My performances started as a kid at home in front of the TV. I think that’s why I still love the old TV theme songs today. I was always singing around the house, in school, and at church. My parents gave me a guitar for Christmas when I was 10-years old, and I soon learned how to accompany myself with an instrument I could play. I was constantly listening to records (remember vinyl?) and the radio trying to imitate what I heard in the music. When other kids were into sports, I was up in my bedroom with my John Denver and Beatles music books. I performed regularly at school talent shows, church services, community events, and eventually wedding ceremonies. For me, singing and playing the guitar is how I learned to communicate and share the gift of message and music with others.
Where was your first paid performance?
My first milestone performance came when I was working at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour as a singing waiter. The owner, Mr. K, had put a lot of time and effort into developing a regular audience for the live music on Friday nights. Suddenly, faced with a last-minute cancellation and no chance to book another musician, Mr. K asked me if I would fill in. He had faith in me from my nightly rousing renditions of “Happy Birthday,” and the encouragement from the other employees to “have Ken do it!” I quickly put together a sound system, grabbed my guitar, and performed the first of many Friday evening performances at Farrell’s. The second milestone performance came while I was teaching guitar lessons at Evan’s Music in White Bear Lake. Several of the other teachers enjoyed success as regular performers around town. When a fellow teacher was struck with the flu, I had the opportunity to perform on his behalf at the Freighthouse in Stillwater, MN That single performance led to many year’s worth of performances in Stillwater, LaCrosse, Winona, Duluth, North St. Paul, West St. Paul, Golden Valley, Maplewood, and other local music venues.
How did you develop your love for music and musical performance?
Music played a big role in my experiences growing up. My mother and father both sang in the church choir, and I was a very active participant in church and grade school musical programs. I listened religiously to the radio and started my collection of LP’s and 45’s in the 2nd grade. My brother and I built a performing stage in our basement with cardboard boxes, Tinker Toys, and electrical cords, and regularly performed Karaoke concerts for the neighborhood kids before Karaoke was even in style. I started playing the violin in 3rd and 4th grade, and by the time I started 5th grade, music was in my soul. It was a huge part of how I defined myself. In the years that followed I performed in high school and college singing groups, “Back to the 50’s” and “Top 40” show bands. As a solo performer, I entertained thousands of people in a variety of performing situations. Playing the guitar, singing, and entertaining people is one of the things I do best. A woman once told me that my face lights up and my eyes sparkle when I’m playing the guitar and singing. She allowed me to realize that I have a God-given gift and encouraged me to share that gift with others. With that kind of encouragement, what could I do?… but keep playing, singing, entertaining… and, of course, make her my beautiful wife!
Who were your favorite musical heroes and influencers growing up?
My high school favorites growing up were John Denver, Cat Stevens, Gordon Lightfoot, and James Taylor. The sounds they got out of their guitars were mesmerizing and their vocals were intoxicating. I spent many hours in my bedroom at night listening intently to their music, their message, trying to imitate what I heard them communicating through music. In 1980, I began eleven years of teaching private guitar lessons at Evans Music store in White Bear Lake and my heroes became the local musicians that I admired: John Evans, Dan Perry, Billy McLaughlin, Tim Moeller, and Michael Monroe. They were great role models as musical performers, but also great role models with family, faith, friendship, and using music to communicate from the heart.
What kind of guitar do you play?
In 1976 I took all the money I had saved and bought a brand new Martin D-28. I love that guitar! It’s gone through many different road trips, travel cases, string changes, amplification systems, structural embellishments, and cosmetic fixes, but it’s still the guitar I play at every event and it sounds better than ever!
What are your musical qualifications?
I became a serious student of music in high school. In the fall of my junior year, I enrolled in a pilot class taught by Choir Director David Briggs and English Teacher Penny Carlson entitled, “Poetry and the Pop Song.” We studied popular song formats, lyrical content, and developed our own songwriting styles based on constructive criticism from our teachers and peers. After performing many original compositions for class assignments, both teachers encouraged me to continue with classes in music theory and vocal performance. I supplemented my college education with music courses and private guitar lessons at the West Bank School of Music near the University of Minnesota campus. Although I graduated with a BA in Speech/Communications, three years of my college experience were spent pursuing a formal degree in Music Education and a personal achievement of excellence in guitar and vocal performance.
You had to quit performing in the mid 1980’s… so what happened?
Success is a beautiful thing, but too much success can lead to trouble. Soon after college I launched out on a full-time performing career playing every night of the week at different venues around the state of Minnesota. Lack of respect for this amazing human body I’ve been given soon led to lack of sleep and a lack of focus on proper vocal technique. One spring Saturday morning after a late night Friday performance I found myself with an extremely hoarse voice and little to no control over my singing voice. It was a very scary experience. Diagnosed with a vocal chord nodule, I was encouraged by an “expert” to have surgery to repair this vocal abnormality. Thankfully, after a long conversation with Dave Briggs and encouragement from my fellow music colleagues, I chose the natural route of therapy and healing over time. I immediately cancelled all my upcoming performances and began a strict regimen of vocal rest and weekly sessions with a vocal therapist. Six months later, the hard work and focus paid off. I experienced a complete recovery. I came out of that journey with a very strong commitment and focus on proper vocal technique in my performances. Since that time, my voice has gotten stronger, healthier, and I have had the opportunity to teach hundreds of high school students and adults the value of proper vocal health and vocal technique.