The world is filled with skilled guitar players, but Bill Kirchen is one of those rare virtuosos who not only possesses his own distinctive sound, but is able to faithfully imitate an endless range of six-string legends. For years, a highlight of Kirchen's live shows has been an extended jam where he leaps from Jimi Hendrix to Duane Eddy to Chet Atkins to a host of other greats. On record, such mimicry is fairly impressive, but in a live setting, it's astounding, like being able to observe Mel Blanc do the voice of every Warner Bros. cartoon character, all in one uninterrupted take.
Kirchen's earliest - and biggest - claim to fame came from his years with Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, playing his trusted Telecaster on their left-field, have-twang-will-travel hit, "Hot Rod Lincoln." That sound, which Kirchen dubbed "dieselbilly," remains his musical base, but he's equally adept at jazz, country, blues, and just about anything else he's called on to play. He's done some of his best work as a sideman for Nick Lowe, adding a sonic elegance to two of Lowe's best albums: Party of One and The Impossible Bird.
Kirchen also has a connection to this area's music community. In 1999, he recorded his album Raise a Ruckus at Cherry Ridge Studio in Floresville. Assisting him on the project were Augie Meyers, Flaco Jimenez, and the San Antonio Horns.
He's undeniably nerdy-looking as guitar heroes go, and his solo work has never made much of a dent. As a result, he's often overlooked when talk turns to great players. But anyone who's caught him in the act knows that Kirchen is the consummate guitarist's guitarist. •