The phrase “full circle” can be a mixed compliment. It could mean you’re right bac
k where you started, entering a new stage of renewal or, on a less flattering tack, that you have nothing left to say.
Tim Krekel is not finished talking, not by a long shot. The wiry, goateed minstrel-scribe has practiced a kind of musical ventriloquism for more than 30 years, gifting artists three times as well-known with one hit after another while maintaining an amazingly low profile.
“What has really made a lasting impression is the character,” says Morgan Atkinson, a Louisville video producer who has shot more than a 100 hours of footage of Krekel for a documentary-in-progress called “Local Hero.”
“He has such depth of character that comes through in his songs,” Atkinson adds, “but in his relationships with people — I think that’s where it comes through strongly. His fans are ‘Krekkies.’ That type of loyalty doesn’t just spring up from nowhere.”
Krekel’s bona fides could fill an almanac: Canned Heat, Kathy Mattea, Jason & the Scorchers and Delbert McClinton have all used his songs. Crystal Gayle’s 1984 No. 1 hit “Turning Away” — Tim. Patty Loveless’ “You Can Feel Bad” — Tim. He won a BMI Country Award in 1997 for that one. He’s appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman,” and “Come Around,” which he co-wrote with alt country star Kim Richey, was used in the 1999 Kevin Costner film, “For Love of the Game.” In fact, it was probably the best part of the movie.
Such lengthy credits give Krekel license to throw his weight around, but the only flash you’ll see is in his hands as they race along a guitar neck. Even then, as with all things Krekel, it’s done tastefully.
“The song’s always boss with him; he doesn’t use songs as a vehicle to show off his virtuosity,” says Michael Webb, who helped arrange and engineer Krekel’s latest (with the Tim Krekel Orchestra), Soul Season. “Every now and then, he can rip it up too.”
On Soul, which was released locally last month but won’t be available nationally until September, Krekel tapped into Webb’s expertise, partly because he is a known commodity. Now the touring keyboardist for The Wreckers, Webb, who hails from Adair County, had joined Krekel’s outfit The Sluggers in 1987 and toured the Southeast. The band recorded two albums, one for the now-defunct Monument Records and another for Arista, but was dropped. In the early 1990s, Krekel moved back to Louisville and continued his solo career.
Once the pair dug into the meat of Soul Season’s first track, “Casualties,” they knew they had stumbled onto something greater.
“It was pretty obvious because we had cut an EP’s worth (of material) by the end of the first night,” Webb says. “The guys were so on top of their game from doing so many shows. There was no shortage of material. There was quite a variety, and what initially started out as, perhaps, a Stonesy, bar-band demo thing, could be more like The Band’s (Music From) Big Pink: a lot of variety and a lot of flow.”
Soul Season wasn’t meant to capitalize on creative narcissism, which is why it’s “TKO,” or Tim Krekel Orchestra, on the CD jacket. TKO is Krekel plus a lineup of stellar musicians who’ve backed him for four years. “This record had a particular focus,” Krekel said during an interview late last month. “I don’t consider it a solo record. It’s a band.”
Ed Bigler had to be convinced. After years running a jazz club in Nashville, Bigler had abandoned the music business almost entirely, relocating to Arizona, where he briefly worked for Sen. John McCain. Tim Krekel was the furthest thing from his mind.
“Other than his work with Buffet, I really didn’t know the Tim Krekel name,” Bigler says. “I wasn’t quite hip to what an outstanding musician and performer he was. I heard this project, and I wanted it really bad.”
The horns blew him away, as they should: Soul Season prominently features Donn Adams of the Whole Wheat Horns, NRBQ’s horn section, and Michael Murphy, a Whole Wheat part-timer and Louisville staple who now sits in with the Greg Foresman Band. Their style adds spice to Soul’. That overall flavor, and a Krekel performance with Marshall Chapman at the famous Bluebird Café in Nashville three months ago, motivated Bigler to put out Soul on his label, Natchez Trace Records, which targets AAA radio.
“I’m a fledgling label, and we have to be careful about the type of projects we take on,” Bigler explains. “As an ex-musician, I really recognize his level of artistry. He has the ego of the Dalai Lama. We all wonder why he’s not famous, and we’d certainly like to get him there. If Bob Seger and the Stones can get the geezers out there …” he says.
Tim Krekel (solo)
Thursday, Aug. 2
Bluegrass Brewing Co. (St. Matthews)
3929 Shelbyville Road
Free; 6 p.m.