Kenny Kozol has been around music his whole life. He grew up in Seattle, first absorbing country music through his father’s career as a musician, then playing in a country band of his own. And while Kenny has played guitar and banjo for most of his life, his love for country, bluegrass, and gospel recently led him to turn a corner and take up the dobro. Now he works from Fort Worth, Texas, and his songwriting has found new inspiration on the instrument.
I had a chance to ask Kenny a few questions about his transition to dobro and his songwriting.
Jesse: What inspired you to take up the dobro?
Kenny: The sound of the slide has always grabbed my attention. The haunting beauty of a resonator guitar can imitate the human voice like no other instrument. I grew up listening to many great players when the popularity of the instrument was somewhat limited. I was intrigued by this mysterious instrument and wanted to learn more about its unique sound. Brother Oswald was the first player I listened to and then came Mike Auldridge. He really explored and opened up the sounds of the instrument and was amazing. So many great players followed, Jerry Douglas, Stacy Phillips and Phil Ledbetter, to name a few. There is a lot of energy and emotion in their playing. The day I heard Rob Ickes play “Old Rugged Cross,” I ran out and bought my first resonator guitar. Rob’s playing, has been my biggest inspiration.
Jesse: What’s been challenging about transitioning to the new instrument?
Kenny: The biggest challenge for me was the mechanics. I started out playing the chords pretty easily. The right hand wasn’t a big transition for me since i had some banjo in my background but the left hand and accuracy with the bar can be quite challenging, especially while playing standing up.
Jesse: Do you have an insights for a guitarist looking to get started on dobro?
Kenny: Like any instrument, don’t get hung up on all the hardware. Picks, slides and even the instruments themselves as it can be an overwhelming process . Have the patience to start slow and nail the right techniques before trying to play fast. Purchasing a resonator can be confusing and expensive with all the different instruments and wood choices available today. I personally believe that the resonator cone and the player creates most of the sound and many lower and medium priced instruments can sound great if set up properly. There are different styles of cones for different sounds so decide what sound you are after before choosing. For me,there has been an equal amount of enjoyment in learning how to set up the instrument as there has in learning to play it. There are many awesome online lessons available and the resonator community is made up of fantastic people who are eager to share. Once you decide you’re committed there are many great builders to choose from.
Jesse: What is your songwriting process like? Has it changed now that you’re writing on dobro vs guitar?
Kenny: A song is something that usually just comes to me. I grab my guitar and write it down. The process has been different with the resonator. I think maybe because I’m in the learning process. When I discover new sounds, I get so inspired by playing that it pulls out emotions that become lyrics. With a guitar, I pick it up to write down the song. With the dobro, I write a song almost every time I pick it up.
Jesse: Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration for writing “A Brother’s Prayer”?
Kenny: This song was written for my Brother Steve who has been struggling the past 14 years in prison fighting to prove his innocence. Based on a promise I made to never give up on him and a prayer i say every night, this song tells of the loss of a brother, a brother’s love and his faith in God to bring his brother home. I’ve always dealt with grief and pain by picking up a guitar (or in this case) the dobro and seeing what comes out in words.