"Kenn Kweder played those places.
And the establishment didn't even know from punk, or what this new nutty
stuff was. Once they had a concert on Penn's Landing and they booked
Kweder there. And he got in an F-word contest with a tugboat over the
Penn's Landing PA system. You could hear him for like a mile."
(Excerpt from a discussion regarding the Philly Punk Scene back in the day)
Temple University's Magazine, Philadelphia People
THE INCARNATION OF KWEDER
Kenn Kweder leans into the microphone and lifts his arms in a mock gesture towards the heavens. "Quiet," he warns his chatting audience. "There’s a poet on the stage." Although the line is delivered with wit and dimples, there’s truth in jest. Kenn has been on the Philadelphia music scene for over three decades, and has earned an infamous reputation as one hell of a singer/songwriter/entertainer. His newly released 2 CD set, Kwederology, features the best of his live and recorded shows over the past 30 years, and stands as a testament to his productivity.
"I think my drive to perform came from growing up in a household with two very dramatic people," Kenn leans into the conversation, vibrant and handsome, with unruly brown hair, a carved chin, and sharply focused eyes. "My folks had as many obstacles as anyone else, but they found relief by singing. It was like a medicine or something." And it was the fifties, so Elvis Presley had a huge impact. "Yeah, I was just checking out what type of effect a person like that had on other people. It looked like a lot of fun."
So Kenn made his own fun, first by teaching himself to play guitar, and then by writing some strummy folk songs. But when no one would hire him to perform, he resorted to a paper ambush. Using his secret recipe of Carnation Milk and glue, Kenn plastered a series of "Kweder Folk" publicity posters all over the city. "I kept calling all these clubs and no one would hire me, so I thought, fuck you, you’re gonna hire me cause I’m gonna put up a thousand posters, my name everywhere. It created a buzz, and I did get some gigs, but not enough, so I stopped playing for a while."
Then in 1974, Kenn, who had always performed solo and unplugged, had an epiphany in the form of two words: Secret Kidds. "Those words had such a great cadence, I thought it would be a super name for a band." So, back to the printer, where he designed "Kenn Kweder & His Secret Kidds On Tour" posters, and had 2500 of them made. But there was no band and there was no tour? "Right," Kweder says, winking. "But there were five totally different posters."
When that particular six-month siege of Carnation Milking came to an end, Kenn began writing rock tunes and practicing with a group of musicians. "Every band member was like a pro, which was really tough for me because I didn’t know how to read music," Kenn closes his eyes and cackles. "So I had to explain stuff in shapes and shit." Over time, the musicianship grew more and more refined, which allowed Kenn, as front man, the freedom to be raw. Like The Who and other rock bands of the era, The Secret Kidds belted-out hard-hitting tunes driven by an undercurrent of intelligent narratives.
And eventually the posters got the attention of the area club owners who previously wouldn’t entertain the idea of hiring anybody that didn’t have a record deal. Most of the venues hosted only nationally touring acts. "I was always in the position of having to convince the clubs we were good enough. They kept slamming doors, slamming doors."
Until, of course, a door was opened by Larry Magid, who at the time owned the Bijou Café at 15th and Walnut Streets. In a leap of faith, he decided to give The Secret Kidds a chance. "We sold out the show," Kweder says with his jaw pushed out for emphasis. "And, we set the all time drinking record! So, all the other club owners were going, ‘Wait a…minute.’" And Kenn, in turn, propped the door open for subsequent local acts in the Philadelphia area.
Meanwhile, the Secret Kidds, who endured a few changes in personnel in order to improve musically, grew red hot. "All the sudden, I go from my mother’s basement and get catapulted really high," Kenn’s speech grows quick and staccato. "Those early shows were nuts, it was like The Doors, it was crazy, it was out of control, it was, like, really romantic." Romantic in a two-ton truck way. The band stretched rock ballads passed closing time, while Kweder climbed speaker stacks and shimmied across lighting platforms over the frenzied crowd.
And the band passed this close to getting a major record deal. Kenn sat across the desk from record executive big wigs and told them he didn’t want to change his song writing style to suit the trend, which was moving toward bubble gum pop. "It didn’t work out, and the band dissipated," Kenn rakes his fingers across his brow and through his hair. "When it fell apart, it just fell apart."
And so did Kenn. Destitute and tired of the scene, he took off for a stint in Europe, where his spirit rejuvenated. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia music scene itself began a major restructuring. Although the Philly clubs stayed packed through most of the 70s and 80s, the 90s ushered in a decade when it was hard to get audiences into area venues, and many clubs were forced to close. Kenn ponders what has contributed to this shift. "I think radio stations have their hands tied now," he pauses to consider. "There used to be a couple of DJs, guys like Pierre Robert, that had the opportunity to promote some local bands, plug the shows, play their tunes. Now the DJs have to follow stricter guidelines. But that doesn’t mean the music isn’t great, but it may mean it’s being played on smaller stages that are harder to find. Audience support is really important and it’s shrinking everywhere, not just Philly."
Since returning from Europe in 1992, Kweder has both fronted bands and played solo. Although he remains faithful to his folk roots, his latest incarnation, Kenn Kweder & the Men from WaWa, is a nod to his edgier rock days. But ask Kenn where he thinks the musical energy of the city is right now, and his answer might surprise you. "I’ve been to some hip-hop shows, people just starting off, and there’s a lot of love," Kenn’s gaze squints into focus. "Those guys are trying to do something socially instead of materialistically. The new type of guitarist is a turntableist. These folks are talking about things that are strong in message, not superficial. They may not get the record deals either," he chuckles. "But there is a scene."
And what’s Kenn’s scene? True to original form, Kweder confides that, "I’m constantly pulling publicity stunts, and I try to come out with a product every year or so." Kenn believes in keeping the mind fertile and staying focused. "It drives me crazy when musicians bemoan the scene…if you don’t get up and out of your living room and get your hands dirty, no one’s gonna know you exist," Kweder catches his rant and smiles. "My thing is, I’m gonna do at least one thing a day that’s gonna push something that much farther toward something."
So we shouldn’t, as audience members, bemoan the scene either? "If you wanna do something in Philly, all you have to do is pick up the paper. Either some big act is coming to town, or there’s a rave here, a poetry slam there, a weight-lifting event, or…" A Kweder gig? "Yeah, there’s always something going on," Kenn lifts the collar on his brown suede jacket. "There’s something about the spirit of Philly; the city is extremely alive."
South Philadelphia Review, May 2, 2002
His own beat
By Sean M. Riley
"For 34 years, Kenn Kweder has
played and performed music the
way he wanted to, and wouldn't
have it any other way."
Kenn Kweder blames genetics for his career path.
As far as the South Philly resident is concerned, if he were anywhere from 6 inches taller to a foot taller, thousands of fans in America and Europe would now call themselves "Kwederites."
If he had been able to jump just a little -- well, actually a lot -- higher, he never would've had to give up his boyhood dream of following in a long line of West Catholic High basketball stars.
By age 16, however, Kweder took one last look in the mirror at home in Southwest Philadelphia, realized his growing days were pretty much behind him, and ditched the basketball for a guitar.
Thirty-four years later, he is widely recognized as the best musician most non-Philadelphians -- and a whole lot of Philadelphians, for that matter -- have never heard of. And he admits it's all his doing.
"Instead of going to McCreesh Playground on Regent Street to play basketball, I would practice guitar and performing for my friends," he says, talking from his Greenwich Street home. "I guess I was about 19 when the whole idea of a 9-to-5 job pretty much ended and I figured I would sink or swim with music."
In April, Kweder, 50, released his three-CD anthology, titled Kwederology. The album is comprised of 54 songs that created a following the musician still has in America and parts of Europe.
Over the past three decades, Kweder certainly didn't sink, but when he swam, it was in his own direction. His convictions may have cost him a lot of maney and fame, but he appears not to care.
"I always chose to do what I am doing because it is a job where I am in control of my fingerprint, not someone else," he says without a hint of bitterness in his voice. "Everything is going to end anyway, right? When it does, I think I'll be pretty satisfied about what I have done."
