Two founding members of the Violent Femmes have each recorded a song – with other Milwaukee musical talent – by Atlanta-based band Drivin N Cryin as tributes to frontman Kevn Kinney, a Milwaukee native.
Femmes frontman Gordon Gano has teamd with veteran Brew City noise merchant Boy Dirt Car (whose Darren Brown has served as tour manager for Gano and Drivin N Cryin) to record “Gotta Move On” and VF bassist Brian Ritchierecorded “Catch the Wind” with contributions from Bodeans’ co-founder Sam Llanas, Femmes drummer John Sparrow, Sean Williamson and Mike Kasprzak.
Both songs are out now on Tasty Goody Records – founded by Kinney’s wife, artist Anna Jensen – as previews of an ambitious four-LP tribute to Kinney, the first installment of which is due out in November.
Kinney, a Milwaukee native and childhood friend and classmate of Ritchie’s, was a member of Milwaukee punk pioneers The Prosecutors before relocating to Georgia.
During a tour for their second album, “Hallowed Ground,” the Violent Femmes tapped Kinney to open for them in Atlanta, kickstarting his national career.
“If you really want to start at ground zero, Violent Femmes was the very first band that I ever opened for and got paid to play,” Kevn recalls. “When I moved to Atlanta, I was doing this singer/songwriter open mic night at Baker St. Initially I had just one song that I was playing, then I had a couple more songs.
“My brother and I had a little duo that we were doing together for fun. I called Brian and said, ‘Hey, can I open for you at 688 when you’re playing down here?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that'd be cool.’ They put me on! It said ‘Kevn Kinney,’ and it was my first gig in Atlanta in a bar where people paid! This was in 1984. Violent Femmes were huge already. They had just put out ‘Hallowed Ground’.”
Soon after, Kinney formed Drivin N Cryin, which went on to release numerous records, before Kinney embarked on a solo career.
The tribute project – called “Let’s Go Dancing: A Celebration of the Oeuvre of Kevn Kinney” – will begin with the Nov. 24 release of “Said the Firefly to the Hurricane,” which will be followed over the course of a year by three more physical albums and concluding with a 100-song digital archive.
The project started two years ago when Jensen wanted to celebrate Kineny’s 60th birthday but was stymied by COVID.
She asked Kinney’s friends to send videos of them performing songs written by Kinney.
“It was three hours of music magic,” Jensen says, “so I decided to move forward with a full-on compilation and thankfully the musicians all agreed to record their tracks in studio, with even more coming on board as the project took shape.
“It is so heartwarming to see the love and respect Kevn has from his community and I’m grateful for the opportunity to show him how much he means to all of us.”
Ritchie’s cover version was recorded at DV’s Perversion Room with engineer David Vartanian, who has recorded in his Milwaukee studio with the Femmes, Jerry Harrison, Elliott Murphy, Crash Test Dummies and others.
“I can hear the Milwaukee in their version,” says Kinney. “Their rendition is contemplative while Drivin' N Cryin’s version is a little more upbeat. Sammy has a unique voice and he loves the song ‘Catch the Wind.’ He’s part of my extended family, we’re kind of kinfolk.”
About the Gano recording, Kinney says, “It is cool they picked this song because that was kind of my Violent Femmes ripoff. ’Gotta Move On’ was kind of a true story. When I first moved down to Atlanta, I lived in my car for about six months. I worked at the sewage plant and slept in my car.
“I had that thing, you know how people look at you like, 'you're homeless?' Like, dude, I work at the sewage plant, I just don't have a house right now. I spent a lot of time just wandering around.”
Jensen says that new singles will be released every two weeks over the next few months. All of the releases – physical and digital – will be accompanied by Jensen’s own artwork.
The art for the first two releases are laden with Milwaukee images, including The Penthouse bar on 5th and Wisconsin, Mitchell Park lagoon, Radio Doctors, The Korn Krib and more.
Proceeds from the physical releases will be donated to charities to be named later.
“Kevn has been described by those in the know as a forebearer of 'Americana' music based on his very early melding of genres rock, country, folk to make genuine American music,” says Jensen. “That was not always seen as a blessing; in fact it was often a curse since the industry didn’t know how to market something so multifaceted at the time.
“I think that as much as Kevn and Drivin’ n Cryin’ are loved and respected in inner circles, they’ve been mislabeled, misunderstood, undervalued and underrepresented, more widely. I am hoping all that changes, in part, thanks to the outpouring of love and the acknowledgement from some of the most lauded musical artists of multiple generations/genres contributing to this tribute, lifting Kevn Kinney up as one of their biggest influences, and most importantly, the greatest of friends!”
For more information and ongoing release updates visit AnnaJensenArt.com.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.