December 27, 2012

Versatile musician finds way home

Musical journey from New Orleans to Paris and North Country


---- — TRI-LAKES — Singer-guitarist George Kilby Jr. peppers the region with his rough-cut-American music on his Adirondack tour.

With a new CD in hand, “Six Pack,” Kilby brings along guest artists Becca Frame on Friday at the Upper Jay Arts Center, John Doan of Big Slyde on Saturday at Delta Blue in the Northwoods Inn in Lake Placid and Lily White at First Night Saranac Lake on Monday.

Kilby and his band, the Road Dogs — Neil Thomas (keys, accordion), Eric Halvorson (drums) and Arturo Bauger (bass) — perform Sunday at Whiteface Mountain’s Après Ski in Wilmington.


A native of Alabama, his musical influences include the Allman Brothers, Outlaw Country and his uncle Scott Andrews.

“I remember as a boy listening to my uncle play Hank Williams songs,” Kilby said. “Sometimes, people would try to stump him.”

As a teen, Kilby picked up a guitar. Unlike thousands of teens, he encountered the late blues pianist Pinetop Perkins, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and Blues Hall of Fame inductee.

“When I met and understood what Pinetop was doing and where he came from that influenced me. I’m very thankful to be as close to Pinetop as I was.”

It was heady experience to meet Perkins, who rocked before Elvis thought about it.

“He (Perkins) did not think of himself as an artist playing music. It was just something he did.”

After Kilby graduated from Princeton University in 1982, he met Perkins in New Jersey.

“Muddy Waters had died two years before that. Pinetop was playing with a band called the Legendary Blues Band, mostly made up of Muddy Waters’s band.

“I was hanging out at the Stanhope House. I would be there as many weekends as I could to see blues and roots acts. It was a great roadhouse in the ‘80s. It’s still around today.”


Kilby got the gumption to ask to sit in with the band.

“That was really cheeky of a young, white 20-something. I knew the management, and they gave me their seal of approval. I was scared. This is Muddy Waters’s band. I was young 20 something. Apparently, I did well and befriended Pinetop that night.”

Perkins told him if he ever came to Chicago he could stay at his house.

“I had an old motorcycle. Late that spring, when the weather got nice, I drove it out with a sleeping bag and guitar strapped on the back. I showed up, and he took me in.”

Perkins died in 2011 at age 97 and never stopped playing through his 90s.

“The thing about Pinetop, he never gave me any specific advice, and he rarely talked about music at all. Being around him and watching how he approached the whole thing, I learned the fine art of just being yourself.

“As an artist in your 20s and 30s, you try to be someone that people will like. It’s a difficult thing starting out. You want to be the best person and be someone famous.

“Pine never thought of himself as famous or anything other than a piano player. He’s revered as one of the great piano players that could play the blues ever in the world.”

Kilby’s immersion in Perkins’s world vision was a rare schooling.


In Paris, Kilby was a busker for a couple of years before relocating to New Orleans. There, he hooked up with Coco Robicheaux.

In New York City, Kilby put out a CD, which included Perkins and R&B legend Rosco Gordon.

Kilby produced Perkins’s seminal “Portrait of a Delta Bluesman,” which won the WC Handy Album of the Year in 1993.


The Northeast was his strategic base.

“The music that I play is probably much better appreciated out of the South. It’s not always true. There are some counter examples, Texas and North Carolina.”

“Six Pack” is a product of cutting his chops in NYC.

“You learn to play with a lot of people, and you learn to play a lot of styles. If you want to work, you learn to do what gigs come your way. Some people know me as a blues guy. It’s only because the association with Pinetop is so strong. I play singer-songwriter, country, bluegrass, rock and roll.”

His NYC ‘90s meshed with a craze for New Orleans music and Cajun food.

“I’m from the South. I can cook gumbo quite well. I was a short-order cook. That was a great gig. I was a dog walker on the Upper East Side. I used to walk eight dogs at once.”


“Six Pack” are six singles that individually explore “jamgrass,” Delta blues, singer-songwriter, roots rock and folk music. He covers Cream classic “Sunshine of Your Love” in a bluegrass format.

“This album is so important. The industry has changed. The records we grew up with were 10 to 12 songs long. All have a certain similarity between them.

“The band and I picked six songs … rather than the whole thing be a folk album. That is how the music business has changed drastically. Now, it’s a business of songs.”

The hit single echoes back to the days when 45s were king.

“Our media is 100 times bigger than back in the days of 45s. The song drew attention to the artist in the ‘50s. In the ‘70s, it was always the album after ‘Sgt. Pepper’ came out. Everyone wanted a concept, 10 songs and an artist statement. The industry was built on selling long records.

“It’s a really different game out there now. You can reach your audience more directly. Without the income stream of people buying your full album, your ability to make a living is a little more difficult.”

But Kilby has a Plan B: bottling his own hot sauce. 

Though he keeps a NYC crash pad, he and his wife raise their children in the Catskills.

“It’s great to be up here now,” Kilby said.

Email Robin Caudell:

IF YOU GO WHAT: George Kilby Jr. & the Road Dogs. WHEN & WHERE: 8 p.m. Friday, Upper Jay Arts Center, 946-8315; 9 p.m. Saturday, Delta Blue at the Northwoods Inn, Lake Placid, (866) 294- 7171; 3 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Apres Ski- Whiteface Mountain; and 9 and 10 p.m. Monday, First Night Saranac Lake, 9 and 10 p.m., 63 Church St., Saranac Lake.