AFTER GRADUATION FROM West Catholic, Kweder moved on to Temple University for no reason other than his parents ordered him to go to college. Still, over the course of five years, he managed to squeeze in a few liberal arts and communications courses in between playing his guitar anywhere and everywhere he could.
But after meeting reclusive songwriter and fellow Southwest Philadelphian Billy Shied, Kweder completely immersed himself in his music, leaving Temple University a few credits shy of his degree.
"I certainly learned a ton about writing songs and grammar while at school, but I was ready to make my guitar my diploma," he says.
Pretty soon everywhere you looked in the City of Brotherly Love, you saw Kenn Kweder.
Armed with Carnation Instant Milk (which he insists is a fantastic adhesive) and 2,000 black-and-white posters, the then-22-year-old forced Philadelphia to take notice.
"It was just my name, the word 'folk' and a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald getting shot by Jack Ruby," he says. "People didn't know what the hell it meant, but when we put together the Secret Kidds [Kweder's first band], everybody was dying to come and find out."
Through the 1970s and early '80s, Kweder and the Secret Kidds were as big an act as Philly had seen in years. Nothing was out of bounds, as the shows ranged from Bob Dylan-like ballads to raunchy pre-punk, to actual fireworks being tossed into the crowd.
Thousands of fans began jamming rock clubs in Philly, New York and the Jersey Shore to the point where the fire marshal had to turn people away. Kweder found himself opening for such rock luminaries as the Ramones, Patti Smith, Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello. HIs group was playing in New York's hottest clubs, like CBGB's and Houston Hall. The only thing missing from Kweder's resume was the major record label that would make the Philly boy a national sensation.
"I had offers, even sitting down with [Arista Records founder] Clive Davis in 1978 because he liked my show," he says. "He wanted a top-10 hit written within a certain formula and I told him that I wasn't ready to do that.
"If I have to change the way I do things, then it would be like work and I might as well go out and get a regular job."
BECOMING A SUPERSTAR is all about taking advantage of windows of opportunity, and in the months and years after his meeting with Davis, Kweder saw his window all but close.
Yet the musician grew comfortable with his cult-following status. In 1993, he even began to cut back on his constant trips to New York and his favorite European haunts of Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
"I always had tremendous success in New York," he says when asked why he never moved to the Big Apple. "But after 15 years of not making any money up there and just getting battered economically, I appreciated the stability I have here.
"Plus, I kind of decided a while back that if I'm going to go to New York, why not go to Europe and see if the whole 'Kenn Kweder thing' works over there?"
His international jaunts wrer often less than glamorous, spent bunking at an old friend's house in Copenhagen or elsewhere after playing in front of a crowd one-tenth the size of those he performed for in the early '70s. Then again, the size of the crowd is not what matters to Kweder, who even has played in prisons and at local frat houses.
"I love the stage." he says."Whether it's on a street corner or the back of dark little restaurant, I am going to work as hard as I can to give a pure, unadulterated Kweder trip."
Astonishingly confident and full of energy, Kweder has no problem being referred to in countless publications, including: Rolling Stone, EC Rocker,and Philadelphia Magazine, as the most famous Philadelphia musician that nobody has heard of.
"I kind of like it, to be honest with you," he says. "It's that tongue-in-cheek that I also kind of like when critics call Kwederology 'the greatest hits that never were.'
"To me, it means these are good songs that maybe everyone hasn't heard, but which allow me to occupy my own little space in the grand scheme of things."
News Of Delaware County, February 19, 2002
"Kenn Kweder plays his tune through 30 years"
His songs, heard in local pubs for decades, will be released on CD
By Joe McAllister CORRESPONDENT
Kwederology: (n) the study of the world according to musician Kenn Kweder.
Poet, singer, songwriter, recording artist, producer, manager, promoter, roadie, bartender, madman - quixotic, local rocker Kenn Kweder is constantly reinventing himself. Like some kind of guitar-playing, lyrical chameleon, Kweder has fronted 23 bands over a 30-year career - all without a hit song or a record deal. "For a good part of my life, I've been a songwriter and even longer, an entertainer. Interwoven in that tapestry is a comedian and beyond that a survivor," says the 50- year-old rock 'n roll yeoman. "I'm a local gunslinger. Without a record deal, it's kind of tricky to survive in this business. Now I'm basking in the underground romance of it all."
On Saturday, Feb. 23, Kweder and his latest reincarnation - the Men from W.A.W.A. - will celebrate the release of his three CD, 25-year song compilation "Kwederology" in two shows at the Tin Angel. It's a milestone in the career of a rock 'n roll journeyman who may or may not be in the winter of his career. And like a hibernal snowflake, Kweder is flighty and an original - no two songs, no two performances, no two thoughts the same. It's Ken Kweder's world. We're all just visitors - Kwederites according to Kenn Philosophy. Kweder "survived" over three decades on the local music scene - making him the dean of the school of hard knocks, the godfather of homegrown rock, and as WMMR's Pierre Robert labeled him, "the mayor of South Street". "It makes sense, his roots are so intertwined with that street," says Robert, himself a 20-year veteran of the Philly rock scene. "The Secret Kidds led the way for one of my favorite bands, Beru Revue. "Kenn's influenced so many different musicians. I'm proud of him. He's a true Philadelphia treasure." A diamond in the rough, Kweder modeled himself after his early artistic influences - Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, and Captain Beefheart.
The ego-driven kid from Southwest Philly - known for his skills on the neighborhood basketball courts - set out to make his name on the local rock scene. "Back in the 70s and early 80s, I had a burning desire to make an identity for myself. And to do that, I knew that I needed my name on a marquee," Kweder recalls. In the late 70s, Kweder opened up a brave new world for unsigned local talent, convincing club owners that people would pay to hear up-and-coming artists, opening doors and leading the way for such Philly luminaries as "the A's", "The Hooters", and of course, himself. "I knocked on a lot of doors and many doors were slammed shut, but then things began to open up a bit. I wanted other musicians to know that someone could take control of their own fate. "The A's, Robert Hazard - they all came to my shows. I've always put all my energy into music. That desire still burns to this day," he says. Kweder and his Secret Kidds found themselves the hippest act on the hippest street in town. "We literally went from my mother's basement to the Main Point and the Bijou Café - places usually reserved for bands with record labels," Kweder says of the rapid rise of his "proto-punk" band. "He was quite the craze of the town at the time," says Bill Eib, a former manager for the band. "Clive Davis, the founder of Arista Records, came to see Kenn and the Secret Kidds at the Hot Club, 21st and South Streets. He took Kenn out for drinks and they really hit it off. Clive wanted to hear some singles. Everything in those days was album-oriented," Eib recalls. "Kenn and Clive just didn't see eye-to-eye creatively. Ken saw himself in more of the Bob Dylan genre. He passed on it." And that quest for creative freedom and artistic control, for better or worse, is the essence of Kenn Kweder.
After a couple of years flirting with fame, financial success and a record deal, Kweder, by his own admission "crashed and burned". "I floundered in the early 80s, burnt some bridges," he says recalling his reckless days and all-night party sessions. "I was an unusual kind of animal. "I decided to follow Jimi Hendrix's lead when he went to Europe, got discovered in England and catapulted to international fame." In 1984, Kweder spent seven months in London, and although he didn't get famous or catapulted, he did get rejuvenated. "Europe helped recharge me," he says. "It just helped me feel more balanced about everything. I came back invigorated."
Upon his arrival back in the states, Kweder went into the studio with "Producer/Cheerleader/Coach" Ben Vaughan. "Ben Vaughan corralled me, made me not jump through windows. He has amazing ability to visualize harmony. He kept my songs on the path." This seminal period under the tutelage of Vaughan led to the release of "Pandemonium Years" in 1987, his first full-length, double vinyl album on his own independent record label. "We spent many all night brainstorming sessions together," says Dion Lerman of Mt. Airy, who designed the double album cover. "Kenn gave me over 17 hundred images to choose from. We called it Kwederabilia. Fifty made the album." Lerman has followed Kweder's career for over 20 years. "Kenn started out as a poet but nobody was listening to poetry so he put it to music. Kenn became a folk singer and then the folk thing died. Then he got into rock 'n roll," says Lerman in describing Kweder's musical evolution.
