Aspiring guitarists, singers and songwriters may envision life in Nashville as eating, sleeping and breathing music.
Dave Kyle did that and more. Take the year he spent working in the Gibson Guitar Factory, his day job while pitching original songs and playing gigs in his off hours.
"You were just breathing mahogany dust all day," he recalled last month. The plant wasn't well ventilated. "Boy, that was a rough place to work."
Kyle left Terre Haute for Nashville in 1989, putting his guitar and songwriting skills to use in that Tennessee town known as "Music City" for eight years. His experiences could fill a book, and did — "How I Survived the Nashville Music Scene," published in 2001. Those encounters could also help fill a musical album, and now that's happened.
The 68-year-old Clinton native released his 16-track compilation, "Looking Back," on Aug. 20. The album follows its title. It features recordings of Kid Lizard, a popular 1970s Terre Haute band that included Kyle on guitar, harmonica virtuoso Steve Rusin, and the brother rhythm section of Steve and Brady Laffoon; songs Kyle wrote, recorded and pitched to artists in Nashville; a segment of Kyle trading licks with late rockabilly guitar great Danny Gatton on "The Saturday Morning Show" on Nashville TV station WSMV; and Kyle's originals recorded with Rusin a few years ago in friend and fellow musician Dave Peterson's Terre Haute studio.
Kyle and Rusin will perform songs from the album and others at a CD release party at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13 in Sonka Irish Pub at 1366 Wabash Ave. The next day, Kyle will perform at Clinton High School's all-classes reunion in his hometown.
Kyle can tap into a long repertoire, as "Looking Back" shows.
"It's a pretty decent retrospective of [Dave's] musical career," said Don Arney, who "sweetened up" the diverse collection of recordings in his Quantum Productions studio in southern Vigo County. Arney mastered and mixed the tracks, a process he called "a lot of fun."
Arney also recorded overdubs — added musical elements — by other musicians, including Rusin on blues harp.
Rusin's persistence kept the project alive, Kyle said. After laying down core tracks on several songs with Rusin and Peterson in 2015, Kyle returned to Riverside, Calif., where he and his wife have lived since 2005. An illness idled Kyle's progress on the project. Temporarily, that is.
"Steve just kept after me," Kyle said.
Playing with the greats
Rusin and his son, Steven III, played harmonica overdubs on various tracks in Arney's studio. Other instrumentalists followed. The end result left Arney saying, "I feel pretty lucky that I could co-produce this CD."
It covers a California-size range of genres, all rooted in blues and rock. Its diversity left Kyle pondering how to categorize the album for its independent distribution service, CD Baby. "They ask what kind yours is, you know — rock, country, blues or what? I don't know what to call it," Kyle said. "So, gee, I don't care. If people like it, call it reggae if you want."
Tracks like "Enough is Enough" and "Man on the Run" — two of Kyle's originals — exemplify the variety. His guitar on "Enough is Enough" carries a Southwestern flavor, while "Man on the Run" hails from electric blues-rock. The blues track with Kid Lizard was recorded in the iconic Bohemian nightspot on Wabash Avenue, Bacchi's.
And then there's Kyle's vocal and guitar performance on a "Matchbox Medley," written by late rock-and-roll pioneer Carl Perkins. Kyle plays the medley with a band on Nashville TV's "The Saturday Morning Show" that includes Gatton, whose guitar style became known as "redneck jazz." Kyle leads that quintet through Perkins' tunes that The Beatles once covered. Kyle shares fluid guitar solos with Gatton, who died in 1994.
"He got to play on just an unbelievable roster of some of the greatest musicians around," Arney said of Kyle.
Indeed, Kyle performed with iconic musicians who made guest appearances on "The Saturday Morning Show," including Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, The Drifters and Wolfman Jack. Kyle also encountered other noted recording artists as a writer for Vintage Guitar magazine. Still, many of Kyle's fondest musical associations came through his years in Indiana, where he was inducted into the Wabash Valley Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007.
Born in Clinton, Kyle and his family later moved to Chicago and then back to Vermillion County, settling in Universal. He got his first guitar at age 10, but his music interests expanded when he moved to Terre Haute at age 18. Within a year, Kyle hit the road with Red Ryder, a band that included the Laffoons. Kyle returned to Terre Haute and formed the blues band Kid Lizard with Rusin and the Laffoon brothers, playing Wabash Valley venues for five years. Kyle handled guitar for the popular Jimmy Dye Band, the house act at Terre Haute's Idaho Club from 1975 to '78.
Then, after stints with a batch of bands such as Junior Sollars, the Coal Creek Holler Boys, Corn Belt Cowboys and Variety, Kyle left for Nashville.
'Hard way to make an easy living'
Life there got busy quick. He got work as a session player for recording artists, occasionally through references by another Hautean in Nashville, J.T. Corenflos. Kyle wrote for Vintage Guitar, played "The Saturday Morning Show," performed in gigs on Music Row and parties with the TV band, and worked at Gibson.
"I think everybody in Nashville's got five or six jobs," Kyle quipped. "It's a hard way to make an easy living."
He came back to Terre Haute in 1999, opened a Wabash Avenue guitar shop for awhile, worked at the Vigo County Public Library and performed in a trio with veteran musicians Jeff Wisbey and Mike Rowe until Kyle's move to California in 2005. Their group — Wisbey, Rowe and Kyle — played weekend after weekend across the city. Their experience made preparations less vital, Rowe said.
"We never rehearsed. That's what Dave said he liked about us; we never rehearsed," Rowe said, with a laugh.
Kyle's guitar virtuosity shined. "Dave's just a great player — really all around, really versatile," Rowe said. "I think a lot of his roots are in blues, but he spreads it out so much more."
Kyle rarely performs these days in Riverside, but occasionally backs a friend's daughter who sings. Most of his California musical friends live on the other side of the Los Angeles area.
Still, Kyle's versatility was easily detected by Arney in the studio while finalizing the tracks for "Looking Back." "Dave can pretty much play in any style with great comfort," Arney said.
Thus, if the album must be placed in a genre, Kyle chooses Americana.
"I like the Americana label, when it's not country, but it's got some country influences. And it's not really rock, but it does rock," Kyle said, "at least as much as an old man can rock."
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
Finding 'Looking Back'
Copies of Wabash Valley native Dave Kyle's new album, "Looking Back," are available at $10 each through the following outlets:
• Online at CDBaby.com, either as a digital download or a physical CD.
• By mail at Dave Kyle, P.O. Box 70212 Riverside, CA 92513. (Add $3 for shipping.)
• By email, through PayPal, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Through Facebook messenger to Kyle's page.
• In person at two local performances: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13 at Sonka Irish Pub in Terre Haute, and 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Clinton High School all-classes reunion in Clinton.