A former member of Bob Marley’s Wailers, Donald Kinsey plays Grand Rapids’ Fourth of July celebration on Wednesday.
A good soul and a tremendously under-appreciated, masterful guitarist.
Donald Kinsey is that and more, tutored as a young child on the knee of his famous father, Big Daddy Kinsey, touring as a teenager with legendary bluesman Albert King, joining the Wailers at the request of reggae star Bob Marley, and making a blues-funk splash with his brothers in The Kinsey Report.
But after moving to Grand Rapids from the Chicago area about six years ago – seeking a change and rejuvenation after the devastating deaths of his wife and mother — Kinsey also has flown mostly under the radar, while forming his own band with some West Michigan musicians and continuing work on his first solo album.
His talent and passion are undeniable: I’ve seen his gentle mentoring spirit during an informal band rehearsal at Billy’s Lounge as well as his superstar-like guitar prowess jamming with the likes of Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes on stage during last week’s brilliant encore at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park with a near-capacity crowd cheering him on.
As he puts it, “You need to get your body and soul in line with your music.”
Now 59, Kinsey’s certainly learned to do that, starting with early performances with his father at Gary, Ind.-area Elks Clubs, and Sunday morning gospel radio shows and church services. He was given his first electric guitar and tiny amplifier at age 7, and has never looked back, going on to play with the likes of Marley, King, Peter Tosh and Roy Buchanan. He’s even featured in the latest, much-acclaimed “Marley” documentary which was released earlier this year.
It’s one reason why I’ve long hankered to spotlight Kinsey on Local Spins Live, to give a renowned artist who’s recognized internationally by other musicians some attention in his adopted hometown.
Kinsey, who relocated to Grand Rapids at the suggestion of pal and local blueshound Felix Ybarra of the West Michigan Blues Society, certainly has embraced the city and its vibrant music scene. “I was looking for fresh energy,” he says. “I feel the support of the arts here.”
So on Wednesday, at the Amway-sponsored Fourth of July celebration in downtown Grand Rapids, Kinsey will kick off a dynamic lineup of West Michigan talent starting at 6 p.m. in Ah Nab Awen Park in front of the Gerald R. Ford Museum. Performances by country’s Kari Lynch Band, pop’s Garrett Borns and rock’s The Outer Vibe will follow, leading up to the 10:30 p.m. fireworks display. More details about that celebration here.
On Tuesday, in a special edition of Local Spins Live, Kinsey stopped by the studios of WLAV-FM (96.9) and News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW) to talk about his career and perform on the air. You can listen to a podcast of the interview and performance here, and watch a video of his acoustic rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” below. He also visited The Tony Gates Show on WLAV-FM (96.9) to perform an original tune, which you can find here at Spins on Music, too.
With his inimitable blues-throated growl, Kinsey enjoys chatting enthusiastically about his experiences touring with King starting at the age of 17, getting a call from Marley to join his reggae band after recording an album with Tosh at New York’s Island Records, and striking up a friendship with Haynes during a tour with the Allman Brothers and Albert Collins two decades ago.
Now, he’s passing on some of his musical knowledge and advice to another generation of guitarists, tutoring young students on the instrument in the Grand Rapids area and helping produce albums by local bands such as Mystic Dub. He’s following the lead of his father, who patiently began instructing Kinsey in the art of playing guitar at age 5.
“I’m teaching my students the same way,” he says, thrilled when the young musicians experience the magic of “getting it” on guitar. “I see that spark in their eye.”
With an unwavering faith in God, he’s also found inspiration and a refreshed attitude toward life by spending time with his six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“That really changed my life,” he says. “When you’re in the music business, you get caught up in so many different things. I went through some changes. … But my grandkids gave me what I needed. It was like an atomic bomb going off. It’s just a great feeling and I’m so thankful for that.”
For more photos and a show schedule, visit Kinsey’s website at http://donaldkinsey.com/.
Donald Kinsey “Big Boss Man” (Acoustic) on Local Spins (YouTube 2:44)
Donald Kinsey “Jammin Out Tonight” (Acoustic) on Local Spins (YouTube 3:13)
7/24 – 8/6