Texas Spotlight: Kelly Kenning

For almost thirty years, Kelly Kenning has been a staple of the Texas country music scene, predating a time where country music fans were separated into Red Dirt or Music Row. Perhaps that’s why his music has universal appeal.
Like many aspiring musicians, Kenning learned to play guitar in his early teens and formed his first band soon afterwards. “I guess it was a real band,” says Kenning, “but it wasn’t all real players. One of them was a drum machine. We didn’t play but ten gigs that year. I was just then getting my feet wet.”
It wouldn’t be long before he was diving headlong into the music business. At the age of 14, he cut his first single and received his first radio plays with a song written by his friend Wade Duncan called “Love’s Not A Game.” It was recorded his first time in a studio.
He formed his first serious band, Wildfire, in the mid- to late-80s while he was still in high school, playing mostly around Corpus Christi, Texas. “I didn’t have a normal high school experience,” Kenning remembers. “While all the other kids were going to parties I was playing shows. Instead of going to the prom, I was playing the prom.”
Wildfire lasted until 1991, after which he formed The Rockinghorse Riders. With The Rockinghorse Riders, Kenning toured all over the southern half of Texas, from San Antonio to the Valley along the Mexican border. The band even recorded and self-released an album. (“Not a lot of people know about that record. Some folks have listened to the first record we did and said, ‘Who’s that?’” he jokes.)
But Kenning wasn’t satisfied with the Texas circuits alone.
“At that particular time there wasn’t a Texas music scene. You couldn’t get your records played without being on a major record label,” Kenning notes. “You know, it was before Pat Green and before all of that really kind of started happening in the ‘Texas’ area.” And with that being the case, he and his family packed up and moved to Nashville in 1995.
He would spend almost 10 years in Music City, playing on Broadway and more importantly, meeting people and honing his songwriting skills. “Had a lot of fun down there,” Kenning says of his time playing on Broadway. “I met a lot of people down there; had a lot of friends that played down there. I still write with some of those people.”
He was nearing the release of an album in Nashville in 2004 when he was called back home to Texas to deal with a family emergency: his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Admirably he put his music career on hold to assist his father and take the reins of the family business. (He’s still the Vice President of a chain of Dairy Burger restaurants in Texas.)
Kenning’s next album was delayed for six years, as running the family business, his father’s health, and taking care of his children left little time for music. He didn’t abandon his music career though, and when time allowed, he worked to record his next album. That album, entitled What A Cowboy Was, was released last September. Kenning co-wrote three of the tracks and co-produced the album with David Chamberlain.
His latest single comes right on the heels of the release of What A Cowboy Was. “Hillbilly Dirty Dance” was released on June 16, and another album is in the works. He and his band will soon be going on a radio tour in support of the single.
He also recently partnered with the Make A Wish Foundation. On June 25, he and the band made a little boy’s dream come true, bringing him on stage to play guitar with the band at the 3rd Annual Music and Bull Riding Festival in Odessa, Texas.
As for what’s next, he’s a bit secretive, which makes it all the more alluring: “[The label has] asked me not to say anything about it yet, but they’re working on some cool things for the band that are coming up.”

1 Comment

  1. I’ve always loved Kelly’s music. We are very proud of him here in South Texas.

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