Prior to Pandemonium Years, Kweder revisited his folk roots and released what he regards as his best work, the 1986 EP entitled "Kitchen Folk". "I used a lot of old fashioned microphones and not much studio gimmickry to reflect the sound I heard inside my head. It captures my folk sound the best without much technological intervention," Kweder says. "I was a pretty dramatic version of a folk singer, pretty outrageous. I was like Ziggy Stardust with a folk guitar trying to do Phil Ochs. I wanted to be the next great folk sensation. The Philadelphia Folk Society was not taken with it." As for the album title: "I believe some of the greatest music is played in people's kitchens, not on stage."
~ Kweder's "been there, done that" resume includes:
~ The bands he's played in:
the Secret Kidds, Radio Church of God, the Employees, the Enablers, Men from K.W.E.D.E.R. and Men from P.O.V.I.C.H.
~ The musicians he's played with or opened for:
Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Ray Davies, Humble Pie, Kris Kristofferson, and Tim McGraw and a "who's who" of local musicians.
~ The clubs he's played in:
J.C. Dobbs, Third Story, the Bijou, the Main Point, Khyber Pass, Chestnut Cabaret in Philly and the legendary Tramps and Max's Kansas City in New York.
~ And the songs he sings:
Old Tan Datsun (in Japanese), Suicide (on a "sunny day"), Heroin (a snappy little ditty), Crackhead (with a musical bridge lifted from the theme from the Andy Griffith Show), and Manute Bol (a tribute to the 7'7" former NBA player).
~ After three decades of performing in a smoky, stale-beer atmosphere, Kweder is as fresh, vibrant, topical, irreverent, and high-octane as he was as a cherubic faced, long-haired, bell-bottomed kid in his debut group Wasted Lunch.
~ Kweder continues to tool around in his weather-beaten gray 1984 Honda Accord with over 130 thousand miles on it, playing over 160 gigs a year from Doylestown to Bryn Mawr to Sea Isle City.~ "If I'm sitting at home and not giggin', I feel like a counterfeit. I'm the robo-troubadour. To hear kids half my age scream out my name, man that's what I play for. I'm not in it for the 401K plan." ~ Robert says that despite the lack of radio play, record deals, and top-selling albums, Kenn Kweder is an artistic success story. "Kenn is absolutely the definition of success: a creative, burning musician and artist on top of it. He's like the painter not acknowledged in his own lifetime but a true artisan nonetheless."
~ Kweder credits his still youthful looks and gritty optimism on his 14 years spent behind the bar at the Palladium on Penn's campus where he has managed to expand happy hour into a lifetime. ~ "Bartending serves as a structure in my life. I know I have to be somewhere at a certain time. And it's good exercise. I figured it out that I walk six miles a shift.~ "Being around these up-and-comers (students) forces me to keep my mind open, listening to folks still optimistic about life."
~ Ever philosophical, Kweder considers himself "a hard-working existentialist". "I'm somebody who feels you have to deal with the circumstances of life as hard, concrete and nasty as they can be sometimes. I'm not a fairytale guy. "Each and every day I pretty much try to follow my instincts without interfering with PECO, PGW, or the cable company. My motto in life is: Don't disconnect."
~ If you go:
KENN KWEDER will be playing a special CONCERT of ORIGINAL SONGS~ celebrating the release of his 3 CD set KWEDEROLOGY vol.1&2 at 7 and 10 p.m. Feb. 23 at the ~Tin Angel 20 S. Second St., Philadelphia.~ SATURDAY NITE~on February 23rd. For reserved tickets, call 215-928-0770.
Kweder's new release KWEDEROLOGY vol. 1&2 is a 3 CD set (in record stores February 23rd.)
Kenn Kweder Discography:
- Man on the Moon/Susie Said So (45rpm vinyl single) 1977
- Back on You/Mommy and Daddy (45 rpm vinyl single) 1980
- Turning Myself into Two/Amos Maggid (45 rpm single) 1984
- KITCHEN FOLK (vinyl EP and Cassette) 1986
- PANDEMONIUM YEARS (doubly vinyl album) 1987
- MAN OVERBOARD (Cassette album) 1989
- FLESH, BLOOD AND BLUE (CD) 1991
- KENN KWEDER with vocal and instrumentals (CD) 1995
- INDRE SESSIONS (CD) 1999
- KWEDEROLOGY (triple CD) 2002
WHO’S YER DADDY?
> Kenn Kweder
Kwederology, Vols. 1 & 2
It’s 1979, and Kenn Kweder is rambling to an interviewer about the four generations of his band, the Secret Kidds. Kweder compares the band’s various stages to needing and not needing bifocals, and he’s making very little sense. Eventually, the interviewer realizes that Kweder isn’t talking about eyeglasses, and he asks Kweder to “define bifocals.”
“A bifocal,” Kweder mumbles. “Is someone who can play a good guitar.”
“If you’ve hung around Penn’s bar scene long enough, you know that Kweder is the guy who plays Smokes and New Deck, and who tends bar at the Palladium in between. What you probably don’t know – and what Kweder’s new three-CD retrospective makes plain – is that he has more in his repertoire that old Doors and Dylan covers.
Kwederology spans 27 years of the bar bard’s recording career on 55 tracks, every one Kweder-penned. The collection is heavy on live cuts – fitting for a guy who has spent most of his career rocking out for drunk college kids. And yes, for you Kweder die-hards, the Smokes favorites “Crackhead” and “Heroin” are included, as are some of his lesser-known bar rockers.
Not everything on Kwederology is pleasant to listen to. The lyrics of “Patti Smith,” for instance, seem to consist entirely of Kweder’s screaming “Patti’s on the Smith, so Smith is on the Patti!” and so on.
There are surprises, here, too, though. At their best, Kweder’s lyrics are funny, engaging, and usually self-depreciating. The refrain of the “Suicide” is “Sunny day, sunny day/ Suicide’s gonna meet me on a sunny day,” set to an upbeat tempo that makes it sound like a Sesame Street tune about killing yourself.
Another nice surprise is the way Kweder has interspersed the songs with various live outtakes from interviews, from Kweder’s shouting down a crowd with “can’t you shut up and listen to Shakespeare?”, to an interview where Kweder and the interviewer try to call Kweder’s house at the same time just so they can hear the operator say, “there’s trouble on the line.”
Kwederology has some clunkers, sure, but with so much good stuff on here, it makes you wonder why Kweder never hit it at least a little bigger.
The Daily Pennsylvanian
The Independent Student Newspaper of the University
118th Year of Publication
34TH STREET MAGAZINE
February 28, 2002
THE PEOPLE PAPER
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8, 1999
s p i n
Keeping up with Philadelphia connections
As a punky youth, Kenn Kweder used to drive me and my neighbors nuts by plastering his concert posters on every available lamp post in Center City. (He used a secret glue that made removal almost impossible.)
Now he plays a little harder to get, coming out for fewer gigs (he’s got a real job) and only putting out an album once every couple of years or so.
In name, at least, Kweder’s new “Indre Sessions” (Pandemonium Music) capitalizes on the hip aura of the popular South Philly recording studio. But it doesn’t sound particularly cutting-edge to my ears. Too many of the arrangements seem interchangeable – starting acoustic-light then building, so you wind up thinking, “I’ve already heard this song.”
Kweder’s looking more like Roger McGuinn every day, and still wearing his love of Bob Dylan on his sleeve. He mixes his metaphors densely on the intriguing “Torn Rice” and “Pandemonium and the Scare,” and on his overt tribute to out-of-reach female inspirations, “Girl with the Dylan Flowers.”
But what seems freshest are Kenn’s dips into country territory on “New Hampshire” and the twangy “Places” and even more so his pop forays with “Broken Hearts” and the tender “Remember Me.” Grade: B
Welcomat After Dark
March 13, 1991
The Other Side
Kenn Does it His Way
By Peter Brown
Kenn Kweder celebrates the release of his new album, Flesh, Blood and Blue (Pandemonium), with a party and performance at J.C. Dobbs tonight. Produced by Kweder, the album is notable for the use of many of Philly’s finest musicians, who create a cross between Highway ’61 Revisited and early-‘70s Stones.
