Ken Ess

Ken Ess
Vocals, Bass, and assorted cricket noises

Well, hi there folks. Names Ken but you can just call me….well uh Ken. So you want to know a little something about what drives a bottom feeding plank spanker? What went wrong with my life that I wound up a musician? Not to mention a bass player? Well it all started back on a cold winter day in Milwaukee, WI. I was born to parents made up of a rock and roll accordion player. Yes you read right. My dad played accordion in a rock and roll band called the Rol-Ed’s in the well I don’t know when but I remember having to stay out of the way of the band during a jam or practice that was at our house. All I really remember was my dad telling not to repeat a single word the musicians said or my mother would be after me with a bar of soap faster than I could say “Count it off already m@%&?#f$&*er”!

I was hooked on the idea from that moment. I joined the school band as a trumpet at the tender impressionable age of 9. But that only lasted three years. But by that time I had risen to first trumpet. Not first chair but close. During those three years I had learned to sight read. Playing music correctly that I had never seen before just looked at the sheet music and play it no practice just do it. In grade school band they just teach you how to play the music nothing behind it, no theory, no modal movement, modulation? Isn’t that the wing in the museum next to the abstract art?

Ok let’s leave that memory and trek down a new path. Quit the grade school band cause to be quite honest I was tired of missing my Saturday morning cartoons to go band practice. Listening to the band leader tries and pry talent out of those who didn’t want to play but did cause dad said to. You know the type never practice never learned the music then wasted my precious time while they learned what to do instead of rehearsing what they should have already learned. That must be why I until recently have had three rehearsals in the last five or more years.

I started listening to whatever was playing on the am radio but my older sister eventually showed my how lame am radio was (remember the 70’s when am played top 40 and fm played all the out there stuff). My eyes were opened in part due to my sister and my best friend Jim. But still I only played the radio. Except for that instance when driving from Minneapolis to Milwaukee in the family van I drove the family nuts by teaching myself how to play the accordion. By the time we got home I was able to pick out the notes and play along with the songs playing on the radio. My ear was born thanks to an accordion given to me by my late cousin Bret. From there it went all downhill. I started messing around with dad’s acoustic guitar but didn’t have the ear or knowledge as barely a teenager t figure out cords. Ended up just playing single notes which I later in life learned was the root note aka bass.

Then I wound up in Uncle Sam’s private canoe club known as the US Navy. I was a Corpsman have more stories both good and bad and downright horrible to write a series of books. I have heard from more than one reliable source that I can spin a yarn. So boot camp they find out I used to play a trumpet and they put me in the boot camp band playing trumpet for up to 16 hours a day. I even got a solo (three notes but still a solo).

Boot camp ended and I went about the typical life of a sailor who never went to sea (was stationed with the Marines instead lots of stories there what I can remember we drank an awful lot back then). I bought cheap guitar at a pawn shop and started figuring it out. Was going back home from Nevada to Milwaukee on leave was gonna take my guitar and jam with some friends. Well the band Cinderella was popular then, you remember them they used to throw their guitars over their shoulders and the strap would send it flying around and they would catch it. So I tried it. I found out the big deal about strap locks cause the strap came off and my take it or leave it cheap guitar crashed into the ceiling hard enough to break the neck. So came home and still hooked up with my friends. They handed me a Rickenbacker 4001 bass saying “Jerry got called in to work, no guitar you’ll HAVE to play bass”. Two songs into they were saying “You’re a lot better than Jerry, how long been playing bass”? I looked at my watch and honestly answered about 5 minutes”. When I got back to Carson City Nevada I headed to the local pawn shops (who’d imagine that many pawnshops in Nevada conveniently located just down the road from about four casinos, surely not me). Bought a Fender bass for $100 because the pawnshop owner didn’t believe it was a real Fender. Turns out it was not only a real Fender but a very rare 1985 model which I got in 1986.

I hooked up with my first band in 1989 called Smokehouse. Played all of two shows before the band leader went to play with a real band. Then played with a band called The Blue Flames. The Blue Flames had been around for about 10 years. They played after the polo games in Hawaii for tips. And because once a year Ginger Baker of Creem would come out and play a couple songs with the band. I was gonna get to play with Ginger Baker. But I blew out my knee and was fired because they didn’t want me sitting on a stool on stage. That’s why I don’t stand still on stage too much maybe I’m afraid of getting fired again for being to sedentary.

After that I concentrated on rehab for my knee (two surgeries lots of rehab). And well I couldn’t do much so I barricaded myself in a large walk in closet and practiced in hot non air conditioned Hawaii room until my bare feet were slipping too much on the linoleum floor Or I kept slipping off my stool. Usually anywhere from 3 to 8 hours per day every day.

