Kenny Ray Horton – A Canary’s Song

Kenny Ray HortonWe heard yesterday from Kenny Ray Horton, guitarist and lead vocalist with the US Navy’s Country Current, who is about to release a new solo project.

A Canary’s Song, which features 7 songs of Horton’s amidst the 11 tracks, will hit on March 11. In addition to Kenny on guitar and vocals, the CD is anchored by Keith Arneson on banjo, Pat White on fiddle and mandolin, Mike Auldridge on resonator guitar and Jeremy Middleton on bass. Darren Beachley and Courtney Williams add harmony vocals.

Kenny stepped in last year to fill the shoes of Wayne Taylor when he retired from the US Navy, and tells us that it was a circuitous path from his childhood home in southern Missouri to Washington, DC to take the spot with Country Current.

As a boy, he was raised on bluegrass and country music, and spent many hours with one of his dad’s best friends, Bob Brumley, son of Albert E. Brumley. The elder Brumley is among the most prolific writers of country Gospel songs, including the classic I’ll Fly Away.

Horton knew from an early age that music was where he wanted to earn his living, and eventually made the trek to Music City where he found some success.

“I made my way to Nashville where I was a staff writer for publishing houses, one of which was Oh Boy Records, John Prine’s label. They picked me up as a full-time staff writer and I ended up co-writing the song A Soldier’s King with John Barlow Jarvis for Kenny Rogers’ Christmas album entitled The Gift.”

After some time singing demos and background vocals in Nashville, he made the decision to look for more secure income, and joined the Navy as an electronics tech.

“Then when I found out that they had bands that did something other than march as a parade band, I switched over and started fronting Navy Band Horizon in Chicago, IL. I spent 5 years there, then moved to Pearl Harbor, HI for two years and finally to Memphis, TN.

All this while I had my eye on this position and kept an ear to the ground on what Wayne Taylor was doing. The group had such a name, not only in the Navy, but in the bluegrass world that it was hard not to pay attention to them.”

When word went out that Taylor planned to retire, Kenny quickly called for an audition.

“I was nervous because I knew that the spot was and is the brass ring of what I do for the Navy. The guys brought me in with the audition material and tried to make me as comfortable as possible. I realized one thing about nerves during that audition. A person’s nervousness in an audition situation is directly attributed to how badly they want the gig. I was pretty much able to control the nerves, except for my left leg – I couldn’t get it to quit shaking during the whole audition. I looked like a bad Elvis impersonator.

Thankfully I got the call and one month to the day after receiving the phone call telling me I got the spot, I was in rehearsals for three days and then off to the Withlacoochie Bluegrass Festival for my official breaking in. I immediately stepped into the job of fronting the band and I have to say, I was more nervous about pleasing that audience than I was in my audition. Folks had come to expect Wayne to be there, and to fill those shoes took a lot of stuffing and duct tape, but they seemed to enjoy the show. I was very relieved about that one!”

Once he had settled in with his new navy gig, Kenny started looking towards producing a solo bluegrass project – a break from his previous releases, which had more of a country rock feel.

He wanted to include fellow members of Country Current, and enlisted banjoist Arneson, fiddler/mandolinist White, and bass player Middleton as his primary rhythm section. Before the tracking began, Horton made a point of telling everyone that he wasn’t looking for a stressful, perfection-oriented studio experience, and was determined to make the recording sessions fun for all involved.

“I wanted that part to come though on the album. I’m not one that is so concerned about everything being perfectly lined up, spit and polished. I didn’t want that mechanical type of sound. We all wanted the project to be great musically, but not by relying on what the computer could make us sound like. One thing I am most proud of about this album is the fact that when you see us play these songs live, you will understand that what we did in the studio is what we are doing on the stage. It’s real.

One statement that I have made about recording is that it is my belief that it isn’t about perfection. It is about finding or writing the best songs you can that YOU truly believe in, working with the best players you can find that you have FUN with, play those songs and have the most fun you can with it!”

Audio samples from A Canary’s Song, and Kenny’s two previous albums, can be heard on his web site.

Kenny also shared a word about the newest member of Country Current. Joe Friedman will soon join the band, taking the mandolin/vocal spot held until recently by Frank Solivan II.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.