My favorite track is “Doctor Says,” which starts as a slow ballad with a beautiful piano intro by Ed Robertson, who is quickly joined by Buzz Barkley (superb throughout the album) on Hammond organ, slipping in fills that recall The Band’s Garth Hudson.
The song builds slowly and dramatically, leading to a majestic chorus. Kweder provides his most moving vocal, complemented by a sensational, gut-wrenching guitar solo by Allen James, who returns to close the song with an even-better solo as it fades to a fiery conclusion.
The most interesting arrangement is on “Buddy Barnhill,” about a mass murder with John Wayne Gacy overtones. It opens with a dissonant acoustic guitar arpeggio, slips into a heavy, moody backbeat for the chorus and changes gears to a Bo Diddley chug for the next verse, then back to the chorus and back to a Diddley vamp (while Ed Robertson gets spooky on the organ), then into a hot Greg Davis guitar solo as the band plays faster and faster.
The album’s prettiest song, “Sidewalk Melody,” was written by the late Billy Schied. Piano and organ dominate a perfect arrangement highlighted by a fine harmonica solo from Kweder.
Kweder pays tribute to one of his main influences, country singer Roger Miler, with “Man of Stone,” a bouncy collection of nonsense lyrics. There’s a delightful harmony by Chuck Koch, while Bob Jay provides just the right touch on lead guitar.
“Squares” is a good idea that’s almost pulled off until Kweder Kwederizes the vocal by going moderately crazy at the end – which is almost appropriate, since it’s about attempting to be a moderate man.
Once again, Kweder has made a solid album his way, without concessions to trends or special effects. He deserves credit for that and for showcasing some of this city’s best musicians.
Big Shout Magazine
Volume 3, Number 1
Kenn Kweder’s newest and greatest album, Flesh, Blood and Blue, is reviewed elsewhere in this issue, I think. Nevertheless, I have a thing or two to say on the matter, if my editor permits.
Kweder’s approach to album-making, in case you haven’t notices, has become somewhat philosophical with time. When Man Overboard (Kweder’s last album) came out, Kenn and I talked about this very fact. He had stopped trying to please the music industry’s fickle and often depressingly narrow tastes by then, and begun to simply concentrate on his own agenda: his songs, his style, his albums.
The freedom effected by that decision has given every one of his releases a refreshing spirit, a sense of humor and often of fun: in short, a sense of Kenn Kweder that could never be achieved by trying to doggedly assemble what somebody assumes a hit should be, which is what most artists still (amazingly) spend prodigious amounts of time and money doing, rarely considering the possibility that hits are not as much made as marketed.
Having somewhat freed himself from one of record-making’s most potent delusions, Kweder is free to made records that are challenging and pretty fun, too. Flesh, Blood and Blue is not only that, it’s the best-sounding record Kenn’s ever done.
Solid standouts for me include “Man of Stone,” the most tightly-produced cut on the 10-song LP. It was written, according to Kweder, with journalist/singer/songwriter Peter Stone Brown in mind, and in the country idiom, and could instantly air on any rock or country station that chose to grab it. Other cuts include the eerie and arresting “Buddy Barnhill,” the happily raucous instant chime-in “The Bottle Song” and Kweder classic “The Doctor Says.” Even though I’ll always favor the original piano intro and outro years back by the song’s co-writer, Chris Larkin, this song in its present form has tremendous appeal, as a whole.
Okay, so I played some Hammond on the album, but who cares? One great highlight of the finished product was that I discovered I had worked with two of my favorite guitarists on the album (without ever seeing them, of course): Greg Davis and Allen James, both brilliant throughout. Of special note is the solo by James on “The Doctor Says” and deft work by Davis on “Buddy Barnhill.” Other notable performances include Bob Jay, guitars, Ed Robertson, Bass and Daoud Shaw, drums and percussion, with a few other nice guest appearances to boot.
What’s next? Kwederjazz…
September 18, 1992
The many faces of Kenn Kweder
By Randy Alexander
For 17 of his 40 years, Kenn Kweder has been a fixture on the Philadelphia music scene.
Local rock bands may come and go, but Kweder just keeps going.
A rock n’ roll street poet with an incredibly resilient survival instinct, Kweder has had about as many incarnations as David Bowie, albeit on a local level.
And for the first time since he exploded in 1975 as Jim Morrisonesque leader of the Secret Kidds, Kweder has found a way to work out all of his music interests on a given day of the week.
When he’s not bartending at the Palladium on the Penn campus, Kweder is now fronting two bands: the Greedy Little Meiser Weasels and, in a more familiarly structured title, Kenn Kweder & the Men from Wawa.
On Fridays or Saturdays, Kweder digs his roots doing that folkie thing at name That Bar, the “under the tar” underground bar at Third & South, a guitar pick’s toss away from his beloved J.C. Dobbs.
Why the two bands?
“It’s chameleonistic,” says Kweder. “I do it so it provides an avenue so I can express my artistic differences.
“And I’ve never had this much structure. It’s a little more different than to constantly hustle a gig every day.”
It’s the Men from Wawa that Kweder will be bringing to Trenton for his occasional visit to the capital region this week, when they visit Trenton State College’s Student Center on Thursday.
Kweder’s right when he says, it’s a pretty intense bunch of players.”
On bass and lead guitar, respectively, are two of Philly’s finest, longtime Kweder sidekicks Michael Radcliffe and Greg Davis. D’Aoud Shaw, formerly of Van Morrison and the original, Saturday Night Live” house band, is on drums and Ed Robertson ahndles keyboards.
And that doesn’t include the horn section – a first for Kweder – anchored by Henry McMillan (ex-Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes) on trumpet, plus Andy Bresnan on trombone and Elliot Levin and C.C. on sax.
“These guys could fall out of bed and play just about anything in the middle of the night,” says Kweder. “There’s nothing like playing with horns, man. It’s unbelievable. It’s really neat, man. It’s a whole different ingredient. It puts more vitamins in the music – Vitamin K. There’s something different between plucking a string and blowing air against brass. There’s more oxygen. And live, it’s more exciting.”
Those waiting for the follow-up to 1991’s “Flesh, Blood & Blue” (Pandemonium), the most critically acclaimed album of Kweder’s career, will have to be patient. He’s written about half an album’s worth of material and is still in discussions about artistic direction. Besides…
“The budget’s real low and those things cost a lot,” he maintains. “There hasn’t been enough money around.”
Since he began releasing albums just a few years ago, Kweder has gained much more respect from his contemporaries on the local scene. The anger and tension have subsided between Kweder and the guys who’ve been his peers for years. Younger bands, meanwhile, look up to Kweder.
“I’m some guy who’s been around, got scarred up a
little bit, but is still doing it,” says Kweder.
Kenn you Dig It?
Singer-songwriter Kenn Kweder has benn gently rapping on the door of fame and fortune for more than 30 years. Mainstream success, however, is slippery, and wealth elusive, especially in the music business. The “South Street Bard,” as Kweder’s fans have tenderly dubbed him, can’t boast a major-label contract and rarely graces venues outside of the Philadelphia area. He has yet to break into the top 10 or even the top 10,000. But numbers say so very little. To be sure, Kweder is the best musician you’re never heard of.
The singer’s Southwest Philadelphia origins combined with his relative obscurity have made for an unflagging allegiance to the City of Brotherly Love. Although largely unrecognized outside of Philadelphia, Kweder has slowly accumulated a local following who are capable of putting Deadheads to shame. A tiny yet devoted aggregate composed primarily of barfolk and rabid college kids, these “Kwederites” track the singer’s every move, onstage and off, and are forever ready to hoist their cult favorite into the countrywide limelight.
Never abashed, Kweder’s hometown pride comes across in both his music and overall attitude toward work itself: “I’m the perfect match for Philly because I’m serious, but not priggish about my music and what I do. I’m a superstar in my own right, but down to earth, like a true Philadelphian.”
