Kendell Marvel is no longer the best kept secret in Nashville.
For decades, vocalists listening to his songwriting demo tapes have been scratching their heads, wondering how they got a record deal and this guy didn't. Perplexed as anybody, the 46-year-old Marvel just kept writing some of the industry's biggest hits.
Marvel inked the new Chris Stapleton tune “Either Way,” George Strait's “Twang” and act-breaking single “Right Where I Need To Be” for Gary Allan, on the first day he migrated to Music City in 1998 from his Southern Illinois stomping grounds.
On July 21, Marvel released his debut single, “Gypsy Woman,” and there was quick approval from the country music community. Twitter was immediately glowing with remarks like: “I love this song” from Randy Houser; “This is what I call bad ass” from Jake Owen and “A killer record” from Brothers Osborne.
“The super-positive response from my artist friends was overwhelming,” Marvel said. “Making an album was something I've been wanting to do for a long time. The timing was finally right.”
“Gypsy Woman,” a soulful classic ballad with an Eagles or Zac Brown vibe, is the lead single from upcoming album “Lowdown & Lonesome,” produced by former Dwight Yoakam lead guitarist Keith Gattis. It will be released on Oct. 13 or 20. An album release party and concert will be held at Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion on Oct. 22.
“There are people out here starving for good country music,” which is what I play,” Marvel said during a Tuesday telephone interview, before heading to a Mediterranean cooking class at the Whole Foods Market in Nashville.
Marvel was inspired to record the album after watching Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, Cody Jinks and Sturgill Simpson build thriving careers without the once-mandatory support of radio.
“There is credibility surge in country music. You can reach fans on a massive scale without being on the big radio stations or having songs on the Billboard charts,” Marvel says. “Internet access opens you up to the world. Posting a quality video on YouTube is priceless. Social media leveled the playing field”
With the prodigious career momentum building, it's only a matter of time before the 12-mile stretch of Illinois 34 connecting Thompsonville and Galatia — the two small communities where he was raised — is renamed in his honor.
At the start of the year, he started hosting monthly presentations of “Kendell Marvel's Honky Tonk Experience” at the popular Exit / In in Nashville. The crowds were small at first, but it has now become one of the hottest tickets in town. Each performance features special unannounced guests, like Jamey Johnson, Jeffery Steele and Alison Krauss.
“We have created a little buzz in town,” Marvel says. “We don't play any of the stuff that you hear on mainstream radio. This is all traditional country, with a little bit of an edge.”
The next Exit / In event will be Aug. 22.
Marvel says he will sing several songs from the new album when he performs Saturday at the Harrisburg Downtown Summer Bash.
Music starts at 5 p.m. with opening acts Cat Daddy'O and Aaron Smith.
The concert will be held on a stage in the middle of Poplar Street.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Morello's, Point Blank Range and Dream Baskets. For more information, call 618-252-2300.
“This is the third straight year I've played the festival. It's like homecoming for me. Getting to see some of the folks I haven't seen in a long time is always fun,” Marvel says. “I've done solo shows in the past, but I'm bringing a full band this time.”
Included in his band this weekend are heavyweights Michael McAdam and Robby Turner. Lead guitarist McAdams toured with Steve Earle, Foster & Lloyd, Chris Knight and Lee Roy Parnell. Turner is a steel guitar legend that was a member of the Waylon Jennings road band for 11 years and has toured with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Stapleton.
Turner will not be the only legendary steel guitarist in the area this week. The Stars & Steel Guitars Show, featuring big names like Joe Wright and Lynn Owsley, will be held at 11 a.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday at the Herrin Civic Center.
Admission is $20 on Friday and $25 on Saturday. A two-day pass can be purchased at the door for $40.
Several professional session players will perform during the two-day event. They will be joined on stage by local steel players, vocalist Amber Martin and a special appearances by Mason “Little Hank” Ramsey on Friday and Barbara Fairchild on Saturday.
For more information, call event organizer Bobby Reed at 615-419-9642.
Also, solid gold country singer Doug Supernaw will perform at 7 p.m. Friday in the Entertainment Barn at the Williamson County Fair. Riley Kirk and Melissa Lee will open the show.
Admission is free.
Supernaw is the voice behind hits like “”Reno,' “Red And The Rio Grande” and “I Don't Call Him Daddy.” He performed at the CMA Festival in Nashville this year and will perform Oct. 19 at the Grand Ole Opry as part of a Ralph Stanley tribute.
A Texas native, he has strong ties to this area. His mother, the late Rosanne Tyner, was a graduate of Johnston City High School.