Kevin Roth's reputation as a Renaissance Man is not undeserved. At the age of three he was playing the piano by ear. By thirteen he found he picked up his first mountain dulcimer and quickly developed his own playing style. His career as a recording and performance artist goes back to 1974 when Folkways/Smithsonian Records signed him to major recording contract. And while he has toured internationally for many years, Roth may be most familiar as the voice of PBS's "Shining Time Station" theme song. Covering adult and children's folk, classical and world music, Kevin Roth is a quintessential American artist. Enjoy our interview and his book recommendations.
Please introduce yourself. What does a typical day look like for you?
I'm an innovative dulcimer player, singer songwriter who has many recordings and has been doing this music thing since 1976. I am in the middle of a new album produced by one of my mentors, Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary which I'm quite excited about. My history and everything else is on my website.
Morning coffee then hour walk with my dog in the park. I also try to meditate. Then I look at emails, and work on career either through bookings or songwriting. Evenings I either cook, or go out and watch Youtube or Netflix in the eve. I no longer own a TV. Every Thursday when I'm in town I teach private dulcimer lessons.
Your performing and recording career is quite extensive. How have you grown as an artist since you first started making music and performing?
I'm faster and better at it. My voice and playing as well as songwriting has improved a lot. I'm much more a songwriter now. Back then I was a folk singer only and dulcimer player. I was also only 16. I'm now 59 (grin) The early recordings are all on Folkways Smithsonian Records. The music business is very, very hard now. People are downloading and that kills merchandise sales at shows. People don’t understand downloading and streaming pay very little to the artist. It’s a terrible situation. Artists did it to themselves by going along with the hype of the internet promotion, but it will all work its way out one way or the other. So, I've learned the business and how to survive I suppose.
How long have you been a songwriter? Who initially influenced you? Who do you look to for inspiration these days?
I've been writing songs since 1982. Biggest influence is Joni Mitchell. She continues to inspire. I also love poetry from Rumi and spiritual thoughts and quotations from many others. I’m pretty spiritual .
What may surprise your listeners about how your music is created?
There are no frills. It's honest and all me, with exception of other players of course. My music comes through me, almost like channeling. Words and music together usually. Often words come to me I don’t even know their meaning -- I have to look them up in context. Its fascinating the way the Muse works. I wrote a song about that on my CD Awakenings called Svengalis Muse.
Your music has a multigenerational appeal. How do you adapt your musical approach for different audiences?
For family audiences with kids, they respond to rhythm and repetition, and songs they know. For adults, its mostly original with a few known pieces of mine and others.Lots of unusual dulcimer especially on my new cosmic dulcimer which has sound holes of planets, moons, stars and actually lights up!
What do you appreciate most about the Kansas City music scene?
There’s a lot of jazz. I like jazz. Kansas City is a very artsy town, but just like a lot of towns, the money is tight and its very hard to break in for decent pay. Lots of free gigs out there, but it is what it is. Folk Alliance is also here and they serve a really great purpose.
Kevin's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Hank: The Life of Charles Bukowski by Neeli Cherkovsky. One of the most fascinating writers of our time. Influenced my writing style by being so brutal and honest
Run With The Hunted by Charles Bukowski. Bukowski is open, honest and hits the gut. Loved him as a poet and writer who knows how to find out where truth lives and crawls into it. Great book
I Can See Clearly Now by Wayne Dyer. One of the great spiritual leaders of our time. He has gotten me through many a rough time in a beautiful and accurate way
A New Earth By Eckhart Tolle. A great follow up book to “Now”. It goes deeper and makes you examine your truth and direction
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. There is nothing but the moment. Loved this book as it explains to me how crazy the mind is and how to dodge it and know the truth