Lyrically, Kweder’s songs are saturated with city lore; he details hilarious, back-alley misadventures that border on urban myth, and whimsically hails the abilities of erstwhile Philadelphia sports stars such as the legendary Manute Bol: “Who’s the man who can stand on land and dinka-dunk with both his hands?” In “Speed Freak” he sings, “Now there’s a welcoming committee down by the Wawa,” an allusion to those disheveled, lei-bestowing rose-peddlers who station themselves outside of the convenience store. It is lines such as these that playfully evince the singer’s quirky regional regard.
Kweder has created a capriciously styled musical hybrid of his own; he’s a bluesman, a soulman, a frayed-at-the-cuffs folkie, and out and out rock-n-roller and all things in between. An adventurous advertiser (he once clothed the city’s homeless in eponymous T-shirts as a means of self-promotion), Kweder appears somewhat regularly at Tin Angel and Smokey Joe’s, and is currently “negotiating” a gig at the Tweeter Center. “That’s right,” he chuckles, “I called them up and said they shouldn’t book me based on anything like my reputation or instrumental prowess. They should book me because Kweder rhymes with Tweeter.” Hey, why not? For information regarding recordings and upcoming appearances visit www.kennkweder.com.
Welcomat * After Dark * January 21, 1987
At long last, Kenn Kweder does it himself
By Peter Brown
It was a long time ago, so long ago that I can’t remember when, except it had to be the early ‘70s.
I was playing a gig at a coffee house somewhere on Rittenhouse Square. This kid wearing a denim jacket and a denim cap came in with a harmonica holder around his neck.
At some point during the night, he started to play. He’d do maybe half a song and stop and do another half a song. He was pretty funny. His name was Kenn Kweder.
I left the coffee house and never came back and didn’t think much about Kenn Kweder, but I didn’t forget him either. A couple of years later, the posters started. All over Center City, “Kenn Kweder Folk.” That was it. No date, no gig, just “Kenn Kweder Folk.”
Then there were posters with the same words with the photo of Jack Ruby shooting Harvey Oswald. This went on for a long time. Then there were posters which said, “Kenn Kweder and his Secret Kidds on Tour.” Where they were touring, nobody seemed t know, but you couldn’t miss the posters.
Eventually, Kweder and the Secret Kidds started to play. They played all the usual places that bands play in this city and some of the unusual places, too. I’d run into Kweder ever now and then, usually on the street somewhere, or in a bar. Sometimes he’d be the bartender, and he is without a doubt the most entertaining bartender I ever saw.
We’d stop and talk about Dylan. We could talk about Dylan for a pretty long time. It was around this time that stories about Kweder as the local bad boy of rock and roll started to emerge. Stories of outrageous things he did while performing and stories of outrageous things he did period.
Then Kweder started getting written up in the papers. Rave reviews. He played successful gigs at the Bijou, which was the place to play, and there was talk of record deals. It looked like he was going to make it.
The big time didn’t happen for him back then, but he never stopped trying, refused to give up. Posters, bands and songs kept coming, along with outrageous ides, often fused by his own outrage.
People who refused to book him into a certain folk club found themselves face to face with a priest ready to deliver last rites at three in the morning, or maybe a pizza they didn’t order. Sometimes Kweder’s crusades are intended as in in-joke, and other times his targets are the epitome of hypocrisy.
So after a decade of playing music in Philadelphia, after playing to huge crowds in prisons, to practically no one in the worst dives, and to friends and supporters in the usual bars, Kenny said, “Fuck it, I’ll do it myself.”
He spent most of last year going over every tape he ever made, going over every photograph and every poster, took the best of everything and put out his own record. Not just a record – a really nice two-record set, with great pictures, personal recollections and even lyrics on the inner sleeves. It’s called Pandemonium Years.
It starts off with his first single, “Man on the Moon,” and the flip side, “Susie Said So,” which he released in 1977, and goes right up to parts of a live radio concert in 1986. Along the way, there’s a look into Kenny’s home life, with tapes of his Uncle Huey arguing and bits of interviews, including some early morning craziness with matt Berg, Greg Davis and Bruce Larkin from the Mosaic show on WXPN.
Kenny included just about all his best songs, such as “Broken Hearts,” “Diablo” and “Piece of Paper,” to mention just a few, and remembered to credit all the musicians who backed him up with this great graph.
So, if Kenn Kweder sensed some kind of victory when he gave a truly dynamic performance at his album-release party/concert at Dobbs last Monday, he had every reason to. This record’s good, not to mention fun, from beginning to end. It’s in most local record stores now.
January 21, 1987
News of Delaware County
Kenn Kweder: The ultimate Secret Kidd is Back
By Susan Madrak
“I was getting really frustrated with the business, with no idea what to do. I was drinking a lot. People get frustrated and everything, but when I get frustrated, it’s usually a public scene. When other people get frustrated, it happens behind closed doors, in kitchens and bedrooms. Every time I got frustrated, it was usually with the owner or bouncer of a bar. And I did take a lot out on the audience, too.” So says Kenn Kweder, rock musician and wild man extraordinaire, of his so-called lost years, when the man was banned from a multitude of performing venues, both as an artist and as a customer.
“I can’t even go in the cry cleaners across the street. He tells me he doesn’t do shirts and jackets,” he laughs, although mildly annoyed.
We are aptly enough, sitting in the kitchen of Kenn’s downtown apartment. Kenn is talking about his last album. “Kitchen Folk,” which he made with Ben Vaughn. The big news is the release of Kenn’s latest. “Pandemonium Years,” a retrospective double album. Things are looking better for Kweder than they have for years: word is that the double LP, released for one week, has already sold out its initial distribution. “A few hundred copies, sold with no airplay, just word of mouth,” he says with satisfaction.
Kweder is known as a powerhouse performer, with a core of local fans that rivals Deadheads for intensity, loyalty and longevity. A popular figure on the Philadelphia music scene since the early seventies, Kenn Kweder could be termed “the man who just wouldn’t die.”
In fact, his name once appeared in a Center City paper as being on a list of the ten people most likely to die in a bar. “Yeah, well, I was really heartbroken for a long time since about 1979, it took me a lot of years to get over it. I left the country. I took a trip to England, I had a lot of promises made to me, people telling me I’m great, but everything just kept sliding. It’s like you were gonna get married, and the guy doesn’t show up. They talked about a record deal; they told me I was a genius. It didn’t happen. I always drank, but I started drinking more.”
He went to England and played the coffeehouse circuit. “I got re-invigorated,” he says, “There’s such a spirit over there! After about six months, I’m sort of broke but rejuvenated. I came back here, hooked up with Greg again (Greg Davis, Beru Revue guitarist), the greatest musicians in town and did the Povich thing for a while (his last band, Kenn Kweder and the Men from P.O.V.I.C.H., named after former ‘People Are Talking’ host, Maury Povich). It was beautiful, but after a while, it got stagnant. I retired a while, then got into the “Kitchen Folk” thing with Ben Vaughn, and started writing articles.”
ON HIS LOST YEARS
“Those times you saw me that lasted a long time: almost four and a half years, just constant drinking and pills. If I’d had a gun, I would have killed myself. You get your hopes raised, and lose everything… its tough. I wanted to go to my West Catholic fifteenth year reunion. Here I am playing the top clubs in Philly at night, and living on the streets during the day. I couldn’t scrape together $25 for a ticket, you know? I had no place to live… it was all sheer stupidity on my part. I believed other people would take care of me. I don’t think that anymore. Now, every morning when I get up, its war our there.”
ON LOCAL MUSIC
“Ben Vaughn’s one of the few refreshing things around. I love Ben Vaughn, and there’s this gigantic space in between. I like Billy Schied, but he never plays. He’s on the album, by the way. He wrote that song I do, “Remember Me,” the one about making love in a taxicab? He’s a tremendous songwriter. In fact, I’ll be going into the studio to produce him next month.
“He’s also from Southwest Philly, near 58th Street. One of those little streets, Alden Street. We hung around together: me, Billy Schied, and a guy who’s in the general area of Drexel Hill, Barry Keifer. He was Keith, who had that song “98.6.” ‘Hey, ninety-eight point sic, it’s good to have you back again’ Remember?”
