Myles Kennedy is certainly a man in demand. When he's not on the road or recording with his band Alter Bridge, then he's typically on the road or recording with Slash. And it has been this way for quite a while now; certainly since 2010 when “the bad ass in the top hat,” as Kennedy has called him onstage, assembled some top-notch musicians to take his solo album out on tour. Kennedy it turns out is the preferred voice to bring to life the album that featured such illustrious stage prowlers as Lemmy, Andrew Stockdale, Chris Cornell and Ozzy Osbourne. Not to mention also putting his personal wail on classics by Guns 'n Roses and Velvet Revolver.
You would think the man would be exhausted, but when I talked to him for this week’s column, he sounded refreshed, looking forward to recording with the guitar god and going back out on the road with Alter Bridge.
So Myles, where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you?
I was born in Boston, originally, and then long story short, my mom, my brother and I ended up migrating out to Spokane, Washington, where I have been pretty much ever since. I started off as a city kid, just on the outskirts of Boston, and then what happened was my biological father passed away and that’s when we moved. The person that my mom remarried was really into horses and he loved living on the land. So I was kind of a farm kid in a way out there in Spokane, had a really great childhood living out in the woods there. I think when I was probably between seven and say twelve or so, those were my fondest memories. I was just this little kid running around out in the woods (laughs). I wasn’t like a real trouble-maker or anything. I was just kind of quiet and shy and tried not to do anybody any harm.
Is it correct that you played trumpet?
Yeah, I did. I actually started trumpet when I was probably like ten and my mom actually pushed that. I didn’t really want to play an instrument early. At that point in my life I was more into being a kid, playing sports, and this, that and the other. I remember the day really well. She was like, “I really want you to have the opportunity to play a musical instrument.” And the school band program was starting up so I did. I picked the trumpet and I’m glad I did. I think it helped me out with the transition to the guitar about five years later; made it a lot easier to pick up. I was definitely a band geek. I played trumpet through high school and then I was like the drum major, like the guy who led the marching band in the parade and that whole bit. Total band geek (laughs)
So what made you eventually pick up the guitar?
By the time I was about twelve or thirteen, I really started to get bit by the rock bug. I think it was when I heard Eddie Van Halen play “Eruption.” I was like,"what is that?!" That is one of the coolest things I’d ever heard. I remember I started sitting in my bedroom in front of the mirror with a tennis racket just rocking out playing air guitar and I did that for a couple of years and finally my step-dad just looked at me and said, “Why don’t you just learn to play for real.. He thought it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever seen, a kid pretending to play guitar. I remember like a light bulb went off and I was like, "well, that’s a brilliant idea" (laughs). So, yeah, that was it, from that point on for about nine months I cleaned horse stalls, cleaned horse manure, and my step-dad gave me a dollar for every stall I’d clean and saved up my money for nine months and bought my first electric guitar and that was the start.
What kind of guitar did you get?
I got an Ibanez X Series, kind of this crazy shaped crazy guitar they made back, I think in the mid-eighties or so. Kind of looked like the Dean guitar that Dimebag Darrell made famous. It actually ended up getting stolen a couple of years later. I played in a school jazz band, played guitar, and I left it in the high school there and somebody came in one night and took it. I still long for that guitar (laughs). I hope that someday I run into it again. It was my first guitar.
Do you remember the first song that you learned how to play on guitar?
You know, I started off taking lessons from a teacher and he’d teach me how to read music on guitar and play like “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and that lasted a few months. And that just wasn’t going to work for me (laughs). I really wanted to play rock. I actually ordered out of the back of a magazine something called the Metal Method, which was by this guy named Doug Marks and that was how I learned to play. It was like this audio cassette with little pamphlet series. It worked great. I think the first real rock song I learned to play might have been “Breaking The Law” by Judas Priest or a song called “Bandit” by a band called Rail, which was big in the northwest at the time. It was one of those two. Like I remember the day I learned both the songs at the same time. So it was kind of tie in that respect.
How old were you?
I was about fifteen at that point.
Do you remember the first song that you wrote?
I do. I didn’t write the lyrics or the melody but I wrote the guitar part. I’m trying to remember what we called that song … It was a little band we had called Rapscallion when we were kids. I can still hear the riff in my head (laughs). I think the second or third song we wrote as a band was a song called “The House That Jack Built” and the bass player actually wrote the lyrics and I think the song was about like masturbation (laughs) or something juvenile; something that only a teenaged boy will come up with (laughs). Yeah, that was like the second or third hit that we wrote (laughs).
And this was your first band?
Yeah, I think this was like my first real band. We’d rehearse in the basement of the drummer’s parents’ house and it was a lot of fun.
How long did it last?
