While speaking with Noah Claunch about fellow musician Terry Keplinger, I was reminded of the phrase "the tide that raises all boats."
We were talking about the Bakersfield Country Music Awards, the annual labor of love that Keplinger founded and kept adrift for almost two decades. The recipients received framed certificates for their accomplishments in country music. I performed at one a few years ago with The Iron Outlaws — 2014, I think — when the awards ceremony was held at the Nile Theater.
It was a really fun, reverent and joyful event and while reminiscing on it, I wondered aloud what Keplinger's impetus was to keep it going.
"We tend to focus on Merle (Haggard) and Buck (Owens) but what we forget is the people that made it possible for Merle and Buck," Claunch said via phone from his home in Glennville. "Merle and Buck were the superstars, but there were huge influences — (fiddle player) Oscar Whittington, (drummer) Sonny O'Brien, all of these different people from that time period — and I think we kind of forget about them, and I think that's why he started that thing (the BCMAs) to remember the little guy."
"They were titans in their own way, because they were so influential on different people, I know me being one of them."
News of Keplinger's death was shared by his wife, Alice, over social media on Sunday.
I believe the very same sentiment about our overshadowed and unsung local music heroes could be used to describe the humble and considerate Keplinger. He was one of those players of remarkable goodwill who kept playing music until his body wouldn't let him anymore. He did so, just as he did with his BCMA ceremonies, with quiet commitment and a working man's grace. His music is available online for streaming and I recommend his 2009 album "Good Woman — Good Whiskey."
Keplinger and Claunch occasionally performed together in the Fifty Buck Band, a country/rock-and-more cover group whose name is a running joke at how much the musicians would usually get paid for gigs.
Keplinger's father, Joe Keplinger, was an architect of the Bakersfield Sound with his 1950s proto-rockabilly group Jolly Jody and His Go Daddies with singer Al Hendrix. Terry wanted to make sure that the relatives of local musicians who made a difference were aware of what their family accomplished.
As Keplinger posted on social media in 2016, "My wife (Alice) told me 'Terry you have to pay it back, somehow, in some way, for your Dad, for you being born into the middle (1952) of the Bakersfield Sound and everyone who had a hand in making you the working musician you have become.'"
The BCMA even has a thoughtful policy that "past honorees have a standing invite and never have to pay" to attend the award ceremony.
I played a show with the Fifty Buck Band back in 2018 at The Hideaway in Kernville. As a bandleader, Terry was funny, relaxed, unassuming and a big fan of musical surprises. He reveled in the twists and turns a song might organically go to unexpectedly.
"A little history on Terry: I was 21 and he gave me my first job," Claunch, now 37, said. "I was scared, and literally came from a church service to Trout's of all places where he was having the (Bakersfield Country Music) Awards ceremony and he was giving my grandfather (bandleader Gerald Claunch), who had passed on, an award so me and my dad went to accept the award for my grandfather."
"I got up to play a jam session with him (Keplinger) and then he ended up hiring me right there on the spot. ... I never had a gig outside of church before that. Never even been in a bar." Claunch joked, "He kinda corrupted me."
Claunch was the emcee at last November's Bakersfield Country Music Awards and plans were underway for Keplinger to be the special guest for this year's ceremony. Keplinger passed before he saw himself finally getting his due and the same recognition he so generously awarded to others. Literally.
There aren't a lot of details available on how Terry passed nor for any planned memorials and tributes at the time of this writing or even if the Bakersfield Country Music Awards will continue.
The outpouring of condolences and grief at news of Keplinger's passing on social media was abundant. I imagine the humble Keplinger would appreciate the heartfelt, respectful sincerity of so many paying their respects. That through it all, he managed to leave behind a considerable shadow of his own.
"I learned a lot from Terry," Claunch said. "I learned a lot about music and rhythms and listening to the band. He gave me a place to hone my skills and to basically mess up, because that's what we do in the beginning: We mess up and we learn. He gave me the opportunity to learn and a platform to do it. He was good about bringing people up, not just onstage, but giving them a chance to learn and craft a skill."
"That's just the type of guy he was and I'm thankful for him because he gave me my start and it's gotten to take me to some really cool places."
Jane's Addiction still magnetic
Two days after attending the Jane's Addiction concert at Mechanics Bank Theater, I was having a hard time identifying what it was about that show that left me so enthralled and unsettled. This wasn't a nostalgia-fest, it was a reminder of not just the band's potency but of the enduring alternative music and artists of that era.
I fully credit that to the return of prodigal bassist Eric Avery, arguably the biggest architect of Jane's Addiction's strongest albums, "Nothing's Shocking" and "Ritual de lo Habitual."
The band played some material from its first self-titled debut, but the abundance of the show's set list came from the one-two existential gut punch of those aforementioned albums. Except for the title track of 1997's "Kettle Whistle" and the pensive new song debuted on Sunday "True Love," no songs past those on "Ritual ...” were performed.
That was a good call because none of the newer material (which Avery didn't play on) could hold a candle to the visceral, intense and transcendent power of songs like "Ted, Just Admit It," "Three Days" and the peak emotional moment of the evening "Then She Did." That final one being one of the strongest performances I've seen of any song performed live. Ever.
Perry Farrell, at 63, still has this squirrelly, elfin combination of Marlon Brando Aries vitality, Pablo Picasso's ruthless, uncompromising artistic conviction and Jim Morrison dark, shaman-poet mysticism. He performed in a sort of toreador outfit, itself a statement, and manipulated his vocals with an effects box mounted to a stand with a camera atop that would project distorted images of him every once in a while to the giant LED screen behind the band.
Three female dancers — a blonde, a redhead and a brunette (Farrell's wife, Etty Lau Farrell) — would occasionally come out and dance on platforms and racks that surrounded the band. It's a testament to the band's magnetism, and Stephen Perkins' exuberant drumming, that even with three stunningly beautiful women dancing so dynamically and erotically it took work at times to take my eyes off what the musicians were doing.
Guitarist Dave Navarro, waylaid by illness, did not perform and is probably one of the factors that resulted in decreased attendance. Tickets were sold as low as $5 on the day of the show to get more people in the upper seats, but I don't think the word got out in time.
Guitarist Josh Klinghoffer filled Navarro's parts admirably, making this Jane's gig — along with his time as guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers — the second time Klinghoffer has filled a position once held by Navarro. It's also the third peak-’90s band he's been hired as a ringer for; he filled in on drums on the last Pearl Jam tour. The opening act L.A. Witch was fantastic and a perfect fit for the bill.
Jane's Addiction boldly exploded into existence in the 1980s with violent, edgy, sometimes beautiful transmissions from the dark, hazy, magical, sensual side of the abyss. Now? Those reports are echoes, enduring, still vital, registering on ears that are still attuned to them even if they forgot the station.