Bill Kirchen on his dream Telecaster, seeing Merle Haggard open for Buck Owens and his guilty pleasures

The titan of the Telecaster has been a mainstay of country guitar music for the best part of five decades, here he tells us how it all began and why mixing exotic dancers and Christmas is a bad idea.

The moment it all started

“Mississippi John Hurt. First on record and then live at 1964 Newport Folk Festival.”

I couldn’t live without my…

“A Telecaster and an acoustic. Oh, did you say just one? Sorry.”

The one that got away

“Maybe my first guitar, a Harmony Sovereign. I sure liked it; it would be fun to hear it today. I bet it was a good one.”

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Bill Kirchen - Proper Years

My signature model

“Just a regular Telecaster with a three-position switch, the switch plate and the tone and volume knobs all reversed. I’d probably have my granddaughters, seven & 11-years old, design the paint job. That would come out extra cool.”

The first thing I play when I pick up a guitar

“Fingerpicking stuff in G. Or maybe Buckaroo on the Tele!”

The best advice I’ve ever been given

“Find people better than you to play with.”

My Spinal Tap moment

“Playing a Christmas party where the hosts hired a stripper dressed like Santa Claus. She was doing her thing on a picnic table, slipped in her high heels and fell on my trombone. It kind of cushioned her fall, so she was okay. It wrecked the trombone though.”

Bill Kirchen
Image: Valerie Fremin

My guilty pleasure

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“It’s hard to feel guilty about music, but I know the category you mean. I still like Popsicles and Icicles by The Murmaids, but I’m not a bit guilty about it. At 72, that train has luckily sailed. It was the last pop hit like that before the Beatles rolled in.”

I’m in the band

“The Beatles!”

I wish I was there

“I’ve been lucky; I saw Merle Haggard open for Buck Owens, Dylan goes electric, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf… Ray Charles up close in a night club. So, I’m good, thanks. Don’t want to be greedy!”

If I could just play one thing

“Jazz from the 30s, 40s, 50s. I can play jazzy, so some people think I can play jazz. But nobody who actually does play jazz thinks that.”

Bill Kirchen’s new retrospective album, The Proper Years, is out now via The Last Music Company Ltd.

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