THE MUSIC SCENE
“I don’t usually listen to national stuff. I listen to old stuff. I used to think I had some problem, or something was wrong with me. But everything is really homogenized. I mean, I read Billboard, I watch MTV occasionally. If there’s something I like, OK. I like some of Boy George’s songs.
“But there’s nobody I can lock into. Nobody stays in one place long enough to really believe that they’re there.
“I’m going to try to funnel ‘Turning Myself Into Two’ to Julian Lennon, though. It has that nice Beatlesque sound to it.”
ON HIS KITCHEN CHAIRS
He gestures toward this molded fiberglass kitchen chairs. “These are supposed to be indestructible. I already broke two of them.”
HIS OWN SOUND
“Everybody I know is going for that fat sound. I’m going for the skinny one. It’s a trendy sound; it’s that Wonder Bread, white sound.
“I don’t have anything against any of these bands, but I have no interest in imitating any of them, particularly on a local level.
“It’s all that reverb, digital delay in the studio. Everyone’s using those computer chips and things. I’m more into emotion: a lot of mistakes in it, as opposed to a (controlled) image.
“Musicians can get conned into anything. It depends on where you want to go, whether you’ll sell your soul. You know what it is, these producers come along and say, ‘Do this’, and they see it as your free ticket out of hell. This is a tough life. It’s real nice to be able to pay the phone bill.”
TEN YEARS LATER
Here do I see myself in ten years? Hopefully, still making music of some kind. Probably doing something else, too. I’d like to write a book.”
ON THE ALBUM
“This is no image package up there. I put my heart into that album. That album, man, is a window into my soul. That stuff about my mother and father…. everything. I’m still doing the same thing I always did, but it seems like it’s all coming together this time.
“I’d be happy to just keep playing twice a week and stay sane.”
Seeming saner than he has in years, the ultimate Secret Kidd smiles.
Kenn Kweder and the Employees will appear at Chestnut Cabaret on Tuesday Jan. 27.
His album “Pandemonium Years,” is distributed locally through Sound Odyssey and Plastic Fantastic stores.
South Street Star
January 22, 1987
Life and Times of a South Street Legend
By Martha Thomas
“Projects.” That’s what Kenn Kweder is “into” these days. And through “projects” the success that eluded him in other times seems almost at hand.
“Success is not something that’s automatic,” Kweder says. “You work on a project, and if you do it right, if you do it well, it will be successful.”
The folk singer-cum-rock star, almost a legend in his own time in his native Philadelphia, especially on South Street, has just completed what he considers “the grandest ‘project’ sp far” in his life. He has produced a double album pressed of the finest vinyl and encased in custom-designed record jacket. It is now available at all record stores.
“Pandemonium Years.” Kweder rolls the words around, popping the “p” slightly.
Pandemonium Years is the title of his new album. It is also, he says, “a history of my musical life. You could say it’s the best of Kenn Kweder.”
This Kweder compendium is more than two records – much more. It is a collection of songs, but it also a personal statement. “I’ve done some crazy things in my life,” the singer/composer says.
“Pandemonium Years is not one of them. I’ve come to realize that it’s better to ‘burn out’ doing what you want to do than to ‘burn out’ screwing around. Oh, I’m not completely reformed. I still might do some crazy things – but not seven days a week. A lot of time I’m a right-down-to-business cat.”
To the folk and rock fans who remember the Kenn Kweder of the ‘70s, this statement may come as a surprise and may be accepted with a “that’ll-be-the-day” attitude. But Kweder seems serious enough.
“The stories are exaggerated,” he says. “Sure I did crazy things. Hey, man, I thought them up. I knew they were crazy. I went along with what people expected. I found out they made people notice me. And then I went too far.”
What happened to Kweder has happened to hundreds before him.
“I had a little success, and it went to my head, ”he says. “Then I had a little failure, and I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t sophisticated enough. I got scared. I got writer’s block. I couldn’t admit it then, but I can now. When I couldn’t write songs, it drove me crazy. That’s when it [craziness] wasn’t a pose anymore. I began drinking too much then because I didn’t know what else to do.”
One night when Kweder was drunk, he drove his car into Cobb’s Creek. “I shouldn’t be alive today. But I am. I think this was the turning point, but it took a long time to come back. It was, in fact starting over again.”
Starting over was more difficult than the initial struggle had been. “You see when you’re a kid and have nothing, you don’t realize a lot of things,” he says.
Kweder points out that he is the most unlikely kind of person to become a rock musician. “I was a basketball freak. I thought that basketball was going to save me.”
The son of a Lithuanian scrap-metal worker and an Irish homemaker who was a frustrated actress, he grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, an area, that during his youth, “was the worst in the city. All anyone wanted to do was figure out how to get out.” He was a skilled basketball player (“Who wouldn’t be, if he did nothing but play basketball”), and he thought he would spend his life as a professional player.
This dream turned into a teen nightmare when he “stopped growing. I knew I was always going to be this size [5 feet, 7 inches tall] and no bigger. Man, I was in despair – until I decided to be a musician.”
Yes, just like that. He had no special musical ability or training that he remembers, but he decided to buy a guitar and start writing songs.
“We had no money,” he recalls. “Times were hard, but I started saving Green Stamps. There was a guitar in the Green Stamp catalogue. I forget how many it took – a lot.”
While he was saving Green Stamps to acquire a guitar, he started taking guitar lessons – via television. The public television station was offering guitar lessons weekly. Kweder glued himself to ‘the tube for 13 weeks and took notes. I memorized them and dreamed.”
In his fantasies, he played for thousands. When he finally got the Green Stamp guitar, “it sounded like heaven, but I only had my friends to play for. I was obsessed. I played three or four hours a day. Naturally, I got better. Anyone would.”
He plotted his future as carefully then as now. First, he had to make people want to hear him play.
He made up the now-famous Kenn Kweder Folk poster, the one with the picture of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot. Then he corralled his friends to help him post them.
“We papered the city with them,” he says. “We used Carnation milk for paste; it was perfect for the job. No one knew what they meant, but everyone saw them, and people began to ask who Kenn Kweder was.”
Hi ploy worked. Before long he was “playing in the top clubs in Philly – without a record. No one had ever done that before.”
To pay for this promotion, he had become a social service caseworker. “I’d gone to Temple. Someplace along the way I’d realized that I needed to learn a lot of things.”
What he learned at Temple, mainly, “was how to talk.” He took all the English courses he could. These- and the influence of his mother – were the nucleus of his performance skills and his song-writing ability.
“My mother read poetry every night before she went to sleep. A lot of what I do is imitating my mother’s inflections. That and listening to Tom Dooley and Bob Dylan. I studied all this, and then I went out and put it all together in my own way. That’s how Kenn Kweder and his Secret Kidds and P.O.V.I.C.H. [two more of his bands] came about.”
It seemed he had “no where to go but up” until he got caught “in the web of trying to be a success and wanting to have a big commercial album.”
Indeed, he was offered the chance to do such a record, but when the company with which he was dealing asked him to cut away from his band, he “couldn’t do it. It didn’t make sense to me. That wasn’t the kind of person I was. I didn’t know how to handle it, so I split.”
And that was the beginning of all his troubles that led to “the really crazy years and having to start over.”
Many barriers stood in Kweder’s way when he realized he was gong to have to take a new tack with his life. Like, he didn’t have money. Like, he had to have a job. Like, his pride wouldn’t let him let people know the problems he had. Like, people didn’t want to give him a job because he did have a crazy reputation.
“Let’s face it,” he admits. “I had been unreliable. I had to do some hard thinking.”
He finally got a job parking cars in Jeweler’s Row. “People recognized me. They had paid money to see me in a club - $8. Now I parked cars, but I swallowed my pride and did it and saved my money.”
Eventually, he went back into case work and the idea of doing “projects” began to solidify. He found that he liked to conceive a project – producing a tape, seeing it through from conception to ready-for-sale. So he tried it, and he hit another roadblock.
“I discovered I wasn’t ‘with it’ anymore. I was writing again – beautiful songs – but my music was no longer contemporary. While I was pulling myself together, music had changed.”
