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Local poet, musician returns

BY ERIC HAWKINSON | APRIL 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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Much has changed for Kevin Gordon since his five-year stay in Iowa City during the ’80s.

He was studying poetry at Iowa Writers’ Workshop, splitting a $300 rent check with his girlfriend, and playing numerous eastern Iowa clubs every week with Iowa music legend Bo Ramsey.

“I needed sort of that mentor figure, and I learned a lot from him,” Gordon said. “But there came a point where he needed to take a break.”

There was also a point in Gordon’s Iowa City stint where he felt he needed a change of scenery. Nashville seemed like the most comfortable fit, and he’s been there ever since, honing his talent.

The singer/songwriter will return to his old home at 9 p.m. Friday for a show at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., with Andrew Combs opening the show. Admission is $8.

Gordon grew up in the small city of Monroe, La. He lived there until he graduated from college, all the while believing he was meant to be a poet. Then he moved to Iowa City. He graduated from the Writers’ Workshop with an M.F.A. in poetry but soon realized his heart was really in music.

“I’ve really loved music since I was a little kid. It feels like a very strong base impulse, just to be close to music. Even when I was 4 and 5 years old I felt that,” Gordon said. “I guess it’s not so much that I turned away from poetry as much as I turned back to music.”

As an artist in both media, he recognizes connections between poetry and songwriting, such as the figurative language. One element that music contains that poetry does not, he said, is melody. It can build up what looks like the worst line of poetry into something beautiful.

“And of course, I think musicians have more fun than poets do,” the middle-age musician said and laughed.

It has been a challenge, though, for the Americana blues guitarist to hold his own style in the country-music scene of Nashville. He has had success writing songs, but primarily when he’s writing for himself — any of the songs that have been used commercially weren’t written to please anyone, he said. Surprised about their success, he considers the tracks the “odd balls” of his songs.

“I’m not a songwriter for hire or anything,” he said.

In his live shows, Gordon said he tries to be as unpretentious and energetic as he can. Longtime friend Sandy Dyas still remembers one of Gordon’s performances with Bo Ramsey and the Sliders at Gabe’s in 1988.

“You can get a taste of just how electrifying [Gordon] is live on stage,” she said. “The music is alive. His soul is right there — burning. And he makes you burn, too, and dance.”

Gordon said he wants to be straight with the crowd, using the music as a connective force. It’s an attempt to reach people through energy and honesty.

“A lot of what I do is for the lack of a better word, danceable. I hate that word,” he said with a chuckle. “People tend to dance to some of the stuff I do in the live show. It can be dance music, but it can be a good song with good lyrics and mean something.”


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