The Hammer of The Honky Tonk Gods

Born at the junction of form and function.

The Hammer of The Honky Tonk Gods

May 10, 2024
Malcolm Mills
London, UK

Surely Leo Fender himself couldn’t have come up with a better strap line for what will be his eternally famous creation…the Telecaster, but it is Bill Kirchen who gets the credit for hitting the nail on the head with his own twangtastic theme song.

Well they put six strings on a maple stick, stuck it on a slab of ash,

Sold one to Luther threw in a pick, sent him out with Johnny Cash.

How could Leo Fender and the gang have known at the factory in Fullerton,

That the honk and twang of the Telecaster tone would outlast them - every one.

You crack a plush lined case and all up in your face

It’s your thunder and lightnin’ ride

It was born at the junction of form and function

It’s the hammer of the honky-tonk gods

The hammer of the honky-tonk gods

You’ve got Buck and Don, Merle and Roy, Muddy and the Iceman too

Bryant, Burton, Roy, Danny and Redd, that’s Redd with two Ds to you

Well there’s Waylon and Keith off the top of my head, Chrissie, Cropper and the Boss

Why, if Johnny B Goode had one he would have been the St Louis Telecaster hoss

You crack a plush lined case and all up in your face

It’s your thunder and lightnin’ ride

It was born at the junction of form and function

It’s the hammer of the honky-tonk gods

The hammer of the honky-tonk gods

Kirchen earned his reputation as a Telecaster master back in 1967 as the lick-slinging guitarist with Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Since leaving the band in the mid-1970s, he has successfully retained the title working under his own name and was recently dubbed “…a Titan of the Telecaster” by Guitar Player magazine.

Bill’s first solo album venture - Tombstone Every Mile - was released in the UK by Demon Records in 1994. It was originally going to be produced by another Telecaster wizard Danny Gatton, but that’s another story. The big wheels of the Demon Records business included Nick Lowe, Jake Riviera, Elvis Costello, and Andrew Lauder…all Kirchen fans from his Cody days. Nick Lowe was working on his Impossible Bird album at that time and invited Bill to play guitar on it. The band on those recordings with Nick comprised Geraint Watkins, Bobby Irwin, and Paul Riley. They subsequently toured with him as The Impossible Birds in the USA which is where I met Bill for the first time and witnessed his Telecaster mastery close up.

Following his stint with Nick, Bill returned to his solo career making an album for Blacktop Records before settling in with Larry Sloven’s Oakland based Hightone Records for a clutch of fine releases.

With the bones of his ode to the Telecaster already rattling around his head as the foundation of his next project, Bill was getting in the mood to make a new album by the start of the 21st century.  A few years later at our new Proper Records headquarters in south London, we had completed the construction of Specific Sound and so I made him an offer to come over and cut his next record for us in the studio that Paul had designed.  He accepted.

Bill asked Nick Lowe to play bass on the sessions along with fellow Impossible Birds, Geraint Watkins on keyboards and Bobby Irwin, drums.  The recordings were completed in a few days with the marvellous Austin DeLone contributing keyboard overdubs from the USA.  This elite team, with Paul Riley at the desk brought out the best in Bill.

His multitudinous musical influences make Kirchen’s guitar playing anything but one-dimensional which is why his albums are so hugely engaging but hard to categorize.  Broadly it’s Americana, but armed with the hammer of the honky-tonk gods, he is a master craftsman with virtually any raw material.  Kirchen brought some great new songs into the studio, all carefully chosen to be perfectly suited to the talents of this quartet.  Within a handful of days, the group forged them into shape to a very high standard.  Of course, Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods was the standout track and as a result, is still a permanent fixture on the Bill Kirchen set list.

We’re nearly twenty years down the line from the days of those great recordings and I just couldn’t resist the temptation to draw people’s attention to them again by releasing a limited edition 10” vinyl album that contains the ten tracks cut in London.

PRE-ORDER THE 10" VINYL BUNDLE HERE->