Musical Influences
Friday, June 1, 2012 at 05:11PM
Kevin Stonerock

My Musical Influences or "Records That Made Me the Star I Am Not Today"


You know those online lists which start all sorts of heated arguments over the top ten best albums of all time? This ain't that. This is a list of records that either influenced my writing, singing, playing or production styles or have just held up remarkably well over the years (therefore I had to eliminate Grand Funk's Closer To Home, even though when I ground out the bass line on I'm Your Captain, it never failed to impress the swooning 15 year old girls at the sock hop...well, at least I imagined it did. I may have imagined they swooned as well. That was a long time ago). 

By now, you are probably saying to yourself, "Who do you think you are, Redrock? ( I did a show some time ago and that is how I was introduced). Nobody cares about what you have to say!". Eau contraire. I have a small, but very loyal fan base. 

Mom, this is for you.

During the course of this discussion, I may use the term "record" and "album" interchangeably. I grew up in the sixties and seventies when "CD" stood for "Civil Defense". So, here is my list. Again, this is not intended to be a "best album" list. This is my list. Please feel free to add one or two of your own favorites in the comment section. 

This is in no particular order...but then again, it might be.

Carole King - Tapestry 

I would be hard pressed to think of any other album with more well-crafted songs than this one. This album turned me into the sweet, angst-filled, nostalgia-driven, guilt-ridden, sensitive 21st century guy that I am today. Maybe I should have bought that Black Sabbath album after all. Hmmm. 

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory

Aside from John and Paul, nobody knew how to write a hit single in the 60's better than John Fogerty, and this record was was loaded with them. When I was a kid, I took guitar lessons from a guy who taught from the Mel Bay Method. I would go to the lesson and make an utter fool of myself, then come home, lock myself in my room, put Cosmo's Factory on the record player and twang along. I also learned to play bass (until my fingers bled) along with Stu Cook. I also learned that trying to sing like Fogerty can really give you a sore throat. Somehow I never did get around to learning the Mel Bay version of "Little Brown Jug". It is still on my "to do" list.

Neil Young - Harvest

Harvest is a seminal album to me (ok, wise guy...seminal...not "Seminole"). It also was the catalyst for my extensive and fine collection of flannel shirts and patched jeans, but that's another story. Harvest was an ALBUM, not a collection of songs. The first song I ever played in public on acoustic guitar and harmonica was a cover of Heart of Gold. That would have been in 10th grade. It did not, however, have the desired effect. The basketball players still ended up with the girls (take heart boys....those things have a way of working themselves out over time).

Dan Fogelberg - Souvenirs

Another ALBUM. I went through a couple copies of this one. Dan was an amazing talent (and fellow Midwesterner). I saw him in concert many times and whether with a band or solo, he never gave less than a stellar performance. Everything about this particular record just flows, including the cover art and the masterful production work of Joe Walsh (another Midwesterner). I listened to it recently, and it stands up as well today as it did in the mid-seventies. I learned and stole a lot from Dan over the years, especially on my early recordings from the 70's. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I miss him, as do all of his fans.

Gordon Lightfoot - Nearly Everything He Ever Recorded ...what's that? I have to pick ONE? How about two? - If You Could Read My Mind and Don Quixote

For better or worse, no one had more of an influence on my singing and playing style than Gordon Lightfoot. I spent the summer after my senior year in high school learning to finger pick along with the two aforementioned records. I try not to listen to any Lightfoot records at least a couple months prior to my own recording sessions because of my inadvertent predisposition to use some of the inflections I absorbed by listening to his records (man, am I glad the Tiny Tim fad didn't last!). Some time ago, a publication printed a review of one of my albums (a good review, by the way).The reviewer said it sounded like James Taylor's songs as sung by Gordon Lightfoot. I once tried a rendition of Fire and Rain in Gord's voice just for kicks. Funny stuff.

Mark Knopfler - Golden Heart

I liked MK just fine as the lead singer in Dire Straits, but I LOVE his solo stuff. That guy can put more feeling into one note than most players can put into an entire scale. Golden Heart showcases Mark's wide range of style and his penchant for writing songs filled with pathos and emotion while still maintaining a pleasing bit of dispassion. This is one of those albums I would take with me to that fabled desert isle....oh please let me go! they have electricity?

