I’ve been playing guitar (primarily finger-style accompaniment to Americana music) since ninth grade in the 1960s. Guitar became my life. I paid for college by giving guitar lessons (as many as 40 per week), playing gigs and doing occasional studio jobs. When I was young, I played quite a few songs in the Chet Atkins style, and some classical guitar pieces but haven’t practiced either style enough to maintain those chops. I’ve written hundreds of songs, and always hoped better musicians would perform them, but never got really serious about trying to make that happen. Late in my life I started to try to improve my voice, and have been making progress. Most people think I’m a very adequate singer, but a much better guitarist. Those who’ve heard me think songwriting is my greatest strength.
I spent ten years in Colorado playing and singing in the acoustic group “Cottonwood.” We released 2 CDs, which included ten of my songs. Songs from both CDs were included on two “Best acoustic albums of the year” compilations; as a result, some of our songs were played on over 100 radio stations around the world. We have a nice pocket of fans in Adelaide, Australia, for example. Alas, I developed a little health condition which was not improved by driving an hour through Denver at night twice a week to practice, plus gigs on weekends. To reduce that stress, I resigned from the group a few years ago. After taking a break from music for a couple of years, I’ve been spending more time at it again recently.
I don’t have highly polished recorded solo versions of any of my music. I keep thinking I’ll practice a lot and get better before I record them. I’ll put a few examples up here for the oddly curious and pathologically bored.
On August 5, 2017, when a new friend developed a conflict, on short notice I played a little concert at The Atrium in Eugene Oregon. The concert (it was about an hour long) is now posted on YouTube. The sound isn’t perfect– the video camera picked up the guitar louder than the voice– but for old fans it might be fun to see that the cranky old folksinger is still at it. Because I had an inflammation of the tendons of my left hand, I let it rest by chatting between songs more than I normally would.
If you’re looking for a particular song in that video, their approximate locations are as follows:
intro to kenn 00:00
Borderline (a Dave Francey song) 1:20
Must Have Been the Rain (original)
Thing about You (a Tony Joe South song, arr Kenn Amdahl)
Big Red Barns (original) 14:00
Whiskers the Catfish (a Fred Engleberg song)
Shady Grove (traditional arr Kenn Amdahl) 22:30
Jim Donelan (original)
Preacher’s Daughter (original) 33:06
Sprig 37:27 (trad. arranged Kenn Amdahl)
July You’re a Woman (a John Stewart song)
Ain’t Nobody’s Business (I think a Josh White song) 50:40
Folsom Prison (Johnny Cash, arr Kenn Amdahl) 53:39
I was playing in a park for my own amusement when this guy wandered by and recorded me on his cell phone. Turns out he was Shawn Mitchell, a very conservative Colorado State Senator. He posted his little video of me on his Facebook page. We agree on nothing, but became Facebook “friends.” I think you have to sign in to your own Facebook account to watch the video:
Kenn Amdahl plays Shady Grove in a park, in the shade.
Sometimes, when I give a presentation about writing or publishing, I use the guitar to illustrate points. I don’t have high quality recordings of any of these, but I recently posted a couple to youtube. This one is at the Mile High Science Fiction Convention (700 people attend) and I’m talking about reading the way good writers read. The musical part begins at 3:00, where I describe and illustrates the techniques I intend to incorporate into the song. The song itself begins about 7:20:
and this one is is at the Colorado Independent Publishers Association conference, where I’m talking about Obsessions. My son recorded it from the audience:
This is an original guitar instrumental. I incorporated several little moves I needed to practice, so it became a good finger exercise. I’ve never recorded a polished version. This is how it sounds after three glasses of wine:
In 2012 I learned the Robert Burns song “Slave’s Lament.” Then I did some research on it and learned more of its history. I wrote a blog about it. You can hear the Kenn Amdahl version of the song here:
Here’s a song I wrote in 1999. The group “Cottonwood” recorded it on their “Floating” CD with Barb Henry doing lead vocals. This is the way it sounded when I showed it to the rest of the group:
One of my all time favorite Paul Simon songs is Kathy’s Song. I do it a little lower than he does.
I wrote Locomotive Sound when I was still in high school. The idea was to have the guitar sound evoke a train.
Becca Owens is letting her cello spend some time at my house and I’ve been fooling around with it, in a platonic sort of way. I decided that I’d wait to learn to use a bow, because that seems hard. On the other hand, it didn’t seem that big a reach to hold down strings and pluck them with my right hand, just like I would with a guitar. My friends say that’s not really playing the cello,and they’re probably right. What’s hard is that there are no frets, so you have to press the string down in the exact right spot if you want the right pitch. Why didn’t they just give the instrument frets? Wouldn’t we all be a lot happier? I have not gotten very far in the few months I’ve had it, but here’s an old folk song as an example of the “style.” I got my computer to play a percussion part, then played and sang along with that. Turns out it’s pretty tricky to sing while you’re playing an instrument you’re just learning:
I really like David Francey’s songs, and he’s got a cool voice. Here is my arrangement of his song “Borderline.” It’s much different than his. I do all the guitar, vocal and harmony, my computer does the percussion. I sent him a Facebook message saying that, if he’d rather I didn’t put this up here I wouldn’t. He didn’t respond, so I presume he’s cool with it. Same song as in the video above, but recorded in my basement so I could add a percussion track and some harmony.
Here’s an old folk song, I think maybe written by Josh White Sr. I was fooling around with my computer, creating the percussion by snapping my fingers, singing and playing one version, then recording another track and making up harmonies as I went. It’s pretty goofy, with tons of mistakes, but fun. At some point I may have to try to do a more careful recording of the “arrangement”:
When my kids were little, they hated my song “Born on the Ocean” It would send them scrambling out of the room faster than anything. Well, shoot, it’s pretty handy to be able to clear a room of little kids just by picking up your guitar and starting to sing a song. Not good for one’s ego, but handy.
I was in the group Cottonwood for several years. Barb and Bill had the good voices so I mostly played guitar and sang harmony. But every now and then we’d do one of my originals and I’d sing lead. Here’s my song “Floating” with me playing guitar and singing lead, then playing a banjo tuned very loose on a second track. Barb and Bill sing harmony.
Here’s a song I wrote a couple of years ago. It’s not a polished version, but you can get a sense of the song.