This crisis was a really crucial point in both his personal and professional life, he feels. He had to do something “to catch up, to recharge the old batteries.”
Kweder went to England. He played the English club circuit and also the Dutch club circuit.
“People loved me,” he says. “My faith in myself came back. I didn’t make any money. It cost money to work there, in fact. I stayed until my money ran out. Then I came home, ready to try again.”
He was on the right track. “It took awhile. People were still skeptical. They stiil weren’t ready to accept me as Kenn Kweder The Serious.”
Gradually, however, as Kweder ‘projects’ began to roll off his personal production line, skepticism was replaced by confidence.
The Radio Church of God. Kitchen Folk. Manute Bol. The last year’s efforts or as Kweder calls them, “projects.” Led to clubs asking him to play again, to audiences returning.
“A lot of years I did nothing, “ he says. “Now, everyday I have something to do.”
One of the things Kweder learned during the past six years is “to listen to people who know.” Now, he shops around for advise and “takes it more often than not” although he counts on his own decisions in the end. “No one else can do your thinking for you. You have to be willing in the end to be responsible.”
What has happened, he believes, is that music trends have come full circle. Rock-and-roll is popular once more and big business. Kenn Kweder’s particular vision of rock music is fashionable again.
“The kids are interested in my kind of music,” he acknowledges, “ and my old fans are willing to come back to hear me. It’s a great feeling to be communicating.”
This rock renaissance affects every aspect of his life. It has made possible forming a new band – Kenn Kweder and the Employees. He has “all the dates it’s possible to handle.”
The activity is good for his creativity. He’s not a “prolific writer, but when things are going right, songs come at the most unexpected moments. The less I force it, the better. I can count on three or four good songs a year.”
With Kweder, a song is never really finished. He is always rewriting lyrics, “usually during performances. It keeps things from being boring for me. If they’re not boring for me, they’re not boring for the audience.”
His criteria for songs is “probably not different from anyone else’s. I want to touch people. I write about loneliness and sadness, but I also look for humor. That’s important to me, and I think to others. It’s humor that keeps songs – and life- from being boring.”
Not being boring may indeed be one of Kweder’s most enduring qualities. At a recent show at Khyber Pass, one fan endorsed the show because “with Kenn Kweder you never know what to expect. He’s always got something new to say, something to make you laugh. It’s worth my time to hear him again and again.”
This fan may have hit on the secret of Kweder’s new success and acceptance. In the world of the mundane and the expected – lively, even slightly crazy, unexpected fun is highly valued.
A record buyer a Sam Goody’s who stopped by to pick up Pandemonium Years asked, “Is this pure Kenn Kweder? That’s what I’m looking for – pure Kenn Kweder.”
Kweder says his new album is “absolutely a distillation “ of everything he knows and has done in music. “This ‘project’ brings me up to date. Now I’m ready for the next step.”
What is the next step?
Kweder wants to produce an EP with four or five new songs. He wants to continue playing with Kenn Kweder and The Employees.
“I want to keep on doing what I’ve been doing,” he says. “Why would I want to do anything else? It’s all working for me.”
For those who have never heard or seen Kenn Kweder play, immediate opportunities will present themselves. On Tuesday, Jan. 27, he will perform at the Chestnut Cabaret, 38th and Chestnut Streets, and on Friday, Fe. 13 at the Empire Rock Club, Roosevelt and Princeton Avenues. On Friday Feb. 20m he will be at JC Dobbs, 304 South ST., the club he thinks of as “home turf,” the place he “has played more often than anyplace else and the place that has been the kindest and most helpful.” Performances usually begin about 9 p.m.
The Song Behind The Posters
By Daniel J. Marcus
If poster were record sales, Kenn Kweder would be a superstar. Kweder, for those who don’t read the signs, is this city’s most publicized unrecorded rock performer. Formerly an obscure singer-songwriter in the Dylan vein, he played the local taprooms with little success until, walking the streets one day, he was struck with the idea of a poster campaign. Today, as testament to that initial inspiration, the city is virtually wallpapered with cryptic promotional materials advertising his concert appearances as well as his general existence.
AS a performer, Kweder possesses a reputation for being audacious and occasionally truculent, a reputation borne out in part by his performance on a double bill with the Ramones two weeks ago. After the set’s opening chords, an ascending progression reminiscent of the theme from a James Bond movie, Kweder made his entrance dressed in a silver jacket, a long scarf, and a brimmed hat. He played to the crowd, which included his local cult following, by mock fighting with members of his band and walking around the room on tabletops.
Such may be the requirements of rock performance in the ‘70s. Behind the flamboyance and the publicity-generated mystique, however, is Kenn Kweder the songwriter, whose songs seem to hearken back to the creative ferment of the ‘60s.
The ‘60s was the era of the singer-songwriter, the modern day version of the minstrel-poet of olden times. The emphasis was on lyrics, for it was the lyric that could express in no uncertain terms, the personal, primal reality of the writer.
While in a sense he’s plowing the same fields as his predecessors, Kweder’s lyrics are exceptional in their own right as they explore the possibilities of unconventional expression. The very audacity that permits him to demand the attention of the citizenry of Philadelphia also allows him to bend words and phrases in a manner of his own choosing. Yet, Kweder as a writer has nit received the attention he deserves, partly due to his own image protection and partly due to the inattentiveness of an audience jaded by exposure to the mindless hip grinding of disco and the hipless mind grinding of Barry Manilow. What follows here is an examination of several selected lyrics from the Kweder songbook.
“Man on the Moon” is a surrealistic song which manages to deal with the subject of alienation without causing it. It’s Kweder’s standard opener, and from the first lines the listener is mocked with commands: “Down on your knees/ Down on your knees…/ Now don’t be afraid of the man on the moon/ He’s only stuck on your TV.” The continuous repetition of the song’s phrases conveys the sense of a reality that’s on the blink. The song, however, never lapses into ponderousness or despair; the mood is one of absurdity which culminates in an almost humorous effect: “We only lost the captain/ It’s going to be soon/ Six feet on the moon/ Too bad his Panasonic went out of tune.” The story ends appropriately with a total breakdown of sense and communication as the viewpoint splits into maniacally alternating perspectives, the first voice repeating the title phrase while the second seeks to establish what the first is saying.
“Pandemonium Scare” is perhaps Kweder’s quintessential lyric. Like much of his work, it falls under the generic category of walking the edge. In this case, the song is a free form narrative whose protagonist is a gambler who “…rides on cop car courses/ Testing against legitimate surrounding forces/ Forcing the good right out of the bad/ And inventing new resources.” As in “Man in the Moon”, the song’s structure reflects its subject matter rather than any preconceived notion of what a song should be; just as he exists on the fringes of life, the protagonist exists on the fringes of the song. Never defined or made visible, he remains enmeshed in a universe where “Madonnas are standing stoned in those vestibules/ Just sweating out for a little glimpse/ Lieutenants are lined up in front of the private schools/ But none of it makes any sense.”
The Dylan influence is readily apparent, but Kweder succeeds in transcending the inevitable association through a highly stylized repetition of certain phrases which is more cabaret than folk rock; an additional element in Kweder’s claim to originality in his willingness to take chances, a willingness which is one of the hallmarks of his artistic sensibility. This lyrical daring is manifested I none of the song’s repeated lines, “this situation is really lousy,” which, in its jarring directness, serves to mock the very idea of poetic pretense. Despite such seemingly pessimistic sentiments, Kweder as lyricist once again sidesteps despair; the protagonist is in the world,. But not of it, and through his ability to make choices, he maintains control over the situations swirling around him: “He’s shaking his name right off of his face…/ He’s taking pandemonium/ Slammed it back in its place.”
The wide range of Kweder’s poetic scope is most fully realized in the hauntingly understated “Suzie Said So,” which demonstrates his ability to combine disparate images without undercutting the integrity of the lyric as a whole. The song is a lament that describes a love twisted by circumstances which, in an atypically vulnerable stance, he cannot comprehend. The song is set in New Mexico, where the picture of a love in shambles is startlingly juxtaposed against the image of a place where “…the air’s so clean, the children get to grow up running strong.” The mood of innocence is lost later, given more explicit expression in another strong juxtaposition of lines: “Now it’s finders keepers, losers weepers/ All good lovers get to be good sleepers.” Throughout, a sense of bitter irony is sustained: the singer is resigned, but he cannot accept: “…what’s the use of a feeling that only comes when you go/ You gave yourself to me last night but this morning it showed through.”
