|Kevin Fennell, The Rollin' Rock Connection
Photographs: Kevin Fennell (left) and Ray Campi (right)
The name Kevin Fennell might not immediatly ring a bell, but most of you rock 'n' roll and rockabilly fans must have heard him play his wild guitar on several occasions, because Kevin played the strings with rockabilly heavy-weights Ray Campi and Mac Curtis. I got in touch with Kevin through the internet and I was very pleased he said 'yes' when I asked him to write down his live story to be published on BlackCat Rockabilly. So, here it is, the life and times of Kevin Fennell in his own words. Thanks Kevin!
I was born in Los Angeles, California and except for five years living in the San Francisco Bay Area as a kid, have lived in the San Fernando Valley my whole life. Got my first guitar at 10 years old, a 10 dollar acoustic my mom bought in Mexico and, except for the basic chords, taught myself to play.
My main influences at that time were the Beatles and Stones and the 60's rock bands. Especially the British Invasion stuff (Animals, Dave Clark 5, Yardbirds, etc.) I was also into surf music, Motown girl groups and Chuck Berry. Later, with the rock revival I got into all the 50's stuff. My playing was influenced by the British and San Francisco bands that I really liked. Cream, The Dead, Janis Joplin, Santana, Neil Young and others. All the stuff the rockabilly purists hate, but to this day I'm proud to say I still love it all. Through their music I learned about improvisation and jamming. I was also heavily influenced by the Southern Blues/Rock players especially Johnny Winter, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Charlie Daniels, BB King. I learned about blues through these bands discovering Elmore James, T-Bone Walker, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters etc. I am an avid blues fan and probably listen to more blues guitars than anything else. But my main influence in music in general would have to be Jimi Hendrix. I feel he has done more with a guitar than anybody. A close second is Danny Gatton (Whom I did not discover till the 90's). What these guys do is beyond guitar playing.
Played in party/wedding/garage/school dance type bands pretty much all through school doing whatever we liked (The hard rock of the day and token 50's and blues songs, Johnny B. Goode etc.) About 1972 I met Jerry Sikorski and we became roommates. I taught him to play guitar and a few years later he hooked up with Ray Campi through a school buddy of his named Colin Winski. Ray taught Jerry a lot more about playing and introduced him to Rockabilly and the three of them started doing gigs. I used to go see them at the Palomino, Troubadour, etc. They had Steve Clark on drums and some other guy on guitar.
Around 1976 we started the Wild Turkeys, a loose gang of bluegrass players doing mostly casual gigs. The personnel didn't really firm up for a couple years. But the main guys were Mike Rubino, Howard Ariew, me and whoever. With Jerry pushing for me, I joined the Rockabilly Rebels in June 1977. My first gig with them was a two-night stand at the Palomino opening for C.W. Blackwood and the Blackwood Family Singers. Jerry and I created many of the twin guitar parts that were a big part of the sound of the band which consisted of Ray Campi on bass, Jerry and me on lead, Colin Winski on vocal and rhythm guitar, Steve Clark on drums and roadie Mike Rubino on harp on some numbers.
At that time, Ray Campi was already working with Ronny Weiser and Ray really turned me on to a lot of good guitar music, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and they have influenced my playing greatly. Also I learned a lot about obscure rockabilly through Ronny's home made Rollin Rock Magazine. I used to read them cover to cover. I really loved the sounds of rockabilly guitar and threw myself into it. It is still some of my favorite music.
We became the hottest thing on the L.A. music scene doing all the major clubs, Palomino, Whisky A-Go-Go, Starwood, Roxy, Ice House, Country Club, Music Machine, Club Lingerie etc. We often traveled to the S.F. area and did all the major clubs there including the Boarding House, both Keystones, The Catalyst and the famous punk palace The Mabuhay Gardens. Played with a lot of punk bands ( D.O.A, the Dils, Pearl E. Gates) and always went over well. There were no other Rockabilly bands around then. In August '77 went to Austin Texas and played down there for a month all over Texas and Louisiana. Dec '77 we did the U.K. Rollin Rock Road Show with Mac Curtis as opening act. I learned his songs from a tape for about two weeks before we went so I could play guitar for him. We used A British drummer named Tom Riley from Memphis Bend for both bands and a British bass player for Mac's set (producer/DJ Stuart Colman). We played all over the country for about a month.
Back home 1978 is a blur of gigs all over California and the Pacific Northwest. That year I played guitar on Mac's album "Rock Me" at Rollin Rock with Ronny producing. We also recorded Wildcat Shakeout for the British Radar label. It wasn't really representative of the band's powerful live shows.