It lasted probably about six months and then I started playing with another band. Then I just jumped from band to band, was in two bands at the same time, then a couple years later I was playing in cover bands and basically working six nights a week, four hours a night, then waking up and going to school the next day. Once I got into it, I just loved it and I was really serious and passionate about it. I just played as much as I could. That was really the best education I could have gotten as a musician.
Do you remember when you first realized that you could actually sing?
Well, I knew I could sing, just kind of singing around the house or singing along at church or whatever. But the second band I was in, we actually did “Rock & Roll” by Led Zeppelin. And at that point I remember the guys that were normally singing in that band were complaining that they couldn’t do that song. I guess it was too high. At that point in my life I’d never really sung in front of anybody for real. And I was just like kind of terrified, to be perfectly honest with you. But I went and gave it a shot and basically got elected to sing that one song in the set.
I remember we actually played this thing called the Drug Free Rock Hop. It was basically this battle of the bands that they had in Spokane and the first song we opened up with was “Rock & Roll”. I remember I was so nervous the entire day, like I could barely eat anything, and the other bands were coming up to me and they could see that I was just terrified out of my wits (laughs). They were like consoling me, this poor little kid, you know. But it actually ended up going really well. That was the last time I did it for a few years. I mean, once I did that show for whatever reason I just played guitar strictly for about another four years. Then it became a matter of when I was writing songs, I couldn’t find a singer in a town with a finite amount of musicians so I decided to do it myself.
Do you remember the first concert that you went to?
Very well. I went to see Sammy Hagar when he was doing the “I Can’t Drive 55” single. I think it was in January of 1985. And that was a big day for me. He was amazing. He was just this incredible front man. The thing I remember more than anything was that he climbed up on the lighting rig. And you know as a kid, I was like "WOW, look at that rock star way up high above the crowd" (laughs). And I was thinking he was putting his life on the line for his rock band. So I thought that was cool. He just had this energy and still does. He’s definitely one of those electrifying front men who can get a crowd riled up and basically have a big party for a few hours. So that was fun, a fun experience.
Who was the first real rock star that you ever met? Or the first one that made an impression on you?
You know what? I’ll say somebody that’s really impressed me a lot that I’ve met in the last few years was Lemmy. There’s something about Lemmy. The few times that I have interacted with him, I remember being really impressed with him on a few different levels. He’s very intelligent and very well spoken. A really cool guy. For a guy like myself, and Todd Kerns and I have talked about this, he’s like the Godfather, you know. He’s a brilliant songwriter, he’s just got that X-factor, that something that the rest of us just look at and are in awe of him. He’s the real deal.
Who has been your biggest influence as a musician and why?
My answer varies, as I’ve been asked this question a few times, but your question earlier reminded me of this and I failed to think of this in the past. Really my biggest influence would have to be my Mom. She is the person that got me to look at music as an outlet in my life early on. And I think as the years go by I think I’m more aware of how grateful I am that she did that. A lot of times parents won’t necessarily nurture that side of a kid. And I’m real fortunate to have her for a parent. I remember very well her telling me, “I didn’t get to play an instrument when I was a kid and I really want you to have that opportunity”. So that would be my mother.
What would you say is your all-time favorite album and what makes it so special still to this day?
My all-time favorite album is probably What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye. I think it’s just a perfect record, from start to finish. I remember the first day that I heard it, some twenty years ago. A friend had suggested I check it out and I remember I bought it and was just so taken with everything from just the message of the record to the arrangements, obviously the songs. I absolutely love and cherish that record.
So what has been happening in your world lately?
I finished up the Carnival Of Madness with Alter Bridge. We were out for almost a month and a half. I’ll be writing and arranging with Slash and the guys in Los Angeles and basically doing pre-production for the upcoming record. When I’m through I leave LA for somewhere in Europe and I will be there for six weeks with Alter Bridge doing a Europe and UK run, which will finish up around the end of November or beginning of December. Then I’m assuming, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I’m assuming we’ll reconvene on the Slash recording.
Are you excited about recording again with Slash?
Oh I’m very excited. You know, it’s fun because hearing the songs come together with the whole band is always kind of a big thrill, you know when you’re writing and creating. Slash and I have been trading demos back and forth for better part of a year. And we’ll get together with Todd and Brent Fitz and flesh out the arrangements and it’s cool. It’s like making little sonic babies (laughs).
Todd told me that the songs were sounding really good.
Yeah, I think so. I’m funny that way. I’m never sure until the record’s done. I’m always afraid to kind of be content cause I’m afraid if there’s a second where I’m content I’ll stop working as hard so I’ll just obsess. I have such an obsessive, obsessive nature when it comes to songs where I tend to more often than not overthink if I’m not careful. So I’m glad to hear he feels that way. It certainly gives me more confidence.
The very talented – and very tall – Joel Hoekstra of Night Ranger is our featured musician in next week’s installment.