Kendell Marvel

Kendell Marvel, right, with producer Keith Gattis perform at the Exit / In this past summer in Nashville.


Kendell Marvel is on a roll.

A couple days ago, Spotify released a new music compilation of “country music that rocks.” The list included Marvel alongside of Sturgill Simpson, Kid Rock, Chris Stapleton and Aaron Lewis.

The 46-year-old Thompsonville native hosts Kendell Marvel's Honky Tonk Experience, a monthly marathon jam at the iconic Exit In in Nashville that features a stage full of veteran session musicians and a guarantee of several unannounced special guests at each show. Cody Jinks, Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss have dropped in recently.

Marvel's hot streak includes writing current single “Either Way” for close friend Stapleton. In the past, Marvel and Stapleton have played a songwriters night at the Marion Civic Center and a gig at the Old King Coal Festival in West Frankfort.

On Friday, Marvel will be releasing his debut “Lowdown & Lonesome” album on Big Daddy Records and follow up with an album release party/concert at Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Opening acts will be The Cache River Band and Sweettalker.

Tickets are $20, which includes a copy of the new CD, and can be purchased at For more information call 618-997-4577. A $10 donation will be made to a local food bank for every ticket sold.

“This blows my mind. I thought putting an album out was a long-gone dream,” Marvel says.“The state of the music business made it possible. There is stuff happening outside of radio. Guys like Stapleton, Sturgill, Jason Isbell and Cody Jinks are getting popular on social media, then selling out major concert venues with zero radio support. The game has changed.”

The album is loaded with uptempo tunes with a driving beat. Marvel likes to refer to the sound as “Waylon Jennings meets ZZ Top.” He wrote the rambunctious title track with Randy Houser and Keith Gattis, who produced the album, and stayed in the same conceptual groove with the remaining tunes. He teased fans with a preview of the sound earlier this year with the release of Eagles-like single “Gypsy Woman.”

“It's a little more rock-driven with a faster tempo than most things on the market today,” he says. “Really, I'm glad I waited this long. I would've never done it as a younger man. Back then, I would've just tried to sound like whoever was popular. This is who I am. A real honest record. People can tell the difference.”

With his popularity rising, Marvel has been forced to make a few upgrades. Clay Bradley, the grandson of legendary producer Owen Bradley, has been hired as his manager. Heather Bohn serves as his publicist. His daughter, Shelby Marvel, is in charge of social media. Just this week, he hired the prestigious William Morris Agency as his booking agent.

“The plan is to build a fan base with the new record. People need to stream it. I need all the Spotify followers I can get,” Marvel says. “Next year, I'm hoping to hook on to a major tour, gain a little more exposure and continue to grow this thing.”

Marvel packed up most of his personal belongings more than 20 years ago and followed his country music ambitions to Nashville. He had been successful in Southern Illinois and thought his vocal magic would transform him into a star.

It was a golden age in country music with superstars like Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn and George Strait. The radio was blasting music by newcomers The Dixie Chicks on his 1998 migration trip down Interstate 24.

Marvel immediately witnessed the ferocious competition and artistic sacrifice a vocalist must be willing to endure daily and he opted out of relentless grind, finding his niche as a songwriter without missing a beat.

His first night in Nashville, he wrote the Gary Allan anthem “Right Where I Need To Be” and later would pen the early hits that turned Jake Owen into a household name. He says his crowning achievement was inking the 2009 George Strait hit “Twang.”

Marvel is a major songwriting force in Nashville. He represents the Bluebird Cafe at annual workshops in Key West and The Bahamas.

In recent years, there has been a major shift in country music. The emphasis from Music Row has been on a progressive, rap style targeted at a younger audience.

“It's hard to write stuff you can't relate to,” Marvel says.

Traditional country music seemed to be on life support for a long time, but ironically resurrected itself through social media.

This new sound is a perfect stylist match for Marvel. He helped turn the tide by writing the title cut for Jamey Johnson's breakout “That Lonesome Song” album.

All proceeds from the Oct. 24 Honky Tonk Experience show in Nashville, which will feature a guest appearance by Brothers Osbourne, will be donated to Music City Cares and forwarded to victims of the recent Las Vegas shooting.

VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or


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