Known as the "Titan of The Telecaster," guitarist, singer, and songwriter Bill Kirchen discusses his musical career and his time as a member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
From performing with his Who Knows Pickers jug band in Ann Arbor High School’s senior talent show (also on the program: the future Iggy Pop), to birthing the Americana genre with the original “hippie country band,” Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, this affable Austinite has been everywhere, man, flying alongside some of the planet’s coolest cats — including Nick Lowe, and Lowe’s old protégé, Elvis Costello.
Kirchen has toured the world with Lowe, who produced an album by Kirchen’s post-Airmen band, the Moonlighters, and Costello recruited Kirchen for high-profile gigs like the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival — and even named his festival band after Kirchen’s Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods album. Lowe appears on that 2006 album, and its 2010 follow-up, Word to the Wise, along with Costello, Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks, and other luminaries.
Somewhere between steering Commander Cody’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” into a Top10 hit and scoring a GRAMMY nomination for Best Country Instrumental Performance, Kirchen dubbed his sound “dieselbilly,” taking his fondness for country’s big rig-driving sub-genre and intersecting it with the Bakersfield Sound and his own name into one memorable moniker.
Kirchen’s right-place-at-the-right-time career has put him at the forefront of many musical movements, including outlaw country; Commander Cody’s 1974 album, Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas, recorded at Austin’s legendary Armadillo World Headquarters, made Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of All Time list.