Maria Muldaur and Chris O’ Connell (Asleep at The Wheel). Kirchen’s “Man in The Bottom of the Well” features vocalist Costello; while Merle Haggard’s “Shelly’s Winter Love” includes vocalists Lowe and Paul Carrack.
“Seeds and Stems” (2013) features Maurice Cridlin, bass; and O’ Dell, drums. Included are, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, favorites “Too Much Fun”, “Down to Seeds and Stems Again”, “Semi-Truck”, “Hot Rod Lincoln”, “Truck Stop at The End of the World”, and the fabulous “Mama Hated Diesels”. Also included is Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”.
Three bonus tracks from “Transatlanticana” are added including Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, Butch Hancock’s “Oxblood”, and “Think It Over” sung by Kirchen with keyboardist De Lone, bassist and recording engineer Paul Riley, and drummer and Executive Producer Malcolm Mills.
Kirchen states “I like music where at least someone onstage is smiling” and adds “where else do you get a record company where the owner plays drums, the producer plays bass, and they tour with you?” 50 years later Kirchen is still having “Too Much Fun” and releasing this package “puts a bow on a whole, very enjoyable period of my life.” Time to re-live some with Bill Kirchen.