Came back to CONUS (the continental US for those of you unfamiliar with Hawaiian lingo) And wound up in Kansas City cause my wife said it was too cold in Wisconsin and if I wanted to live she would come visit me in summer.

I knew by this time I wanted to sing so I spent 6 months in the basement working on the same song over and over and over and….oh you get the picture. But when I was done I found I it all clicked and have been known to sing words I didn’t know off the sheet while playing a song I never heard before. Goes back to that ear thing again.

I looked in all the wrong places for the blues scene wound up playing in country bands, rock bands, metal bands, original rock bands, etc. Eventually I hooked up with that same band leader from Hawaii who was now living outside of Columbia MO. We put together a long distance band called The Alligators. We practiced and learned songs on Friday and Saturday then everybody went home. Next week we practiced Friday night and Saturday during the day. Then that night we put on a 4 hour show and took the crowd by storm. They took all the tables and chairs and pushed them to the back wall and turned the whole place into a giant dance floor. He only people who weren’t dancing that night was the bartender and whoever had game on the pool table.

That lasted about a year and a half when Jack Michaels lit out for Boston and had a successful career as a Bruce Willis impersonator.

Then I ran into Andy Money at a Blayney’s jam while talking to Buck Brown. After playing with Buck it went something this…..

Andy: hey Buck I heard you have a new bass player…

Buck: Yeah but this ain’t him.

Andy: Really……..

Numbers exchanged and The Insultors Blues Band was born. Andy Money on guitar Dick Maxwell on Harp and Steve Brown on drums. Steve get either fired or quit before one gig I don’t really remember. Dick quit after a short time and Matt “Mad Mouth” Moore jumped in and added a whole new dimension to the band. Over the 5 years The Insultors were around Andy and I were there the whole time Matt almost the whole time and the list of drummers went as follows…….Steve Brown (formerly of the Alligators) quit or fired, Craig Wise moved cause he had a real career, Paul Sleazer (deja blue and also Doc Hok and Blues deluxe) quit due to getting a night job, Buster Gregg ( Buck Brown’s Roadhouse Blues Band) moved to Wichita, Brian Winkert ( Lonnie Ray and everybody else in town) phone disconnected couldn’t get hold to tell him when to be at where for gigs, Jan Faircloth (Cobalt Project and Leveetown) quit to form Leveetown, Jerry Ricardi (Big Slim’s Full House Blues Band, Scotty Boy’s Steady Rolling Band, Dog House Daddies) quit to play with Big Slim, Buster Gregg again. You can say we went through drummers.

So Matt wanted to go in a different direction and left to form the Double Clutch Blues Band after he and did a stint as the Po’ Boys with Bill Whitehead (Fo’ Fried Chickens and a Coke), Jerry Ricardi/Buster Gregg. And they are doing very well and put on a great show. I am proud to say to last show I did before hooking up with Allied Saints was a Double Clutch show the night before my first Allied Saints gig.

So The Insultors went three piece and became Smokestak Lightnin’ and played quite a bit including our winter over shows as terminal opening act on Friday and Saturday nights at Blayney’s. Not only opening for quality local bands but also national touring acts. Between Blayney’s and Knucklehead’s some of the acts we had the privilege of opening for include: W. C. Clark, James Solberg, Smokin Joe Kubek, David Hole, Studebaker John and the Hawks, also opened for Commander Cody with Double Clutch.

So Andy decided he wanted a break and well Hambone just kinda fell into my lap. I had run into Matt Miller over a year before that at a KCBS jam and well it just happened he needed a rhythm section the same time Buster and I found ourselves with out a guitar player. So we pushed to two together along with Tommy Andrews on lead guitar. Tommy left to form TAB the Tommy Andrews Band and Farley Compton stepped in and Hambone continued until Buster informed us that he needed to leave for family reasons and Matt needed to recoup after working 13 hour days and going to school at night.

So there I sat picking up gigs with Shannon and the rhythm kings and also Adam Wyatt. Playing the rare Double Clutch or Hambone gig in out special guest series. When filling in for Adam hosting a jam and Frank Stinson asked if I knew Martin Zander that he was looking for a new bass player. Of course first thing I said was “What happened to Dennis” That’s right I could never remember his name kept calling Todd Dennis don’t know why usually good with names. Got together and things sure seem to jell well. So here I am. I’m a sinner and a saint at the same time.

The future? Allied Saints! I don’t have to worry about blowing out my voice as those of you that have seen or heard me do before cause I sing so damn loud and hard. Cause

With Missy and Moe I might end up just singing back-ups and harmonies. But hey who knows what the future holds. All I can say is good people, good music, good times, I got no plans of going anywhere soon. Thanks for bringing me on board. Ken