We had the good fortune of connecting with Ken Gaines and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ken, why did you pursue a creative career?
I pursued this career as a professional singer/songwriter because it brought me the most joy and it was a craft I began to understand at a very early age. That’s not to say my early songs were any good. They weren’t. But, by the age of 15 I was performing professionally, mostly singing other people’s songs…all the while writing my own and inserting them into my performances. I spent the next couple of decades that way until I finally had a completely original night of my own songs that were of quality. And, while my songs and my performance skills are even better now, I still study and learn the songs of those I admire. We stand on the shoulders of giants. That’s the best way to see above the crowd. Over 50 years later…it still brings me the most joy of anything I’ve ever done.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
This question brings a smile to my face…a hard won smile. I’m also a teacher of the craft of both songwriting and performance skills. I work with adults…but I also work a lot with young people…mostly teens. I’m an encourager but also try to let my students know that this is not a career for someone who just “thinks” they’d like to do it. It’s one that only those who simply have to do it will be able to survive and make a living. You have to be stubborn, consistent in the quality of your work, and willing to go the extra million miles (I’ve driven well over a million) to take you to your audiences. You have to develop every aspect of the craft, the most important of which is listening…the ability to hear with comprehension…whether you’re listening to someone else or yourself. As I’ve stated before, I started young and, though life has taken me on a very crooked path, the performance and crafting of songs has been the one constant in my life. I’m currently 69 and still performing 150 gigs a year which include solo and duo performances of my own songs, as well as producing shows with other songwriters, seminars, and performance lectures. What sets me apart from others? I have learned to write with more variety than 99% of the other singer/songwriters I know of. In the process, I’ve truly become myself. Other than family and friends…what more could a person ask for?
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Here in Houston, I’d take them out to eat at Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe, Stanton’s City Bites for burgers, Star Pizza, and McGonigel’s Mucky Duck for classy pub grub. If the season is right we’d watch the bats fly out from underneath the Waugh Street Bridge at sunset then walk over to Pimlico Irish Pub for a good brew and/or whiskey. I’d take them on a walk around the Houston Heights then celebrate at Harold’s in the Heights for a great meal. On another day I’d take them walking around the downtown area and end up at 8th Wonder Brewery and Distillery. During the cooler months we’d head out to Brazos Bend State Park to hike, see the gators, and look for all sorts of birds. If we had the time, we’d even camp out there in the campgrounds. Day excursions would be to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts on one day and the Houston Museum of Natural Science on another. Night times would find us listening to music at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, JP Hops House on the west side, and Anderson Fair, Houston’s oldest and best acoustic listening room.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My two greatest songwriting influences are Paul Simon and Johnny Mercer. They come from different eras but both have tremendous variety in their work. and both are rightly considered masters of the craft. My greatest continuing experience is the Kerrville Folk Festival, presented just outside of Kerrville, TX. I’ve been going for 31 years. (The 2020 festivals were virtual). The primary festival is 18 days long starting on the Thursday of Memorial Day Weekend and continuing through 3 weekends and the weekdays in between. I’m there the entire time as well as a few days before and after to set up camp. I know of no other event like it. I get to hear hundreds, if not thousands of songs in the process of the festival and meet more like minded performers and music presenters there than any other situation I know of. I’m also heavily involved here in Texas with the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance, Songwriter Serenade, Houston Live, Song Circle Houston, and Anderson Fair.