Son Volt - Trace

Another great ALBUM. No offense, but I always liked Son Volt better than Wilco. Maybe it is my brooding personality, I don't know. I am still never quite sure what Jay Farrar is trying to SAY, but he sure says it well, whatever it is. In addition to the songs, I've never gotten over Eric Heywood's tasty, retro-infused, bluesy, over-driven steel guitar licks on Windfall. For my money, he's one of the best steel players in the business and this is one of the best (maybe THE best) alt-country albums ever made.

David Mallett - Artist In Me

When I was hanging out, pounding the pavement and doing gigs in Nashville, I often listened to another Mallett album In The Falling Dark, which a friend had blessed me with (I had been impressed with Mallett's writing style after hearing Kathy Mattea's cover of Summer of My Dreams and was excited to learn that he had released recordings of his own). My songs, while quite well received in the places I played live, always seemed to be a little too folksy for the Nashville circuit. I credit Dave's music with giving me the validation I needed to continue writing the kind of songs I write instead of the mainstream country stuff I was trying to force myself to write. Like I always say, "if you can't beat em, leave". Anyhow, you can't go wrong with any Mallett album, but my favorite is Artist In Me.

J. Michael Henderson - To Make the Night Complete

I first met Michael in 1977 and we've become good friends over the past few years (at least I think he would agree with that). I used to catch his live gigs from time to time and I learned a lot about stage craft by watching him perform. His album To Make The Night Complete (1976) is still one of my all time favorite records (and thankfully, is now available on cd). It gave me the encouragement I needed to begin planning my first lp (yes, young people..lp...long play...same as record and album and ...good grief!). That just goes to show you don't have to have big recording budget behind you in order to make great music and to make a difference in someone's life with it. Thanks Michael. (If you want to check out his music, you can do so at his website,

Michael Murphey - Blue Sky Night Thunder

If Carole King helped me discover my "sensitive" side, Michael Murphey (he currently goes by Michael Martin Murphey) helped me get in touch with my inner cosmic cowboy. The guy is just a great singer, and fine writer with hits in several genres. This album contains his best early work, including Wildfire and Carolina In The Pines. I was an avid outdoorsman when I was younger (still am to some extent) and always loved the west, so maybe that is why this record connected with me. Besides, Wildfire was about a horse. My 20 year old pea-brained logic went something like this: "This is a sad song about a lost horse. Girls love horses. Since girls love horses and sad songs, if I learn this song , girls will love me too." What an idiot. 

Don MacLean - American Pie

Most widely known for the title song, this album also contained several other finely crafted pieces, including the moving Vincent and the equally poignant Empty Chairs. When I first began doing solo gigs, having a very small catalog of original songs and playing a lot of restaurants and coffeehouses, I covered several of MacLean's tunes. For the record (no pun intended), I think more young artists would do well to learn some cover tunes. Learn what makes a song work and take some of those lessons and apply them to your own music. There is certainly no shame in that. It's a great way to give yourself a solid foundation upon which to build. 

Cat Stevens - Tea For the Tillerman

Cat (Steve? Yusef? gets so confusing) was a huge influence on my singing and playing style as well as on my beard and hairstyle back in the day. Then I discovered the fat gram and all bets were off. I listed Tea for the Tillerman, but could just as easily have listed Teaser and the Fire Cat, Catch Bull at Four, or Buddha and the Chocolate Box. Cat (I'm sticking with that for now) had a certain childlike quality to his writing style...a sense of wonderment. His productions were interesting while still allowing the song to be king. His songs were also good for furthering that sensitive, nice guy image of mine which worked so well with the ladies. Uh...OK. Sure. 

Crosby Still and Nash - Crosby Stills and Nash

Enough has been written about this album to fill a lot of books. For me, this record was all about harmony as something other than background vocals. All the parts could be heard, and therefore learned and the lessons applied. Here's a fun exercise...try to listen for the Crosby part. It's the "ghost" part. His was the most "unselfish" harmony part. It doesn't really call attention to itself. But it was Crosby, as much as the other two, who gave them their distinctive sound. 

OK, there you have it. As I sit here looking at my scads of vinyl records, I could almost have blindfolded myself and picked them out at random. Just about every artist I ever listened to has influenced me in one way or the other. That is as it should be, I suppose.

Oh, by the way, thanks Mom.

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