George Kilby, Jr.’s Six Pack is, he says, a “collection of singles” rather than an EP or album.
Kilby graduated from Princeton, where his mentor, J.K. Randall, introduced him to Pinetop Perkins, legendary pianist for the Muddy Waters Band.
“The main thing Pine gave me in terms of style and sound is economy,” Kilby recounted. “I’ll never forget some press I got as a young player that said something like, ‘George puts everything he has into every solo he plays,’ and it wasn’t really in a positive light. When I played with Pine, the beauty of playing with economy really sunk in.”
Kilby’s earliest electric guitar was an Ibanez LP copy, then, a good Gibson ES-335. “A red one, like Chuck Berry’s,” he said, along with Telecasters and a Gretsch Corvette. Today, he mostly plays an electric made by Richie Baxt with jumbo frets, Schaller-type tuners, and a brass nut.
“There’s a mini-humbucker in front, with a Tele/lipstick pickup tucked in as close as possible,” he said. “It creates a truer Tele sound for rhythm. In the middle, it’s not the same. The back pickup is a standard Fender, or at least looks like one.”
His acoustic is a TLH OOO/BR made by Terry Heilig. “It was one of his first, and he described it as a little overbuilt,” said Kilby. “But that appeals to me because I am very physical with guitars; I use big strings and play them hard. I use a K&K Pure Western mini pickup and a Radial direct box.”
Kilby’s amplifers are two Fender Deluxes – a mid-’60s blackface with a Mesa-Boogie Black Shadow speaker, and a circa-’74 with stock speaker. He doesn’t use them at the same time, and uses no effects.
Is it fair to call Six Pack “Americana” music?
“I’m fine with that,” he said. “Unfortunately, genres in the music business are created only to sell. [But] it makes no sense to adhere to the custom where records have to be 10 to 12 songs, and every song must sound similar. That was created by labels and is no longer valid. Good music is just music. If folks like it, fine. If not, that’s fine, too.”
Kilby and associates do some genre-hopping on Six Pack, utilizing accordion, fiddle, and dobro. “When the People Sang,” “Cro-Magnon Man,” and “You Never See the Hand Throw The Stone” offer commentary, and while the first two have a wistful/nostalgic quality, the third is more sociological.
“There are some serious sentiments,” he said. “Sometimes, you don’t have to say angry words to convey strong convictions. I’m especially proud of ‘You Never See The Hand.’”
A country-shuffle arrangement of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” is full of low, twangy tones. A business associate requested a well-known cover for the assortment, and multi-instrumentalist Andy Goesling helped create it.
“The plan was to do only six songs,” he said of the request. “So I grappled with a few chestnuts and thought that if any song is well-known, that was the one. So I attacked it, determined not to copy. I fooled with the riff forever. Then, in the car one day, the rearrangement was singing in my head. Andy and I refined it, and he gave it the treatment on the record.”
Kilby will continue making music on his own terms, and Six Pack exemplifies his determination.
This article originally appeared in VG October 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.