Just for a minute or two, imagine a jukebox shooting out songs as 20
poodle skirts sway to the music. Do you remember the days of leather jackets
& rebels, hula hoops & sock hops, I Love Lucy
& a young, hip-swiveling rock
& roller, known simply as Elvis? If you do remember those times, or even if
your knowledge of the 50's begins and ends with Grease
, Kenny James will
take you back to that era in about two seconds as he performs his unbeatable
tribute to Buddy Holly.
From the moment Kenny runs through the aisle, making his first appearance
of the night, he immediately holds the crowd in the palm of his hand, or
rather in the pocket of his crisp, 50's style jacket. At once, Kenny shows a
lively personality as he skillfully picks his electric guitar. While giving
his highly feel-good performance, his upbeat attitude seems to rub off on
almost everyone in the audience, as everyone claps and hums along with him.
As the segment continues, you might even catch yourself quietly singing along
to "That'll Be the Day."
Soon after walking onstage, he begins singing one of the many beloved
tunes from the "Father of Rock & Roll," and Kenny truly sounds identical to
the original recordings. It's amazing! Kenny hits each note and phrases
each lyric just like Buddy Holly. Regarding this, Kenny says, "I did have to
work on the Buddy voice to get the right dialect. His phrasing was the most
important. Our range is similar but I had to work on his accent. It's funny
because I had a little bit of that coming from Indiana. Some of us up there
do have a little slang to our talk. When I moved to Las Vegas I worked in an
acting class and was taught proper diction. Buddy being my career I just lost
it and went back to the accent. Weird how things work out."
Also, when Kenny is singing, the audience can soon imagine what it felt
like to see Buddy Holly live on American Bandstand
or The Ed Sullivan
. Still, Kenny doens't just replay the old times. Instead, he makes
every song fresh and new with his lively renditions. For example, "Peggy
Sue" is the same catchy rock & roll hit that it's always been known for, but
Kenny-- with his brilliant guitar playing and "Holly" voice-- gives his own
special kick to the song.
Kenny also has a knack for capturing the Ritchie Cunningham innocence of
the 50's with his whole attitude and the way he sings each song. The best
example might be "Everyday," one of the crowd favorites. With sincerity,
Kenny displays a sweetness and simplicty through his great voice. Brian
Bliss adds a touch of innocence with his beautiful piano solo. And the Three
Inspirations softly back-up the song with almost angelic voices, so that the
final effect is nothing short of beautiful.
And it's a fact: you have to like this guy. He is genuinely nice, and
it's obvious that he cares about the crowds as well. By making eye contact
with the audience, as the the other performers at Memories do, he shows the
crowds that they are important to him. Also, the people who work at Memories obviously love him too. In the case of Josh Livingston, aka Jake Blues, he appreciates him because "(Kenny) has helped me out a lot."
And no doubt about it. Kenny is extremely talented, and because of this, he has had the opportunity to work with many classic music acts. "I have had the luck and honor of working with, and meeting
with, some of the greats. The Drifters, The Coasters, Chubby Checker, Tommy
James and the Shondells and in the country field Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson.
They all have had an effect on me. I've learned from each person on how to
conduct yourself on and off stage. The most pleasant surprise was learning
that most of them are Christian also. It made me realize that you can be a
Christian and still perform rock and roll and not worry about people thinking
your the old cliche of what is portrayed by so many. Marty Stuart was the
best. We talked and I jokingly told him that when we meet again that its
going to be when I am walking off stage and he is walking on. Meaning I was
going to be his opening act. Then I said no he is going to open for me. He
stopped and told me that I have a good attitude and the right heart. He said
at that point 'If you know it's out on you to do and it's in your heart, the
Lord put it there and if you work with Him then you will make it.' I felt
that to be a huge statement and always refer to that when I feel I need a
kick in the pants."
Another terrific aspect to Kenny's act is that he is so active! He goes
all over the stage, like Lou Vuto, on almost every song. Josh Livingston says that Kenny "can't stand still," which shows that Kenny is almost constantly active when he performs his highly energy-packed segment.
One more highlight in Kenny's act is when he
includes jokes and other dialogue in-between songs to smoothly bridge the
parts of his segment. Jarrod Millsaps, Memories resident Elwood Blues, decribes Kenny as a "comical person," while Josh Livingston further describes Kenny as "funny (and a) great entertainer."
So it's safe to say that Kenny James is a class act. He is definitely
blessed with many talents: a wonderful voice, excellent guitar skills, a
great wit, and an overall nice nature. The audiences at Memories Theatre
should thank Kenny James for using his wingtip shows to step back to the 50's
for a few minutes every night.