DNA Experiments: The Kinsey Report: Thursday, 9 p.m., Main Stage Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 02 July 2008 03:16

The Kinsey Report The blues musicians of the Kinsey Report - composed of Kinsey brothers Donald on guitar, Kenneth on bass, and Ralph on percussion - haven't released a new CD since 1998's Smoke & Steel, and during a recent phone interview, Ralph states that "we don't tour as much as we want. One reason is because the venues aren't there anymore, and another reason is because we've been working on a new record for some time now, and we want to come out with something fresh."

But at age 56, the Hobart, Indiana-based Ralph Kinsey is both confident and upbeat about the band's future. "I'm very elated," he says. "We've got some nice things in the works."

And besides, he adds, "We've done all that. Over the years, we've played every state, including Alaska and Hawaii, and probably every little joint in between. We've done Europe. We've done Asia. We've done South America. We've done Australia. I mean, we've been very fortunate.

"I think the story is still to be told," he says of the Kinsey Report's 24-year history, and the many years of professional performance that preceded its 1984 debut. "My whole thing - and I think I can speak for my brothers, as well, on this - is evolving, man. Music is learning, and we're always learning ... . A lot of people call it intuition, but I call it spirit, you know?"

The Kinsey brothers' blues spirit stems from the influence of their father, the famed singer/guitarist Lester "Big Daddy" Kinsey. "Music is in our DNA," says Ralph, "and it all comes from him. And he got started in the church - his father was a Pentecostal minister - so it all evolved out of gospel."

Growing up in Gary, Indiana, Ralph and his family lived five blocks from the church where his grandfather spent nearly 50 years; consequently, recalls Kinsey, church attendance "was a required thing. But even though it was required, it was always ... I don't want to say ‘fun' in that it was like going to an amusement park, but it was good feelings, man. Because it was spirit, it was music, and you got a foundation. They instilled in you the lessons of, ‘You've got free will, and you can make choices.'"

And music, says Ralph, always played an essential role in the close-knit Kinseys' home life. "My dad grew up with guys like Muddy Waters - we were raised on Muddy Waters - and Sonny Boy [Williamson], and Jimmy Reed ... . He came through that era of the blues, and he just passed it on to us. But rock 'n' roll was in us, too. Fats Domino. Chuck Berry. And one of the first movies we went to see as children was Jailhouse Rock.

"You know the old cliché, ‘Blues had a baby and they named it rock 'n' roll'? We're the embodiment of that."

Ralph received his first drum set at age five, the same age at which Donald - 13 months Ralph's junior - received his first guitar. (Kenneth was born in 1963.) "My mother and my dad took pictures, documenting everything we'd done as youths," says Kinsey, "and in some of the earliest pictures that I've seen of myself and my brothers, we've got microphones in our hands, or we've got drums and guitars, or we're dancing. I wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember."

He found his chance earlier than most; before they were teenagers, Ralph and Donald were already performing professionally alongside their father. "We started doing club dates at 11, 12 years old, man," says Kinsey. "If you were coming to Chicago, basically you gotta come through Gary; [interstates] 80, 90 run right through Gary. And we were opening shows for bands. Gary had a few jazz clubs where the jazz greats would play - Sonny Stitt, organ great Jack McDuff. And on the blues side we had Albert King, Bobby Womack ... all the R&B bands played a big club that maybe held 1,500 to 2,000 people. It was originally a bowling alley, and they converted it into a club."

In 1969, the trio began touring outside Indiana as "Big Daddy" Kinsey & His Fabulous Sons, but disbanded in 1972 when Donald was asked to join Albert King on his tour - Ralph says, "My dad and everyone concerned thought that was a great opportunity" - and Ralph enlisted in the Air Force.

Upon his release from service in 1975, Ralph returned to Gary, where Donald and bass player Busta "Cherry" Jones - having finished their tenure with Albert King - approached him with the idea of forming their own three-piece rock band. "We started working on songs," recalls Ralph, "and they had made friends with a heavy-duty manager and promoter in New York at the time, and he said, ‘If you guys can get to New York, I think I can get you a record deal.'

"So we got on a train," he continues, "went to New York City from Gary, Indiana, got off at Grand Central Station, moved down into the village down on Chelsea, and started rehearsing."

Four months later, their band - White Lightning - released a self-titled debut and began touring nationally with the likes of Aerosmith, Jethro Tull, and Edgar Winter, even though the album itself was, as Kinsey remembers, "very controversial. They didn't even put our pictures on the album, because three black guys playing rock 'n' roll was just not ... it was kind of unheard of at that time."

White Lightning dissolved not long after its first national tour, and after Donald spent most of the late 1970s performing with Peter Tosh and Bob Marley & the Wailers, another attempt at a Kinsey-brother band collaboration - the San Francisco-based The Chosen Ones - fell apart after the release of a single album.

"There were some business disagreements. Not on our end, but with the people that were representing us. We got in the middle of a squabble, and so we decided to come back home. And that," says Kinsey of their 1984 return to Gary, "is when we began ‘Big Daddy' & the Kinsey Report."

This musical reunion with their father came with an added perk for Ralph and Donald - the participation of brother Kenneth. "Music was in his DNA, too," says Ralph. "My father was grooming my brother all the time, and he wanted to do it, and it came easy to him ... .

"It was just something that was meant to be," says Kinsey of the band's formation. "It was the time."

With their father headlining, the Kinseys toured as "Big Daddy" & the Kinsey Report, which, Ralph says, "more or less introduced us to the blues world, internationally. As a family, we decided, ‘Look, we're in this thing, so let's try to get all we can out of it.' So we were gonna play, play, play, play, play, because we knew we had something."

Yet in addition to touring with their dad, the brothers also formed a group independent of their father - sans "Big Daddy," the Kinsey Report released the first of its five CDs thus far with 1987's Edge of the City, and their more rock-influenced blues sound earned the group, upon its debut, three W.C. Handy (now Blues Music) Award nominations.

"Our whole musical plan was that we wanted to maintain a balance of playing with our father and doing our own thing," says Kinsey. "Dad was a traditionalist, but he understood that we were young and we were going to experiment more."

Since their father's passing in 2001, the Kinsey Report continues to perform and amass critical praise - the All Music Guide's Jim O'Neal writes that "the band expertly covers all the bases from Chicago blues through reggae, rock, funk, and soul" - and Ralph states that the band's forthcoming CD, set for release in 2009, "will be well worth it after this long wait. I know we think so."

Regardless of what the future holds, though, Ralph says he can't stress enough "what a precious thing it is to play with your brothers. I mean, you ask the Neville brothers. You ask anybody like that. They'll tell you.

"It ain't easy all the time," he concedes, "but it's a very special combination when you can get brothers and family doin' something on a level like that together. It's very special."

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