Blues, R&B and Soul with a generous dose of Rock and Roll
by Todd K Smith
“Rory Gallagher was humongous to me, easily the number one influence on my playing.”
~ Glenn Kaiser
Most associate Glenn Kaiser’s name with ‘70s Christian rock group The Resurrection Band and it’s morphing changed into the mighty Rez Band. For the last 20 years, Kaiser has built his reputation on the strength of his solo records with his emotional guitar playing resonating his R&B/blues roots and a husky voice to match. In 1984 Kaiser (with the Resurrection Band) started the annual Christian-based music festival Cornerstone (or “C-stone” as many attendees call it) with Chicago’s JPUSA. Held in July near Bushnell, Illinois, the 5-day festival has become the largest outdoor gathering of its kind hosting nearly 400 bands and attracting tens of thousands in attendance. In 2000, Kaiser formed a scorching power trio aptly called The Glenn Kaiser Band with long time collaborator bassist Roy Montroy (a member of TRB since ’87) and drummer Ed Bialach. Their current recording Octane is combustible and gritty capitalizing on influences that range from Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top to the arena-sized rock of the Resurrection Band.
“Growing up in Milwaukee,” says Kaiser. “African American music was huge. That was the core of what I grew up listening to.” Kaiser is sitting in the pastor’s office of the New Creation Vineyard in Michigan City, Indiana explaining, “I was never a fan of pop music because it never sounded like the singers believed what they were singing. I was listening for, not only soul and emotion, but also integrity. If it sounded like it was only about the money, I didn’t want to hear it.” The Glenn Kaiser Band is in town by invitation through Pastor Mark Van Meter to play a Saturday evening show followed the next morning by a solo acoustic Sunday worship service. The Chicago-based band still maintains membership in one of the few remaining communes that services an extensive program for homeless women and children. “Many of our songs from the new CD Octane come from my experience in service,” states Kaiser. “To believe in God is to be real, be passionate and never be ashamed. The music has to come from a place of integrity, a place of real love.”
In a moment of self-reflection, Kaiser opens up about his youth and what changed his life musically and spiritually. “In the early 60’s my brother had been in the army in Germany and he came back with a cheap “K” acoustic guitar,” says Glenn. “I took to it and messed around with it for a while. I bugged my mother for an electric guitar until she bought me a cheap-o Harmony with a single pick up and Harmony amp. It was made in Chicago but was a real piece of junk. That guitar today would be best used as a canoe paddle. I was thirteen.” Attracted by the soulful sounds of Sam and Dave and blues of BB King, Kaiser became a quick study and within a year joined his first band. “We were poor,” he says, “I’m not gonna kid ya. I was raised by a single mom and we really struggled. I found my heart in music. Ironically my first band was the Lost Souls. We played Frat parties, birthday parties - whatever we could get. Our set was made up of R&B, Blues, Soul, and a little bit of rock stuff. It got me out of the house, but also introduced me to the dangers of life.”
“The direction was simple,” he continues, “Do all the dope you can… and I did. Anyway you could smoke, drop, chew, cook or huff, I did for three or four years. The only thing I didn’t do was shoot up. I had some friends that ran needles, I saw people die - bad things happen. I even OD’d a couple times and once tried suicide.” Through a haze of drugs and misdirected wondering, Kaiser always returned to the music. “I learned the twelve basic tones, then a few open chords here and there. I found the fingering to basic soloing and I watched and listened to other guys. These are guys you never heard ‘cause they were local guitarists and never made it big, but to me they were legends. I was learning by watching and listening. Playing in bands, we’d often sit in with each other. When you get into the blues, there’s tons of jamming going on. Back in the late Sixties and early Seventies it was not uncommon to trade off doing three or four sets a night. It was for the love of the music, the love of the scene. We’d speak to each other through music.”
In his forty years of playing all styles of the blues, Kaiser has developed his own philosophy. “The genuineness, the authenticity is what it’s all about. There’s always going to be better singers, writers, and performers. Go on YouTube and watch Houndog Taylor at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in the late ‘60s. Two guitars and a drummer - these guys are absolutely killer, they have junk gear, they’re playing bass lines on guitar but they’re amazing and the music is incredibly deep. The old delta guys from the ‘20s and ‘30s that’s a lot of what I listen to. Each note is deliberate. It’s like breathing, that start-stop dynamic. Rory Gallagher was humongous to me, easily the number one influence on my playing. Listening to Irish Tour “74 or Live In Europe it was all about phonetics, off time playing, counterpoint rhythms. True artistry comes from that tension and release type playing. Without that it becomes boring.”
There was a turning point in Kaiser’s life where music battled between self-destruction and moral degradation. “I was seventeen and in a fog. We had a band house in the “freak” district of Milwaukee. There was a party one night. Everyone was shooting, there was boat-loads of hash. I was drinkin’, droppin’, smokin’ all day long. We were set up in the basement with a couple Marshall stacks cranking out these psychedelic blues jams. Everyone was loaded. All of a sudden, the cops showed up and I ran for the bathroom and crawled in the tub. I must have passed out ‘cause I woke up in another house miles away. I found out years later my friends thought I’d died and hid me off in some house and took off. Man, I hit rock bottom three or for times. After that night, God made himself known to me many times in different ways and through other people. I just ignored it or rationalized it away.”
“A number of things converged,” continues Kaiser. “A religious discussion with friends, a dark Twilight Zone episode and Portals of Prayer on the radio set me upright. When my Uncle died, I reached for a battered copy of the New Testament I was given as a kid in Saturday morning Bible school and read Matthew 24 regarding the signs of the times. I realized I was living it man. It was all around me. Then John 3:16, a scripture I’d memorized as a kid hit me between the eyes. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ If anyone’s a sinner it’s me. The seed that had been planted when I was a kid grew inside me ten-fold that minute. I lost it and wept like a baby. I thought to myself. ‘You get me and I get eternal life it’s a one-sided deal. Then I heard his voice whisper, ‘It’s because I love you.’ That’s why I was on the cross, the grave is empty - are you going to follow me?’"
“Rick Derringer went through a similar thing. You’ve got to surrender. I turned around right then. I did Jesus like I’d done dope and sex. From that moment on I felt different, wrote songs different and performed different. It didn’t have anything to do with Glenn anymore. It was anti-ego. It had to start in my own heart first. Deep in my gut God worked such a change that I dedicated my life to him. I do what I do for him, If I write a song like ‘Young Man Blues’ it’s for the kid really struggling to find his way - I know, I’ve been there. Life is worth digging out of and grabbing what’s important. There’s other songs on the new album that deal with what I see everyday like prostitution (Streetcorner Blues), poverty (Depends On Where You Stand) and finding your way back to God (U-Turn). In the end you’ve got to find yourself a friend, and the best friend I know is Jesus Christ.”
Website: Glenn Kaiser
*The Resurrection Band has a stunning new box set out. Get it now by clicking here.