Q&A: Kenny Withrow

 

Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Fame came to Kenny Withrow in 1988, when the song he wrote with Edie Brickell, “What I Am,” became a major hit. A ubiquitous pop song is not exactly what they were going for, but that’s what they got. Almost overnight, the New Bohemians went from playing shows for a few hundred people at Club Dada to launching their nationwide tour with a performance on “Saturday Night Live.” “We were like a Deep Ellum weirdo band, and all of a sudden we were on top-40 radio,” Withrow says. He was born and raised in Lakewood, and now plays with Cricket Taylor in the Electro-Magnetics. Their new album, “Dirty,” was released a few months ago.
You grew up on Bob-O-Link. Where were you living after high school?
There were six of us living in a three-bedroom house on Bryan Parkway. Six dudes and six cats. Some people called it the litter box. There was also a documentary that someone filmed on New Year’s Eve. It’s floating around out there somewhere. We were moving out on Jan. 1, and it was called “The Slime Palace.”
Do you remember the address?
No. The house is not there any more. There’s an apartment building there now. But that’s where we wrote a lot of the New Bohemians’ first record. Edie [Brickell] would tolerate the environment and come in and jam for a period of time.
What are you working on right now?
I play with Cricket Taylor (also a neighborhood resident) and The Electro-Magnetics. It’s two guitars and drums. Gerard Bendiks is the drummer. I love that band. It’s been since New Bohemians that I’ve felt so good about a band. I also play in Forgotten Space, just for the love of it. We play Grateful Dead music. Oh, and I also play with Edie sometimes in a band called Heavy Makeup.
And you teach guitar?
I teach guitar at the Kessler Theater, mostly to kids, but I have some adult students as well. And I teach a class at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center.
What do you like about teaching?
I like to teach kids the way I wish I had been taught. It’s a way that makes guitar more fun and easier to learn. I didn’t have a good time learning the theory of guitar. It’s important to learn the notes of the guitar, but [most guitar teachers] want you to learn a lot of songs that are very boring and concentrate on the notes instead of just playing the guitar immediately. I get them playing songs right away. And then the questions about theory naturally come as they get curious.
I know you graduated from an arts magnet high school. Did you go to college after?
I went to Richland College for a while. There was a brief time when a lot of arts magnet students were going to Richland and not going to UNT because a lot of people would go to UNT for a year and then drop out. Paul Guerrero was the lab band teacher, and he was amazing. I was there for almost two years, and that’s where New Bohemians actually started.

Didn’t you already know Edie Brickell from arts magnet?
I met her in high school, but we became friends after I joined the band. She was in the band about two months before I was. She got her start at an open mic after Calm Eddie’s comedy show. She had never sung before, and she got up and improvised with them. She’s a great improviser. That’s the great thing about Heavy Makeup. You can just play, and she is like another instrument with lyrics and singing. She’s another member of the band, just jamming, basically.

Are there any other Dallas musicians you are excited about right now?
Club Wood. It’s this guy Johnny Tone. He’s a nut. He’s awesome. And there’s Hunter Hendrickson. I started working with him when he was 16, and he’s kind of gotten to the point that our lessons are like, “Take your time. Slow down.” And that’s about it.
It seems like there were so many bands that came out of Dallas in the ’90s, and now there aren’t as many making it big. Do you think the music scene here is as vibrant as it was back then?
Well, it was new at the time. There wasn’t very much original music in Dallas at all. Feet First was one of the first bands playing original music. A very popular band playing original music was a very new thing. It was the first time there was a big scene for music in Dallas. It was very close knit. All the musicians knew each other. Now I think it’s diffused. There are things going on in different places. It’s not concentrated on the three streets of Deep Ellum. I do think there’s a younger generation of musicians who all know each other, and there is a community.


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