Not long ago, Kevin Kinney received a text message from his old friend Peter Buck that read something like, “Hey Jason Ispel, just recorded one of your songs and two of mine.” Buck is guitarist for REM and vocalist/guitarist Kinney for Drivin ‘N’ Cryin’, two of Georgia Ispiel’s bands, is the biggest singer/songwriter these days, covered on his charity album ‘Georgia Blue’, released late last year .
Isbell’s versions of REM’s moody tunes “Nightswimming” and “Driver 8” open and close the album. Drivin’ N Cryin’s 1989 high-voltage rock reboot “Honeysuckle Blue” is the second track on “Georgia Blue”. Sadler Fadden, the talented guitarist who joined the longtime Isbell-backed band The 400 in 2013 after a stint at the most recent DNC, leads lead vocals on the cover of Isbell’s “Honeysuckle.” After reading Buck’s script and researching the version of Isbell online, Kenny was surprised to find out what song Isbell and his band performed. He remembered Faden telling him that he recorded Blue Honeysuckle but he couldn’t remember which project it was for.
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Founded in 1985 in Atlanta, Drivin ‘N ‘Cryin’ never became as iconic alternative rock stars as their Athens friends, Ga. But they became something more wonderful. Underdog caught some spotlight before heading back to the classic cult aisle. Especially in the Southeast, where Drivin ‘N’ Crying was a big deal with teens and twenties in the late 1980s, culminating with his 1989 LP “Mystery Road.”
After the release of the stylish and groovy 1991 album “Fly Me Courageous”, Drivin ‘N’ Cryin reached the masses. The Zeppelin-kissed title track from the LP and the rocking single “Build A Fire” were both regulars on MTV and rock radio. Kenny, along with his friend Dave Berner, assistant head of Soul Asylum, appeared in the series House of Style, hosted by supermodel Cindy Crawford. “It was a very exciting era,” says Kenny. “When they played (Divin ‘N ‘Cryin’ music video) everyone called you. ‘Hey, you’re on MTV!’ Whoa! I really wish MTV (focused on music) would be back and I could see all these great bands I’m hearing right now” .
There’s been a mutual liking between Isbell and Kinney for a while now. Isbell appeared in the 2012 Drivin ‘N’ Cryin documentary “Scarred But Smarter”. Kinney’s 2012 solo release featured Kinney’s cover of “Never Gonna Change,” a brave story song from Isbell’s mission with the Southern-rockers Drive-By Truckers awakening.
In December, on the closing night of Isbell’s four-night show at Atlanta’s Tabernacle Stadium, the appearance brought Isbell Kenny on vocals and guitar on “Honeysuckle Blue”. “I was really honored to do that,” says Kenny. Earlier, after the Isbell Support Act needed to be repealed, Kinney opened the show that night. “It was like my eighth show in nine days, but I wasn’t about to turn it down because I’m just a huge fan. Jason got his own kind, you know?” In fact, Espel, a former Muscle Shoals native who now resides in Nashville, is More rockstars than Americana musicians get close to him. “I first saw Jason when the Truckers (Drive-By) were playing this little bar in New York, and it was like his first run and I was like, ‘Who is this new guy?'” says Kenny. He is amazing.”
The Isbell Tribute is the latest triumph-deserving lap of Kinney’s songs, an earthy blend of hard rock, folk, and country. Drivin ‘N’ Cryin’ is the phonetic equivalent of electrified kudzu. In 2018, country star singer Darius Rucker covered another gem from the Mysterious Road era, Straight to Hell. Rucker brought “Straight to Hell,” a latch-key baby song, into a new mainstream he hadn’t even heard of before.
One afternoon, Kenny was at his home in Atlanta when we called for a video interview. The original artwork for “Live the Love Beautiful,” the latest in a series of recent DNC hardcore releases, appears on his left shoulder, hanging in the background. And those colorful landscapes, painted by Kenny’s grandmother, that adorn the cover of the Mysterious Road album? It is now in the possession of his daughter.
Kenny Maroon Mosrite, the guitar he played on early Drivin ‘N’ Cryin albums, videos, and tours and formerly belonged to REM Peter Buck, sits on a platform near a window. Kenny played the Mosrites because their protagonist Johnny Ramone of the Ramones played them. Now on the tour, Kenny plays Danelectro “supped up,” reluctant to take his spell on the road again after a Drivin ‘N’ Cryin equipment trailer, containing nearly $50,000 worth of equipment, was stolen in 2010. Today, Kenny wears a jacket Black hoodie, glasses with plastic frames and a bastard smile. His long, flossy hair, brown with gray streaks, spills out of a simple black baseball cap. At some point during our conversation, Kenny paused to remove some potted seeds from the table he was sitting at. And for the unfamiliar, yes, there is no “I” in his first name.
In addition to their vocal/electric mix and lively lyrics (personal but transparent), Kenny’s unique vocals make Drivin ‘N’ Cryin’ special. His haunting howl three times. The Ozzy Osbourne Black Sabbath era had a major impact there. And like Osbourne’s voice, there’s just something familiar and inherently wonderful about Kenny’s voice. Not golden or godlike, like Robert Zip’s factory. More like some outcast long hair you used to smoke with behind the gym in high school.
