Music: Triumph of the Will

Will Kimbrough stays crazy busy as an artist, producer and in-demand session guy

Dec 8, 2004 at 2:06 pm
Will Kimbrough's windfall from working on Jimmy Buffett's recent No. 1 album will go back into furthering his burgeoning solo career.

Although Will Kimbrough doesn't have a new album to shill on his current tour dates with Todd Snider, it doesn't mean he hasn't been busy. He produced and played on Snider's most recent album, this year's East Nashville Skyline, and has toured with him as opener and band member. Kimbrough also assembled and self-released a collection of his own rarities and B-sides entitled Godsend, which he has toured behind occasionally.

Perhaps most significantly, Kimbrough experienced some much deserved and appreciated back-door success when Jimmy Buffett tapped him to perform on his No. 1 Country duet album, License to Chill, and even covered one of Kimbrough's songs, "Piece of Work," which then led to Buffett hiring Kimbrough for his band to play at the Country Music Association's awards ceremony. For a guy whose résumé includes indie cult entries like Will and the Bushmen and the Bis-Quits (with the incomparable Tommy Womack), as well as a much acclaimed but not exactly lucrative solo career, Kimbrough's work with Buffett was a trip to a part of the charts he has never even dreamed of visiting, with results he never expected.

"I come from this scruffy, Indie Rock background and then I work on the Buffett record and I play (with him at) the CMA Awards," says Kimbrough from his Nashville home. "It's completely bizarre. This will fund my next record, and my oldest daughter can get braces."

Kimbrough and Buffett met years ago when Todd Snider had been signed to Buffett's Margaritaville label for a couple of records (Kimbrough had produced them both). Snider subsequently opened for Buffett on several tours when Kimbrough was playing in Snider's band.

"I'm from Mobile, Alabama, and so is he," says Kimbrough of his Buffett hook-up. "He remembered me as that guy from Mobile, because there's not that many people from there still out here doing music. He was making a new record and he was curious about what I was doing and contacted me through his niece. I sent him a package and a couple of weeks later, he put a couple songs on hold, which is a gentlemen's agreement that you won't pitch them to anyone else. Then I got a call asking if I'd come play on the record, so I went down to Key West, and we did the album in five days."

In addition to his work with Buffett, Kimbrough kept busy with session gigs for Rodney Crowell, Billy Joe Shaver and Amy Rigby and he talked Oh Boy Records into reissuing the much beloved and long out of print Bis-Quits album (available at or at his shows). Earlier this year, he produced four albums in four months; Snider's new one, two for Kate Campbell and one for a new artist named Amy Loftus that has yet to be released. With all that activity, Kimbrough has had precious little time to concentrate on his own music but, like everything else, he manages to set aside a little chunk of time to do his own thing.

"I've got a huge file that I carry around, that's like an inch thick, of songs," says Kimbrough. "In the last two years, I haven't had much chance to write."

Like many artists and songwriters, Kimbrough was both energized and disheartened by the 2004 presidential campaign. As dismayed as he was at the outcome, there is an unexpected upside for Kimbrough.

"I'm still writing songs about that," he says. "From a completely selfish point of view, all the mean songs I wrote about George Bush now have a longer life. I keep playing these songs for my wife, and she goes, 'Is every song going to be political? I agree with you ... again.' "

It's looking like 2005 promises to be an extremely busy year for Kimbrough. In January, he's scheduled to hit the studio with the Willie Clay Band, a Swedish Country/Roots band from north of the Arctic Circle. The band's work with an Internet marketing company in Nashville led them to Kimbrough, who's looking forward to the gig.

"They're a cool little band that's influenced by Steve Earle, but they sing real pretty harmonies, and they do simple, good songs," says Kimbrough. "They're coming here in January for the good weather."

In February, Kimbrough and former Bis-Quits bandmate Tommy Womack will take to the stage with their new band, Daddy, to record a batch of brand new songs in a live setting. Sometime after that, Kimbrough will resume work on his third album of all-new material, and he'll be squeezing as many live dates in between everything else as he can.

For his next album, Kimbrough plans to finish it in one pass to give it some immediacy, a luxury he hasn't had in the past.

"Having a cut on a hit record will allow me, for the first time in 10 years, to sort of make my own schedule," says Kimbrough. "The other two records I made, This and Home Away, took about a year apiece; I didn't sit in the studio for a year, but I worked around my other work. It was fun, and I like those records a lot, but that tends to make you make a real studio-ish studio record. And I wanted to make something a little more live. I want to have everybody there at once and just do the record instead of having to piecemeal it over the course of time until (a) it's done or (b) I run out of money. Doing it over a year, you just get worn out with it."

Next spring will find Kimbrough hitting the road with Kate Campbell for a European tour, and he'll do the same next summer with Rodney Crowell, a stint which will mirror his duties with Snider where he opens the shows as a solo artist and then returns to play in the headliner's band. He rejoices in the fact that he has a lot of work but naturally wonders sometime if he's taking too much.

Such is the desirable dilemma for Will Kimbrough, Nashville's indie go-to guy.

"Yeah, I guess so," says Kimbrough with a wry laugh. "Thirty-five carries a game."

WILL KIMBROUGH performs Saturday at the Southgate House with Todd Snider.