December 16, 2012 in City

Clark: Ascension to rock star status slow, deserved

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Myles Kennedy, left, and Slash pose for a photograph in Los Angeles.
(Full-size photo)

His name looms high on the cover of the latest Slash album as well as in the songwriting credits.

When he isn’t touring and recording with the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist, he’s doing the same for Alter Bridge – the band guitar slinger Mark Tremonti formed after the megagroup Creed imploded.

He’s also the guy who was invited to come to London and sing with iconic members of Led Zeppelin.

I’ll spell it out. Myles Kennedy is what every kid who plugs a guitar into an amp wants to be.

A rock star.

“All this is just crazy,” Myles tells me between bites of sushi in a South Hill restaurant.

“I find myself asking, ‘Did it all really happen?’ ”

It all did, and so much more.

But forget the fame. Forget the limo rides and the TV appearances. Forget it all for a moment.

Here’s the most impressive thing about Myles:

He’s still that same modest guy who gave me weekly guitar lessons and filled in when I needed another player for a gig at the Blue Spark.

What gives?

Where are the insufferable ego and the attitude that’s supposed to come with rock star status?

Hasn’t this man ever seen “Spinal Tap”?

Myles considers my amazement after his laughter subsides.

“I don’t have swagger,” he says in the tone you’d use to analyze an algebra problem.

“There have been times on stage that I’ve tried swagger, but I came off looking like a (term for a feminine hygiene dispenser).”

He pauses.

“I’m still pretty shy. I never expected any of this.”

It’s been a while since I’ve seen my friend, which is understandable. In the last few years Myles has toured the world, playing so many venues that he stopped counting somewhere in the mid-300s.

Buenos Aires, for example.

A performance there was beyond electrifying, he says.

The crowd not only sang along with every lyric, but every guitar riff as well. And at a volume that swelled even above the very boisterous band.

“They like the rock and roll down there,” he adds.

Myles is back in Spokane for a rare break and an even rarer chance to “power down.” The pressures of performing at such a high level over and over again have ruined so many artists that it’s become a rock and roll cliché.

So how has Myles avoided the pitfalls?

He is quick to credit his wife, Selena, for keeping him sane and tethered to reality.

Not being an overnight success was also a blessing.

“I’m the Tortoise of Rock,” he says of his glacial ascension.

Myles was in his late 20s when his band, The Mayfield Four, was finally signed to Epic Records.

That band would see only modest success. But the right people took notice of Myles’ good looks and extraordinary guitar and vocal chops.

An unexpected break came when Myles was given a cameo role in “Rock Star,” a big-budget movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston.

All the singing you hear in the movie was dubbed in later.

Except for Myles, that is.

When Creed folded, Tremonti knew who should front his new band.

Want to hear just how good Myles is?

Search his name followed by “Live in Amsterdam.” Listen to his performance of “Watch Over You.” If that doesn’t knock your socks off, you should get your ears checked.

Speaking of which …

A severe case of tinnitus – a continual ringing or buzzing in the ears caused by exposure to high volume – was a near career-ender.

The opportunity, however, was simply too great to pass up.

Myles accepted Tremonti’s offer. He deals with his bum ears by being careful and never going onstage without wearing a pair of the best in-ear monitors that money can buy.

(Note to all aspiring rock stars: Wear earplugs!)

As you might guess, Myles’ respite in the hometown he loves won’t be long.

A video shoot with Slash will be followed by a tour, followed by a songwriting and recording session with Alter Bridge, followed by more touring to Eastern Europe followed by Asia.

Myles shakes his head as if he doesn’t even believe it.

“The goals I set for myself were never so grand,” he says. “I always had realistic expectations.”

That was easy to do 20 years ago.

Myles was teaching guitar in a Spokane music store, recycling whatever money he earned into more and more gear.

The highlight of his day was driving his big yellow 1970s station wagon to a Chinese restaurant where a buck would buy him a bucket of rice.

“I’d pour on some soy sauce. It was heaven.”

It took a while, but the Tortoise of Rock won the race.

Best of all, “I still love it,” Myles says.

“My hobby is what I do for a living. I’m still that 14-year-old kid playing guitar when I came home from school.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 ordougc@spokesman.com.


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