Asking Jim Kennedy how he intends to market his new album, “The Mischief of Life,” elicits an unexpected response.
“The point is not to sell the album; the point is to make it,” said Kennedy. “Music can be produced as a consumer product with sales as the goal, or it can be [artistic] expression and craftwork. My ‘marketing strategy’ is to share the CD with people. and hope they like it. I’m not trying to become a rock star or get rich.”
If they do like it, he’ll try to put together a “good group of musicians” and perform it to attentive audiences. If that doesn’t happen, he says he’s “still perfectly satisfied” having made the CD.
Kennedy wrote all 12 songs on “The Mischief of Life.” He plays all the instruments, and did the engineering and producing. He recorded the songs in his “home studio” – a laptop on his kitchen table and a cluttered corner of his band-rehearsal room.
Kennedy’s retirement in November 2017 propelled the album project forward; before that, he could devote only evenings and weekends to it.
With a Ph.D. in social psychology, he worked on swarm intelligence – a form of AI – a topic he still lectures about.
Of the CD’s intriguing title, Kennedy said: “We can think of ‘things we’re supposed to do’ – islands that people cling to; as long as you do what you are expected to, you are safe. But there is a forbidden infinity of possibilities between them; creativity requires exploring for good ideas in-between the islands of convention ... Hopefully these songs evoke a sense of that kind of mischief.”
Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, Kennedy listened to high-powered Mexican station XERB on his transistor radio under the covers at night, during which famed disc jockey Wolfman Jack spun the hits of legendary rockers like Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, among others. Kennedy’s tastes are diverse: rockabilly, blues, R&B, folk, country, bluegrass, jazz, experimental music, and rock ‘n roll.
“There is something great in all of it, and all of it has influenced me,” Kennedy said.
Today he listens to eclectic college and community radio stations – which, thanks to the internet, can be anywhere in the world.
“These stations play the latest, best music, as well as great music from the past, presenting music for its own sake, as opposed to the big-bucks, hit-making machinery of the powerful Top 40 stations,” Kennedy said.
If making a CD on his home laptop “seems amateurish,” Kennedy’s musical chops prove otherwise: he’s been playing music professionally for half a century, at “maybe thousands of bars across the United States and with quite a few hours” in the recording studio.
With his varied tastes, the singer/songwriter defies genres. “A musical genre is one of two things: it is a statement of identity ... and it is a marketing category that simplifies the music business by treating a lot of the music and a lot of consumers the same,” Kennedy said. “No music listener confines their listening to one genre; they may have preferences, but good music is good music.”
His newest CD reflects multiple sources of inspiration: “Bad Night” is blues. “Dark Street” as Memphis soul, with jazz chords on the piano, and “Day Becomes the Night” reflects the bachata style, from the Dominican Republic.
“Stuff on Fire” started out as a bluegrass song, while the Beatles “provided the seed” for “Nowhere to Go,” Kennedy said.
He is awed, the singer/songwriter said, by the “amazing” music people are making these days, some with very little recognition. Hopefully, Kennedy added, his “gets shuffled into the heap somewhere, and some listener hears it and thinks, ‘Wow, that is good.’”
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