In disparate but somehow related ways, John Kilzer is a virtual Renaissance man whose talent is one of remarkable breadth, a reflection of his intellect and deep-seated soulfulness. Beyond Memphis, where he’s long resided, having moved there from Jackson TN (home of Carl Perkins), the national music community became aware of him in the late 1980s when he was signed to Geffen Records. In the intervening years, he’s recorded a number of albums for both major and indie labels and has written songs that have been recorded and released by Roseanne Cash, Trace Adkins, Dobie Gray and Maria Muldaur, among others. While he’s an accomplished musical entity, it should be noted that he’s been an athlete, a star forward for the Memphis State Tigers. At Memphis State he not only earned a Masters degree in English literature but also taught the subject full time for three years.
On the way to making Scars, his second album for Memphis-based Archer Records, he dealt with his own issues of substance abuse, earned a Masters of Divinity from Memphis Theological Seminary and went on to earn a PhD in religious studies from London’s Middlesex University. Now ordained, Reverend Doctor Kilzer runs the recovery ministry at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Memphis.
It was early spring of 2018 when the album started to coalesce. “I wrote the songs for very quickly, in about two and half weeks and in a romantic sort of way,” Kilzer recalls. Writing the songs on piano, mandolin, ukulele and guitar, he worked feverishly, sometimes 20 hours a day. About the album’s title song, he recalls, “I flipped through a notebook I had been keeping and discovered some lyrics I had written a few years ago when I was in a ‘thin place.’ We all get scared but there’s some healing in being wounded.”
Scars was produced by GRAMMY® winner Matt Ross-Spang who has worked with Margo Price, Drive-By Truckers, The Sheepdogs, John Prine, Jason Isbell and the Elvis Presley catalog; it was recorded at Music+Arts Studio in Memphis. Ross-Sprang commented on Kilzer, “He’s in a really amazing place right now, writing some really heartfelt stuff.” Backing him on the project, recorded over the past few months, was a group of top flight Memphis musicians including Steve Selvidge (guitar), Rick Steff (keyboards), drummers Steve Potts and George Sluppick, Dave Smith (bass) as well as Ross-Spang (guitar) who produced the session out from “behind the glass” of the control room, lending a unique coherence to the sessions. Kilzer confided, “This was the old school way of doing it, all cut live. You drop all your defenses and let the music be what it’s going to be so you’re not as guarded and very much in the moment.
Kilzer reconciles his “day job” with his continuing pursuit of music, contending that “all Memphis music is soul music” so that dovetails perfectly with his being a man of the cloth. “Music is my sanctuary with so many plates spinning. Music propels me to be able to everything else I’m doing.”
The album reflects the political and social upheaval of contemporary times in a thoughtful, soulful way with 11 completely original songs. Included “The American Blues,” the debut single from Scars that is scheduled for release on November 16th along with a companion video directed by Laura Jean Hocking.