By Walt Trott The Nashville Musician, April – June 2000
Kenny Butterill is a late bloomer, who’s finding his way as a singer-songwriter – via the Internet. He’s currently receiving airplay on over 50 foreign radio stations, as well as major U.S. stations in L.A., Boston, Chicago and Music City.
The former Ontario native talked with this Nashville-based interviewer on the old-fashioned telephone, from his northern California home in Scotts Valley. He speaks in the same burnt umber tones heard vocally on his new CD “No One You Know.”
“Actually, I was born (near Toronto) in a little town called Ajax (which docks on Lake Ontario),” explains Butterill, who otherwise like to draw a sort of veil of secrecy around himself. “I try to keep my art separate, and my personal life private.”
He graduated from the University of Ottawa, a business major, and today enjoys success in his other life, delving in “high technology and computer software.”
Until associates convinced him it was time to put out a full-fledged album (due to hit stores April 25), Kenny was “noodling along, mainly as a songwriter.” In addition to “No One You Know,” the Association for Independent Music has just added a Butterill song (“Balsam Lake“) to their Americana Sampler CD, being released in May.
Kenny’s not one to put labels on his mellow music: nonetheless, when boxed in, he admits, “Some of my songs even have a blues feel. I do a lot of minor chords . . . and if there were a bucket to put ’em in, it would probably be one that’s on the fringe of country and folk.”
Meanwhile, NoBullSongs Records’ “No One You Know” is being distributed on the North American continent by the Orchard & Valley Media.
The multi-talented Kenny bought his first guitar while living in Canada, and from a tender age tried his hand at writing songs. To date, he figures the total numbers more than 100, “including about 40 I’m happy with now.”
That, of course, would solve the usual sophomore album headaches confronting most newcomers. At the urging of others, Kenny tested his music on the Web, primarily using E-music’s www.IUMA.com, and was surprised how rapidly results came pouring in.
“On the IUMA (inaugural) country chart, we debuted at #1,” Butterill explains. “On the folk chart at #2, hit #7 on the college chart, with an overall IUMA rating of #13. When you consider there were some 5,000 artists at IUMA, my music came out really well. In about 11 countries (overseas) there are pockets of interest.
“I mean, I’m not BMG, so it’s not like we’re doing this major promotion; we just sort of tip-toe over there. But, we’ve got some good feedback; with the most airplay so far in The Netherlands, and then Belgium.”
Two songs that seem to be getting the lion’s share of attention from is CD are “Balsam Lake” and “How Far Can We Go?”
The former tune pays homage to the family’s summer home near the town of Coboconk: “It’s about 60 miles north of Toronto. My family has a cottage there, and they first flew me up there in 1957, when I was two months old.”
Ironically, it’s also where Butterill wrote one of his more controversial songs on the CD (all of which he penned): “Back to Canada.”
It was right about the time of a (separatist) referendum, and while doodling around there, just sitting on the dock at Balsam Lake, I recalled the country when I left it. We had no welfare problems to speak of, no major debt, and things just seemed better back then.”
“I had always admired (former Prime Minister) Pierre Trudeau and, to me, he always seemed to have it under control,” muses Butterill. “Yeah, I guess we all have our views on politics.”
Perhaps his most cutting in-your-face verse goes: “Quebec forgets who won the war/The rest forget what was fought for/But working together must be the cause/All for one despite our flaws. . .”
The troubadour even tackles tumultuous times in the U.S. with “Our Liberty,” touching on the revered Bill of Rights: “Wrapped in the flag, Big Brother rules/Lies are told, the Press is fooled/Wrapped in the flag, strange to see/Protecting their view of our liberty. . .”
More innocent are his ode to a former pet pooch, “Good Ol’ Thumper,” and a significant other, “She Knows How To Love Me.” Sweet-voiced songstress Nulita Frias joins Butterill for a welcome duet on “Was It Love in Your Eyes? ”
The project was co-produce by his manager James Crandall and fellow musician Daoud Shaw (who has traded licks with the likes of the late Jerry Garcia and Van Morrison), utilizing some of the tunesmith’s demo recording.
A listen to “Don’t Worry Now My Son” disclosed that Kenny is the product of a broken home. Subsequently, his Dad became a dual citizen of Canada and the USA.
He’d moved to Ft. Lauderdale, so I came to the States to get to know him, and I lived there in Florida awhile. Then my dad passed away in 1988.
Kenny recalls one of his earliest musical influences was Canadian legend Gordon Lightfoot: “I learned a great deal just by listening to his recordings.”
It was during the early 1990’s, that the fledgling songwriter began “pitching” his tunes, but was soon discouraged by those who wanted him to conform to a style then considered more commercial.
“When they brought out these single song contracts, I didn’t consider them to be songwriter friendly, plus those rather onerous reversion contracts put forth, or lack thereof, discouraged me somewhat. I had what I called a bucket of despair. But, thanks to my business interest, I was never a starving songwriter, desperate for a cut.”
Since settling just north of Santa Cruz, in the mountainous Scotts Valley, he’s slowly become part of a real music hub developing in that region.
“I’m very pleased with this area. There’s an enormous pool of talent here (in Santa Cruz, a 50,000-population beach town). Neil Young (another Canadian hero) lives about 50 miles away from Santa Cruz, and once in awhile he’ll try out some new material at one of the do-drop-in places here.”
A few years back at the local Fat Fry Festival, Kenny met the musician and yet another who had inspired him, John Prine. A third Butterill hero, – J.J. Cale – played a gig at a local club, Sweetwater’s, in preparation for his Carnegie Hall opening in New York City. Cale, like Prine, immortalized Butterill’s guitar with their signatures.
Since the musicians on his album are studio players, Butterill’s currently recruiting some professional musicians for a band to accompany him at live gigs.
“I have to finish my commitment to studio time for another album,” Butterill concludes. “Right now, mine is a very dichotomous life, as none of this was really planned. But, it looks like things are finally moving in the right direction.”
From the Nashville Musician, Official Journal of the American Federation of Musicians, Volume XV, No. 2, April – June 2000