8.6.15 - 7 Minutes With... Les Kerr

I’m so happy to do something a bit different, and welcome my friend Les Kerr to the blog today. Les and I go way, way back, to my pre-writer days, when my husband worked for The Tennessean alongside Les’s most wonderful (and, sadly, late) wife, Gail Kerr. This friendship has stood the test of time through festivals and libations and conferences, with joy and heartache as constant companions. Les is an incredible singer/songwriter/musician, who plays gigs all over the south. If you ever have a chance to see him play, don’t miss it. He’s wonderful, and I’m so happy to introduce you to him today!  

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Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

"Silver Lining" by Kacey Musgraves

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

Preparing for a radio interview this afternoon and a songwriting show tomorrow.

What’s your latest album about?

The title song of the album is called “Contributor.” I was inspired to write it by the men and women who sell Nashville’s street newspaper, The Contributor. The album is a collection of songs about various topics, including the late New Orleans poet Everette Maddox (who was a friend of mine), trains, grief, the importance of a handshake, and other subjects. Of the ten albums I have recorded, only two are about a recurring theme: Christmas on the Coast (2002) and New Orleans Set (2010).

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

I scribble ideas whenever I get them on anything from paper napkins to the pad I keep in my car. Ideas have occurred to me in conversations, restaurants, bars, while driving and even in the shower. After I settle on the idea, I work them out and seriously in my home office. I use a legal pad, a pen and my guitar. My favorite songwriting pen is a wooden fountain pen my wife gave me on our first anniversary, but if I’m travelling or it’s out of ink, any pen or pencil will do as long as I can get my thoughts on paper.

Since I don’t read music, I often record the lyrics and melody on a hand-held Tascam digital recorder as soon as I find what I’m happy with so I won’t forget the melody.

What was the first album that struck a chord with you? (pun completely intended)

Elvis’ Golden Records by Elvis Presley.

What’s your secret talent?

When I was growing up on the Gulf Coast, sailing was my sport. While it’s been a long time since I was an active sailor, I could probably dust off those skills and handle a boat. Many people do not know that about me, so I suppose that would be a “secret.”

Which album or artists have been pumping through your headphones lately?

I wore headphones during my radio news career and use them in recording studios now, so when I listen to music for pleasure, I prefer to listen to speakers. The music in my car, where I listen the most, right now includes Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park (she is a refreshingly moving and entertaining songwriter), B.B. King Live, Elvis Presley (his first RCA album), Jimmy Buffett, Louis Prima, and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?

I can’t remember not wanting to be a musician. As a child, I stood in front of the television set imitating whoever was on (my mother’s bridge club friends loved that!), then singing along with records and eventually learning to play guitar and starting a rock and roll band in high school. After getting a degree in journalism from Ole Miss and working in news for seven years, I made the commitment to move to Nashville and pursue music professionally.

Who is your music idol? Have you met him/her? If so, did you completely nerd out or keep your cool?

There are many musical heroes to me. Elvis Presley was the biggest one and I regret that I never met him. I did see him perform in concert three times, and I am grateful for that.

I've actually met a few of my other heroes: Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and B.B. King. With Acuff and Monroe, I interviewed them during my radio career, so it is my hope that I was cool (on the outside, at least). With B.B. King, I was able to shake his hand and chat with him on two different occasions. Each time, we talked about being from Mississippi and had very pleasant and brief conversations.

What’s your favorite bit of performing advice?

Here are two pieces of advice that I have tried to live by:

1.    When Minnie Pearl was nervous about her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, the “Solemn Old Judge” George D. Hay, the founder of the Opry, told her, “Go out there and love the audience, and they’ll love you back.”

2.    In Will Rogers' autobiography, he writes: "I learned the secret of the show business: I learned when to get off. It’s the fellow that knows when to quit that the audience wants more of.” I put that one in a little frame and I keep it on my desk. It not only applies to performances, but I use the same philosophy when I write my blog.

What do you do if your creative juices aren’t flowing?

As I mentioned, I write ideas on scraps of paper and I keep a stack of them on the coffee table in my office where I write. If none of those ideas move me, I pick up my guitar and just start playing songs I enjoy, whether I wrote them or not. It was the joy of music that got me here and it helps to remember that.

Also, I read a lot. Everything from books about professional and personal development to biographies and books on various topics, like the history of New Orleans’ unusual street names.

Finally, I try not to put myself under any pressure to write. I’m a performer, too, so if I don’t have a song to write, I work on my guitar playing or singing.

Are you creatively satisfied?

I am happy that I can write songs and find outlets for them to be heard, either on my albums or by playing them at shows. That is very satisfying and something for which I am very grateful.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Just being remembered is enough, but specifically, I would hope people remember that I care about my friends, family and loved ones. I do my best to show that now.

Alright, now for the really important questions:

  • Beach or mountains? Beach
  • Coffee or tea? Coffee
  • Skydive or bungee jump? Neither. I’ll stay in the plane or on the ground.
  • Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
  • Winter or summer? Summer
  • Cake or pie? Pie
  • Cats or dogs? Dogs
  • Pens or pencils? Pens
  • Truth or dare? Truth
  • Mp3’s or vinyl? Vinyl

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Here's a little more about Les' new album!

"Contributor" is the title song of Les Kerr’s new CD, scheduled for release in Summer 2015. In addition to the title song, eleven other songs not related to the newspaper will be included. The subject matter of Kerr’s songs reflects the Mississippi and New Orleans influences identified with his music. A native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and a frequent traveler and performer in New Orleans, he refers to his music as “Hillbilly Blues Caribbean Rock and Roll.”

The blues influence is evident in "The Blue and White," inspired by a diner in the Mississippi Delta. His love of New Orleans music and culture is reflected in "More to Life" and "Inspiration and Bar Scotch," and Coastal culture comes through in "The Gail" and "Seductive Eyes." The album will be available at www.leskerr.com and though Tunes, Amazon, and other internet download sites.

You can watch the music video for "Contributor" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDP3m_-7nko

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JT Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.