Our band played shows with George Thorogood, John Prine, Elvis Costello, Blasters, Billy Burnette, Robert Gordon w/ Link Wray, Rockpile w/Dave Edmunds, the Magnetics etc. After opening for Gordon at the Whisky, they fired us from the rest of the shows we were to do with them. Can't imagine why? Link Wray was a super cool dude though. Feb. '79 back to UK for the Great Yarmouth festival with all the British rockabilly bands, Crazy Cavan, Freddie Fingers Lee, Flying Saucers, Matchbox. Show filmed for the movie "Blue Suede Shoes" with Bill Haley. Did several shows with Thorogood and capped off the tour with a show at The Lyceum in London with Bo Diddley and Whirlwind.
Meanwhile certain factions in the band (Winski, Sikorski) were thinking that Campi was holding them back and they could do better without him. Very stupid since he taught them most of what they were doing, gave them their nice vintage Gibson guitars too. Winski and Sikorski's egos by now were way out of control. So after a tour of the Northwest in May '79 and a final show at the Whisky, they went on their own with a bass player and guitarist and Steve on drums. They had some prestige gigs right away but could not manage a band any better than they could manage their lives.
The new Campi line-up was Ray, Kevin, Mike Rubino on rhythm, Jimmie Lee Maslon on lead and vocals, Rip Masters on piano and vocals, and Glen Thillman on drums. Shows with James Intveld, Kingbees, Jimmy and the Mustangs, Red Devils, Blasters etc. We plowed on for a couple years but the magic of the first band was gone. Simultaneously I was in The Wild Turkeys and Jazz Connection (formed in '81 playing music mixing Pete Fountain/New Orleans with Rock and Roll) gigging around LA.
After the Winski and Sikorski love/hate affair split up around '82, Colin and I formed a short-lived band called the Rock Hounds. Unfortunately no recording exists of this HOT band. Colin on Vocals and members of the Jazz Connection on bass and drums and sax. Then Colin started missing gigs so that group ended. Then we had a stripped down Rockabilly Rebels with Ray, me, Mike on rhythm, Steve Vidro on drums and Bill Stoy on sax but it was going nowhere so Mike and I quit after awhile.
In '84 I started Gun Shy (rockabilly/country/rock) and our great moment was opening for George Jones in Beverly Hills CA. We did a lot of shows at the Palomino and occasionally were joined on stage by Screamin' Scott Simon from Sha Na Na on piano. But the band soon fizzled, our bass player Paul Leigh moved to Singapore. We carried on for a little while with David Harrington on bass. I don't know what happened to Suzanne.
Around this time I figured I better get a trade so I got into the Telecommunications field where I still am today. However, I was doing a lot of gigs and going to work the next day. That's tuff to do. Then Mike Rubino moved back to Massachusetts and he was one of the main guys in the Turkeys and the Jazz thing. Bill Stoy moved to Netherlands and Steve to Texas. So those bands faded into oblivion.
In 1985-86 I didn't really play with anybody. Except for three gigs with Ray in UK in July '86. By '87 Paul and Bill had moved back here and we started playing again. We had a gig playing for special education school dances for eight years. Did that till 95. I last played with Ray in August '88 at a Rockabilly reunion show at The Music Machine with the whole gang. (Ronnie Mack, James Intveld, Jerry Sikorski, Tony Conn etc.) Meanwhile I kept jamming just for fun too.
After several years I re-connected with Ray Campi. BlackCat Rockabilly is partially responsible for that. I hooked up with The BlackCat (Mr. Marijn Raaijmakers) while searching for Rockabilly lyrics on the web, specifically the song "Rockin' and Rollin' with Grandmaw" by Carson Robison. We got to know each other via emails back and forth. Marijn then started cleaning up old tapes I had of The Rockabilly Rebels and several other bands I had been in, putting them on compact disc. The Rockabilly Rebels stuff turned out so good I had to send a copy to Ray. We started yakking on the phone and made plans to play together again.
Since then we have been gigging and recording. We are always involved in the next project whether it be a Kevin Fennell album or a Ray Campi album. Since building my home recording studio I have been able to produce my own albums as often as I like. I have also produced some of Ray's recent music and have my Blues music thing going on as well.
I keep cranking out the BLUES and ROCKABILLY and whatever other ROCKIN' MUSIC moves me and I don't plan on STOPPIN' THE ROCKIN'.......... EVER!!
Look to see us at a gig near you!
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