Clearly, Kenn Kweder’s present and future artistic endeavors bear watching. To paraphrase Sartre, it’s unfortunate that in these times image precedes essence. If such were not the case, Kweder would never need all those posters.
The Daily Pennsylvanian
Friday, October 13, 1995
‘South Street Bard’ lights up Smoke’s
By Jamie Phares
The lights were low and the place was packed. AS the music flooded the room, some people talked to their friends, while others tapped a foot or nodded their heads.
They thought they were just gong out for a night on the Penn social scene. But what the patrons of Smokey Joe’s didn’t know Tuesday night was that they had entered “Kweder’s Kithcen.”
The “South Street Bard,” as Kenn Kweder has been affectionately dubbed by the Philadelphia media, made his comeback performance after an arm injury had kept him from performing for more than three months.
Kweder, a native of West Philadelphia, has been composing music since 1971. He has written about 200 songs and has had four records released on a small label called Pandemonium.
He has recently received acclaim in Rolling Stone magazine and has received awards such as the Delaware Valley Music Poll’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992 and the Philadelphia Music Foundation’s Best Album of the Year Award for his 1989 release “Man Overboard.”
AS a child of the 1960s, Kweder said he has had quite an exciting life. A shy teenager, he studied English and Communications at Temple University in order to break out of his shell.
“ I had a hard time communicating with people, especially with girls,” he said. “And it helped me write songs.”
At 19 he began performing shows around Philadelphia, In New York and even internationally – he has performed in England, Holland and Scandinavia, where he performed 67 shows in 75 days last year.
Kweder said he does not earn enough money from his music to pay the bills, so he has to perform odd jobs to make up the difference.
“I just love music so much that I’ll park cars and bartend in order to play,” he said. “It’s worth the sacrifice of being behind the bar.”
Kweder’s music has been compared to that of Roger McGuinn and Lou Reed, and audience member tend to agree.
College senior Blas Nunez-Neto called Kweder “folksy.”
That folksy quality has made Kweder a perennial favorite at Smoke’s.
“The students love him, and it’s original music,” Smoke’s owner Paul Ryan said. “He’s a rock star – he draws.”
“It’s really hard to get fertile again, “he said. “I’ve written a couple of hundred songs and sometimes I don’t know if I can write anther. But I do.”
Kweder said he stays with the music business because big-time success may be right around the corner.
“Just when I’m ready to quit, I’ll win an award or something,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in the ballgame to hit the homerun. I’m just waiting for the right pitch.”
A PHILLY ORIGINAL
doing what he loves most:
writing songs and performing. . . "
Spend any time watching live rock 'n' roll in Philadelphia and you're bound to catch Kenn Kweder.
Over the last 29 years, Kweder hsa played thousands of gigs locally and as far away as Australia. From Smokey Joe's in University City to the Rock'n Chair in Avalon, Kweder has cultivated a devout following. Until a major record label signs him, Kweder will continue to do what he has mastered: crafting songs and playing shows.
"I'm not sure if making it big is what he wants." says longtime friend and former bandmate Jim Sutcliffe.
Kweder has a new album, Indre Sessions, that captures his earlier work as well as some new material from his fountain of songs. Recorded at the intimate Indre Recording Studios in South Philadelphia, the independent release boasts sweet, unrequited love songs like "Remember Me' and rocking tunes like "Torn Rice" and "Broken Hearts".
Indre Sessions was planned to be a greatest hits package; however, Kweder began writing songs, so "Places" and "January, February" were conceived and given a home. "I want my songs to stand up on their own and take a walk," says Kweder. " "I wanted to write songs that can outlast Kenn Kweder."
Kweder/Philadelphian is happy simply to strap on his guitar and entertain. . .
An eccentric poet and captivating performer, Kweder is a Philadelphia original. Imagine a male version of rock poet Patti Smith ho necer was signed to a major label -- that is Kenn Kweder. He is a little wacky in a charming way.
"There's the performer, then there's the guy like The Wizard Of Oz, the guy behind the curtain. The guy who answers the phone is the other Kenn Kweder. 'Then there's me."
In September, Kweder celebrated the album's release with a special sold-out show at The Tin Angel in Philadelphia.
"The Tin Angel was a special show. I gave people the literate Kenn Kweder, the stuff I worked hard on writing. I didn't lay on the floor that night."
Kweder started performing in the mid-'70s with his first band, the Secret Kidds. He has been playing pretty much nonstop since then. He came very close to hitting it big early in his career and overcame the shock of it not happening. Passionate about his music, Kweder is happy to strap on his guitar and entertain.
"I gig about 170 shows a year. A lot of them are invisible shows on Drexel's campus where people just show up." Kweder says. For smaller shows, he plays acoustically with just a guitar. For big shows, he performs with his current lineup, the Clock Radio Band.
In the '70s, Kweder used to wallpaper Philadelphia with posters promoting himself.
"In one year I put up 10,000 posters. Carnation milk is great, great adhesive. It's like glue when you put paper against a wall. I was on welfare at the time, so I used to take my food stamps and buy 30,40 cans of Carnation milk. One guy had the brush and I had the posters. We had Kenn Kweder billboards all over the city. They were up for years.
Kweder formed the Secret Kidds as a result of postering the city.
"It beats sitting around doing nothing. It was productive."
Born on January 28, 1952, and raised Catholic, Kweder grew up in Southwest Philadelphia.
"I have my brother and one sister. I am the youngest." Says Kweder. "My brother turned me on to The Beatles."
His brother, John, helped finance Indre Sessions. For his previous four albums, however, Kweder didn't wait for a record company to offer him a deal. Instead, he received money from "strippers and bookies."
"I tell them up front, 'Look, I'm probably not going to sell a lot of records, so I probably won't be able to pay you back. But if you have kids and they get married, I'll play teir wedding.' I've played a lot of weddings. That's my paycheck."
Much younger looking than his 47 years, Kweder attributes his youthful glow to eating lots of raw garlic and hot peppers. A quirky eater, he won't consume food that is the color red "unless it comes from the ground."
"For a while, I didn't eat anythng that ended in a vowel. Ravioli and spaghetti, it scared me."
Kweder refuses to get glasses so to him "everything appears in soft focus."
On this vibrant fall day, Kweder is talking with a visitor in a windowless room at Indre Recording Studios in South Philadelphia. Kweder can't sit still. He switches from his seat on a comfortable couch to lying on the hard, grey cement floor. A few minutes later and Kweder is back on the couch. This back and forth goes on for about an hour.
Kweder was influenced by a number of performers -- Patti Smith, Bob Dylan -- but he has his own style.
A booking agent at Midnight Sun Management, Stu Green, remembers "Kenny from the carazy days on South Street from the '70s."
""kenny has such an erratic stage presence; however, off stage, he's easy to deal with." He says.
"He's a great songwriter and once you like him, you'll be his fan forever."
Musician and Haddonfield native Jim Sutcliffe says he learned about life and music through playing with Kweder. In the early '90s, Sutcliffe played guitar with Kweder's lineup The Indian Guides. He even released an album called Man Overboard with Kweder.
"Kweder gives 150 percent whether he's playing on the sidewalk in front of a record store or in New York City doing a show for important people." Says Sutcliffe, who was in his early 30s when he played in Kweder's band.
Sutcliffe, who works as a spokesman for Electric Factory Concerts, says Kweder will sometimes be called on short notice to open for national acts.
"It's great that at the last minute we can call someone as talented as Kenn to entertain 400 people."
Kweder hopes a major artist will record one of his songs.
"It comes down to trying to be true to yourself without allowing too much artificial treadmill activity."
Lately, he has attended too many funerals for friends, which have been a reality check.
"It firms up my belief that I have to be Kenn Kweder."