Kip Blackshire: Rock & B
Wednesday 04 January @ 15:30:28
by Dwight Hobbes
You have to be pretty good to transcend others’ limitations. Which is what singer Kip Blackshire finds himself doing. Bucking the big money media machine, he refused to market himself as just another R&B act. Maybe not the brightest idea when you consider the stranglehold fat-cats like Clear Channel, which owns some 1200 radio stations, aren’t particularly interested in originality. Fuck ‘em, basically is what Blackshire said in releasing his albums Kip Blackshire and The Eleventh Hour independently. “I could’ve signed a record deal. But I wouldn’t [compromise]. That’s not what I want. I always thought making a record is [about recording] somebody who’s worthy of being recorded.” Accordingly, he applies strong chops to balls-to-the-walls material.
hasn’t done much for him in the States - at least not outside Minnesota.
In Europe, however, he is kicking assess and taking names. He went on a mini-tour
early last year of Germany and France and sold out every piece of merchandise
he had with him—CDs, shirts, posters, everything. This coming March, his
return tour already includes London, Munich, Paris and Madrid. Afterward, there’ll
be stops throughout the States. In the Twin Cities, his home stomping grounds,
the guy’s rep is a solid one for cast-iron chops. Ask anyone who’s
caught him at places like Bunkers, The Cabooze and such. Crowds walk away satiated.
Everybody with the least little power of perception is watching Blackshire,
waiting for him to take off like a bat out of hell. To succeed in the U.S. like
he has abroad. By sticking to his guns.
His sound aptly was dubbed “rock ‘n’ b” by a German
fan who ran up to him after a show. It’s a bedrock of fatback funk, culled
from gospel and old-school r&b, infused with rock adrenaline.
An ace calling card for those who haven’t yet heard him is “Diamond
in da Ruff” off The
Eleventh Hour. It’s an incredibly dramatic anthem that, played
often enough on the radio, would put Kip Blackshire on the national map. The
right ingredients are there: moody chords and melody, deft lyrics -- and a powerhouse
vocal showcasing hellified range. Blackshire
starts off low-key, reflective: “Ben feels the rush/ it’s way to
much/ he needs a break in his semi-routine, little tedious life/ Mom drinks
a bit/ Dad’s money’s spent/ a smile on his face to cover bruises
that are covering Ben.” His voice gathers a wizened air for a chorus about
hurtful frustration making one stronger. Blackshire builds through two verses,
then hits the bridge like John Henry’s sledgehammer; “Will you have
the strength to pull thru now/ don’t let yourself down.” At which
point, the song rampages to a haunting close, leaving you to reflect on words
like “Hey broken angel, where’d emotions go?” set to dark,
rock-all-night chord progressions. The song came, by the way, out of Blackshire’s
life. “Certain things I was talking to a friend about with having to do
with my childhood. Some stuff that I went through and would never put my kids
through.” He ended up talking to another friend about it after that, lyricist
and long-time collaborator Zoe LaPlaca. “It was”, Kip says, after
a small pause, “something I wanted to get off my chest.” LaPlaca
said, in an e-mail from L.A., “I pictured a little boy, abused, alone
and scared. How angry and defeated [he] must feel. And telling a victim to stand
up, take that horrible angry energy built up inside and use it for something
And from his debut CD there are radio-friendly nightclub rousers like the soaring,
funk-drenched “Pieces” and the poignant ballad “As It Falls”.
Blackshire produced both albums. It’s hardly surprising to hear his manager,
Jeff Taube at MidAmerica Talent, say, “I will be ‘shopping’
the new CD to major labels after January 1. We already have some strong interest.”
It would be sweet to see big business coming back for what they turned their
nose up at first time around.
a little background, the man, of course, did not spring into being with Kip
Blackshire. He put his dues in, starting out with his two brothers as the
group Blackshire, before getting summoned to Minneapolis, in 1999, by a family
friend from Pine Bluff, Ark.,—one Morris Hayes, keyboardist with Prince
& the New Power Generation. Kip cut his teeth on second keyboard and backing
vocals with NPG and as front man for NPG-drummer Kirk Johnson’s Fonky
Bald Headz. He went solo in 2002, having learned from Johnson how to handle
a stage and, arguably, a still more important pointer from the Purple One, himself.
“What Prince gave me was feel. He taught me, ‘Always your gut,’
versus trying to force something together.” The rest is threatening to
become, as they say, history. Including a third CD for which Blackshire is slated
to enter the recording studio in May.
You have to see him live to truly get a grip on what marks him as a can’t-miss
talent. Handsome, lithe and muscular, he stalks the stage with a prowling strut.
Working out from a diaphragm that may as well be made of concrete. He is, it
happens, a nice, polite, laid-back fellow. Until it’s showtime. That’s
when all hell breaks loose. “For the most part I am just calm. I grew
up like that, quiet and shy. The one refuge I always had is in my singing, in
my music; wherever I wanted to go, I could always go there. It’s like
nothing around me really matters. That was the place to escape all my troubles.
It’s a sense of abandon.” On the stage, in the studio, it also stakes
a hell of claim for a musical force that gets audiences stoked and with which
the industry stands to finds itself reckoning.