In the early 1900s, George Bernard Shaw penned the phrase, “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.” Decades later Woody Allen attached onto the now infamous adage with, “Those who cannot teach, teach gym.” Sometime after Woody’s skewing of the phrase, Kevin Rone’s family moved to San Diego from Minnesota in the 1980s.
Once established in San Diego, Rones unintentionally set out to dispel the two basic tenets of the adage. He has become a reputable guitarist/musician, both locally and nationally and is gaining a reputation as a multi-instrumental teacher of music and author of instruction books. Before embarking on a multifaceted career in music, Kev worked as a graphic designer and was involved in advertising, the “high level” type he reported. This experience would eventually advance Kev’s musical career and those peripherally associated to his music.
The promotion of music, primarily finger-style acoustic guitar has transformed Kev into a one-man production and promotional entity. Many musical venues including Lestat’s and Rebecca’s open mics can credit their genesis, popularity, and longevity to the behind the scene efforts of Kev. It was at one of these venues, the now defunct Mikey’s in Poway, where Kev was christened with his single-syllabic moniker by Mike, the owner when Kev first started to perform by playing at open mics.
I remember that era; it was a time when Jewel and Jason Mraz moved on to more profitable venues and heights and in their wakes there were many imitators flattering them and/or hoping for those fortunes to strike twice and to dine on fame’s fickle food once again. However, it is fleeting, and in its void a platoon of acoustic fingerstylists advanced to front stage center, including Kev, Jim Earp, Tom Boyer, and Fred Benedetti. What separates or distinguishes Kev from the pack is a high energy musical and performance style and then there is the harp guitar. Kev reports that he is the only local harp-guitarist in San Diego. The acoustic harp guitar is a behemoth of an instrument that requires considerable skill just to hold it properly, as opposed to create spectacular music with.
Kev is the founder of the San Diego Guitar Society, the Acoustic Underground Series, and the School of Guitar Wizardry. He is based out of New Expression Music on 30th Street and from this location he teaches a plethora of many guitar styles for instrumentalists at a variety of levels. Kev reported that one of his more popular classes involves learning the ukulele. He credits the portability and affordability of the uke, ranging in price from $50 to several hundred dollars as key to the instrument’s popularity. Kevin’s footprints and influence could be found and was instrumental in the 2011 and 2012 San Diego Ukulele Festival; last year’s festival, held at the Port Pavilion on the Broadway Pier, was attended by thousands and helped San Diego earn a reputation as an alternate ukulele mecca. Besides local artists Sarah Maisal, Brad Norris, and Ronnie Seno the venue featured such acclaimed artists and acts as Fred Thompson and Ukumania, Aldrine Guerero, Bartt Warburton, Lindsey Yung, Lorenzo Vignando-Ukulollo, Julia Nunes, Derrick Sebastian, Brittni Paiva, Willie K, Mitch Chang, the Kalama Brothers, Brian Vasquez and Lava Jam (look out, Eddie Vedder!), the Smokin’ Menehunes, and Danielle Ate the Sandwich.
One of Kev’s more recent endeavors has him teamed up with Drew Decker to present Kev and Drew’s Acoustic Social Club and Song Jam through the Meetup.com organization, at NEM. This group meets on the first and second Monday of each month at 7 pm.
One wonders how profitable can such versatility and frenzied involvement in San Diego’s acoustic music scene be, especially for the finger-style genre. In this day and age of instant gratification, entitlement, and American Idolesque success, there appears to be little opportunity or marketability for the accomplished finger-picking musician. Kevin coined the phrase, “potted plant gig,” referring to those locations where you are “just there,” seated next to a potted plant while providing visual and audio ambiance. Since there are limited venues that actually pay for acoustic musicians he is cautious and guards this information closely. He mentions the times he has told some of his peers about a paying gig only to find that they quickly approach the location and solicit or compete for his spot.
Most musicians/artisans recognize that competition is a force to be reckoned within their world, fingerstylists are no exception. The grand daddy of them all, the coup d’etat for finger-style guitarists is the finger-style competition at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Held annually, in September, Kev reports that he is already in training for this September’s competition. He adds that for him it is not so much the competition but the camaraderie, an opportunity to be with his peers and his friends. I am quite familiar with Kev’s performances; they are almost as visual as they are instrumental. I asked Kev if his performing style could possibly present a hindrance at Winfield, by adding another dimension to be critiqued. He responded in what I am assuming to be quintessential Kev, “Go big or go home.” Fingerstylists tend to be a bit obsessive-compulsive in their practice regimen, dissecting or conjoining phrases, bits of riffs played over and over again until the sound is just right or finger patterns permanently logged into fine motor-skill memory.
Early influences and contributors to Kev’s prowess with the guitar can not be exclusively traced back to Gerde’s Folk City, Harvard Square, or the obscure peaks and valleys of Appalachia. They tend to be a bit more amped up, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “Black Mountain Side,” or Carlos Santana’s “Europa.” Other earlier influences or “go-to” fingerstyle songs that Kev said are must-learn songs include “Blackbird” and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, “Embryonic Journey” and “Hesitation Blues” by Jorma Kaukonen, and “Little Martha” from Duane Alman, and, yes, somewhere back there “Freight Train.” More recent influences are found in the works of Lawrence Juber, Andy McKee, Kaki King and Tommy Emanuel. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Kaki King, rent the movie August Rush and study the close-ups of the character playing the guitar. Those hands slapping the neck are Kaki’s .
For a moment of levity, I ran some instant reply, quick answer, either/or questions by Kev and was surprised by his answers:
Mikeys or Java Joe’s (circa 2001): Mikeys;
Chris Thile or Mike Marshall: Ahh, they’re just mandolin players; Tony Rice or Doc Watson: I would have to go with Doc; Susan Tedeschi or Bonnie Raitt: Bonnie Raitt, definitely; Leo Kottke or Peter Lang: Kottke;
D.R. Auten or Jim Earp: That’s a toughie, they’re both amazing; San Diego or LA: San Diego. LA sucks; harp guitar or regular guitar: I love them both; Martin or Taylor: Taylor!
My analysis of these responses reveal that Kev has a mild case of tunnel vision in recognizing the musical brilliance of California’s own mandolin players. I have previously spoken of a fondness for Martin and Kev reported that he has been a Taylor supported artist for a long time. I would’ve had a split decision over Mikeys and Java Joes. Kev worked hard to prevent Mikey’s premature closing, claiming special roots toward that establishment. I would whole-heartedly agree with his call on Auten or Earp. Kev has consistently held high regard for his San Diego peers. One song. “Final Note” from his latest CD Inspired was written once he found out that blues artist Steve White had passed. Kev regarded White as one of the best players on the planet. I agree that Auten or Earp is a very tough call. Throughout this interview I was impressed with Kev’s respect, humility, and high praise for those of similar caliber.
Kev presents as a person steeped in competence and confidence; however, in describing the mechanisms for his motivation, he self-disclosed a more sensitive and caring persona. He recalled a time while caring for his father, who was in hospice care that he would bring his guitar and practice for many hours. His dad had a habit of ringing a bedside bell to get Kevin’s attention for assistance. Kev’s practice regimen included those bits of riffs previously mentioned. On one occasion his father rang the bell and then instructed Kevin to play a “whole song.” Years later, perhaps as an homage to his father, Kev has amassed a substantial repertoire and recorded many CDs, many of which can be found at www.kevmusic.com. If you make the pilgrimage to Winfield this year, imagine that faint ringing bell during the finger style competition and root for this hometown young man