However, Kenny laments, “I wish I had found a lead singer about 30 years ago, because I can’t stand my voice. Seeing (Black Cruz) Chris Robinson grow through the early years of Black Cruz and all that, this guy looks like a top 10 rock singer to me.” He’s very good at it. And I’m more hesitant, like, ‘Ah, do I have to?’ Now folk singing, that’s easier for me.” On vocal mode, as in 1990 Peter Buck produced his first solo appearance for “MacDougal Blues,” Kinney’s voice was full of emotion and conversation.
In 2017, “The Mysterious Road” was re-released with an additional disc of previously unreleased demos. Unfortunately, there is no such luck with “Fly Me Courageous”, as the record company and not the band own the masters. “So we have to convince them to do it,” says Kenny. “Universal (Music) and Island Records, it’s hard to get them to remember who we are. But yeah, I’d like to remix and maybe remake ‘Fly Me’, but I don’t know where the tapes are. I think we sold a lot of copies through that mail at record clubs that They used to have it, and these are some pretty bad versions of that.”
Kenny thought of retelling “Fly Me Courageous” live in the studio. But it looks like he’ll do something more exciting first: write and record a new Drivin ‘N’ Cryin’ LP in a rock style similar to ‘Fly Me’. Kenny loves Aerosmith’s early albums. And recently he’s been listening to recordings of Jeff Beck’s group, since Rod Stewart was the Beck singer. The era of “Billion Dollar Babies” Alice Cooper is currently another touchstone. “I love putting together a really great rock record that really shows Laure,” says Kenny, referring to Laur Joamets, an Estonia-born shredder who previously worked with alternative country star Sturgill Simpson.
In addition to Kenny and Guamets, Drivin ‘N’ Cryin currently includes longtime drummer Dave V. Johnson and original guitarist Tim Nielsen. (Nielsen and Stomp’s swing are essential components of the band’s signature sound.) They’re a strong version of the band. The classical group had drummer Jeff Sullivan, formerly with Black Cruz predecessor Mr. Crowe Garden, and guitarist Burren Fowler, a former REM guitar technique. In 2021, Drivin ‘N ‘Cryin’ released a raucous artifact from those days, “Live in Hollywood, CA March 8, 1992,” taped to famous venue The Troubadour. The track list ranges from the tainted punk title track from DNC’s 1986 debut album through “Turn It Up Or Turn It Off,” a rockstar released on the band’s next studio album at the time, 1993’s “Smoke.” Interestingly, neither “blue honeysuckle” nor “straight to hell” were on the set that night. Kenny says they’re probably tired of playing the first and the last that didn’t connect well on the West Coast.
Besides the “To Build A Fire” clip, which was filmed at an outdoor party at Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, Kinney hates most of his old DNC music videos. “It’s very good,” says Kenny. “Done by the guy who did ‘We Are the World’. ‘Turn It Up or Turn It Off’ is probably the only other option I like. Other quests are done like guys who like (nirvana) a ‘heart-shaped box’ and” It smells like a fig spirit” … “Fly me bravely”, it’s terrible.
“It was like, ‘Put on this coat and put on this hat.'” Later when she was playing it all that time (on MTV) I was like, “Ah, why are you wearing that coat?” And then Nirvana came out and said, “Everyone on this side of the fence is finished.” And those hackneyed videos we made put us on That side of the fence. I mean, I’ve met Kurt (Cobain, Nirvana striker) a few times, and I never really felt like he thought I was cheesy.”
In the same year that Drivin ‘N’ Cryin was formed, another group with the letter N in the middle of their Hollywood name, Guns N’ Roses, was born. I asked Kenny if anyone was trying to get his band to change their name after GN’R became huge, similar to how Alice in Chains was known as Alice N’ Chains. “No, and I was kind of surprised no one ever mentioned it,” says Kenny. “But I think the first time I learned of Guns N’ Roses was during ‘Mystery Road.'” I remember we were in the studio and Tim (Nielsen, guitarist Drivin ‘N’ Cryin’) was already digging Guns N’ Roses. And I remember Tim wanted me to sing like him (GN’R singer Axel Rose). I was like, “There’s no way I can sing like that guy!” But (GN’R LP debut) “Appetite for Destruction” is a perfect record.
Kenny cites the singles “Broken Hearts and Auto Parts” and “The Flower and The Knife” (featuring guitar champ Gov’t Mule Warren Haynes) as favorite albums from his catalog. Eventually Kenny hopes to cut an album based on analog synthesizers. Fun fact: He has also composed the music for the animated comedy-comedy “Archer” on Cartoon Network.
Kenny finished his next solo LP and was “trying to find a home for him”. Given the collaborators, that shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. It was recorded with David Barbie, Producer of Drive-By Truckers, and features musicians including Buck, REM drummer Bill Berry, members of the Drive-By Truckers, Colonel Bruce Hampton, and an Aquarium rescue unit. Recently, Kinney’s also made some paintings, which were sold to raise money for charity. He is thinking of putting together a book containing all the lyrics to his songs. “I think this is a fairly full board,” he says. “I also have four dogs.”
Drivin ‘N’ Cryin’ Comes To SideTracks Music Hall, 415 Church St. NW in Huntsville, at 8 p.m. Jan. 14. Tickets $20 via eventbrite.com. Next, they head to Birmingham for the 9pm show on January 15 at Saturn, address 200 41st St. S. Travel Tickets. The Atlanta indie Lynx Deluxe Collection is the inaugural show for both shows. More information at drivinncryin.com.