Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 13/6/2019 (742 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba country singer Kendra Kay will be putting a family heirloom to good use when she takes the stage this summer.
The Elkhorn artist will be toting a mint, vintage 1957 Gibson Les Paul Jr. single-cut electric guitar, which goes hand in hand with her latest single, Grandpa’s Gibson.
The black and gold six-string was owned by her grandfather, Allan Kvemshagen, who played it at local gatherings and church events in his hometown of Preeceville, Sask. He died in 2018 at the age of 90, and Kay’s memories of her grandfather — and him playing the guitar — inspired her to come up with the tune.
"He bought it in ’57, so it’s been in the family since then," Kay says. "He’s had it his whole life and he left it to my family now, my dad and myself. So, I have taken up the family tradition of playing this Gibson guitar. I’m kind of learning to play on his old instrument."
The guitar is 60 years old but looks brand new in Kay’s video for n.Grandpa’s Gibson.
"I took it into the guitar shop just to see it needed anything done, to get it tuned up and the guy was amazed with how well kept the instrument was and everything on it is original," says the 2018 Manitoba Country Music Association Award winner. "Nothing has been upgraded; everything is authentic, so it’s pretty special to have that as well."
Kay is wary about travelling too far with the guitar — that definitely means no airplanes — when she tours Western Canada this summer. However, expect it to be in her hands when she takes the Main Stage at the Red River Ex on Thursday, June 20, with fellow country artist Jess Moskaluke. And don’t be surprised to see it with Kay when she performs at Dauphin’s Countryfest, which runs June 27-30 at the Selo Ukraina grounds just south of Dauphin.
"I’d like bring it on stage and have a piece of family with me because that was one thing that grandpa was always super proud of me: that he got to hear the music he loved so much come through me," she says.
"The Red River Ex is such a cool atmosphere and Countryfest, lots of people from my hometown of Elkhorn are out there, so it’s kind of like a home show, even though it’s a couple hours from where I grew up."
While Les Paul guitars have often been synonymous with rock artists, that’s not what Kvemshagen used it for, Kay says.
"Grandpa was very religious, actually. It’s kind of funny, because it was known for the rock guitar of its age, but he used it for church music and old country songs," she says.
At the end of the Grandpa’s Gibson video, Kay has added a few seconds of her grandfather playing the guitar as a tribute to him. She wrote the song with Steve Mitchell while in Nashville, and her first time writing a song with such personal detail worked out well, she says.
"I went into the songwriting session with just the idea of Grandpa’s Gibson. I knew I had a lot of feelings behind this, but I wasn’t sure how it would resonate with other people," Kay says.
"It just kind of flowed out naturally. The first two times I listened to it, I almost teared up myself because it brought back so much emotion. It hasn’t been a full year since he’s been gone. I hadn’t wrote such a personal song before, and I was amazed at how beautifully it turned out."
While in Nashville, Kay also worked with Juno Award-winning artist Terri Clark, who co-produced Kay’s latest EP, More to Me. Kay won’t soon forget the first time she met Clark.
"That was a really cool moment. She was my very first concert, and I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I was just a little girl," Kay says. "I walked into the studio in Nashville and she was standing there waiting for me and I was completely in awe.
"I learned so much from her and the insight she had, just from the years of experience she’s had, it really showed in the tracks and it really pushed my music to a new level. It was a pretty amazing experience."
Alan Small Reporter
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.