New Vintage
(New Folk)


If you want to play guitar alongside rock music icon Steve Miller, you’d better be good. Fans of Miller’s lengthy rock and roll career would do good to take a listen to Miller band guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis on his new CD, entitled New Vintage. Like Miller, Lewis has a real penchant for jazzy instrumentals and he really gets to stretch out on his twelve track 2009 solo effort. Lewis also has a thing for classic jazz guitar heroes like Wes Montgomery, Howard Roberts and Grant Green, and some of the smoother tracks here also echo the classic L.A. style mid ‘70s era of smooth jazz originator George Benson. So amidst the smooth, jazzy vibes how funky does Lewis get on the New Vintage CD? Well for an answer take a listen to Kenny’s fresh cover of the Average White Band classic, “Pick Up The Pieces,” written by none other than one time Wings guitarist Hamish Stuart back in the ‘70s. Other highlights abound including instro covers of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, topped off by a set-closing cover of “If I Only Had A Brain,” written by Harold Arlen for The Wizard Of Oz. Besides being a testament to Kenny’s diversity as a guitarist over the past 35 years, New Vintage is a superbly recorded album of smooth guitar jazz. /


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Musical Background

I grew up in a house of swing music. My dad was a frustrated swing musician and had played sax, guitar and drums as a young father of three while working for the State of California. Count Basie and Woody Herman were always blasting on the giant stereo phono console in the living room. We moved from the L.A. area to Sacramento in 1960 and I eventually became one the post-hippie flower children in the early 70's and started playing ukulele at the tender age of 8. My brother and sister were folkies and sang Peter Paul and Mary songs for the family during holiday get togethers. Eventually I got my hands on my brother's Sears Silvertone nylon guitar and started learning folk songs, Then the British invasion got me hankerin' for an electric rig. When I first heard Clapton's solo on "I Feel Free" in 1966, it blew me away. A year later, I cut out of playing spin the bottle at a 7th grade party to listen to Are You Experienced? on another huge stereo in Debbie Lusk's back yard. I just sat on the floor in front of those throbbing 15" speakers and went into a coma. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do in life. Play loud lead guitar and get paid for it.

Eventually I got in high school bands and then learned jazz guitar and flute in junior college. I moved back to L.A. in 1973 and started touring around the country eventually meeting up with my now wife of 34 years, Dianne Steinberg. Through recording an album with her in 1976, I met all the connected studio cats and became a double scale bass player within a year. Then in 1980 I met Gary Mallaber who had played on most of Steve Miller's hits. He had also played on Moondance with Van Morrison and most of Eddie Money's hits. He played a little keyboard and was quite the renaissance man and wrote songs. We had a couple record deals that went nowhere, then Miller called for some material near the end of 1981. We were going for another record deal and had 8 songs mixed when he called. We sent him the songs thinking he might do just one. He ended up taking all 8 and we were out of material! I played guitar and bass on most of the tracks and he actually had our little 8 track tape masters transferred to 24 track format which meant I was on the album now. I also helped in producing the new record at Capitol Records in November and December of 1981. Eventually he just asked me if I wanted to join the band and tour with him. That album became the Abracadabra album and ended up selling over 5 million copies worldwide.

These days the recording sessions have pretty much dried up so I have been writing and producing myself and other artists. I program tracks on Pro Tools and have a nice studio here at my house, Miramonte Studio. I still tour with The Steve Miller Band as a bassist and guitarist/vocalist to sell out crowds every summer. My new CD New Vintage was released last September and has had a slow start but is now getting rave reviews in all the trades. I will begin doing some concerts this week promoting my CD, the first of which will be at the famous Hearst Castle here on the Central Coast in California where I live now with my family. So after 40 years of bangin' on that guitar, I'm finally getting some individual recognition.

New CD

I just finished a new smooth jazz instrumental guitar CD New Vintage on the New Folk/Allegro record label. It was recorded here at my house in San Luis Obispo. Along with my rock and blues influences, my approach borrows sounds and techniques from Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Howard Roberts as well. It started out as a project in Studio Vision, was transferred to ADAT format and finally the last three new tracks were all done in Pro Tools HD.

Some of my guest artists include Ricky Peterson, keyboardist and musical director for David Sanborn and currently with Bonnie Raitt. Billy Peterson, former bassist and arranger for the Steve Miller Band, and co-owner of The Artist Quarter jazz club in St. Paul, MN. Paul Peterson, bassist for Kenny Loggins, George Benson, and Oleta Adams. Danny Pelfrey, saxophonist/composer who’s credits include Diana Ross and Carole King. Gordy Knutson, drummer for The Steve Miller Band and professor of percussion at the McNally-Smith College of Music in Minneapolis, MN. Jason DeLaire, former saxophonist with Michael Bolton. Singer Dianne Steinberg, recording artist and actress who portrayed “Lucy” in the Robert Stigwood production of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and many other talented session players.

On this CD I try to get back to the time when guitar instrumentals were in the top ten playlists on radio. New Vintage takes the listener back to when the merits of melody and composition were lauded upon live musicians performing as a section. Using Hammond B-3 organ, Fender Rhodes electric piano, Mini-moog synthesizer and other retro hardware of it’s day, my co-producer Billy Peterson and I sought to capture the essence of the sounds from a bygone era. Combined with acid-jazz and hip-hop influences, New Vintage crosses over the classiness of old CTI recordings and Creed Taylor productions with the grooves and feel of today’s contemporary new-age jazz.

Favorite Guitars

My choice of instruments is pretty streamlined. On the new record, I play a ’93 Gibson Custom Shop Herb Ellis ES-165 and an Epiphone Broadway Zephyr. They both have D'Addario Chromes flat-wound strings with a wound G-string of course. The amp on New Vintage is a sort of odd orphan. It’s a party favor that Steve gave everyone in the band in ’95. The manager went to Capitol Records and said we want to give everybody in the organization a nice present for the tour, and he talked Capitol into paying for 35 American Strats and Fender Pro Junior tweed amps. That little Pro Junior sounds incredible at low volume at it balances nicely with the huge sound of those jazz boxes without creating too much howling associated with acoustic electric guitars. The guitar on "Gladiator Theme" is a Godin Multiac electric nylon acoustic thin-line midi instrument which I think is a beautiful sounding guitar just plugged in direct with no microphone! And about pedals? We don't need no stinking pedals!

(my apologies to all the muso-gear-heads out there. Sometimes just plugging a big fat jazz guitar with a wound G-string into a little tube amp is all one needs to get a sweet classic tone)

Musical Influences

Number one is Wes Montgomery. He was really from another planet. Other obvious influences are Beck, Hendrix, Clapton, George Benson, Howard Roberts, Robben Ford, Terry Kath, and of course, Steve Miller.

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