Interview | FFS 5 with King Corduroy

Photo by Rob Williamson

King Corduroy finds his inspiration in the smoky bars and juke joints of American roots music’s past, solidified in legacy by great outlaws, bluesmen, and soul icons alike. While he pursues this muse, he’s been carving his own path all along the way, something that he bills as his own brand of “cosmic Southern soul music.”

Kept level by a bonafide love for the heroes of country, blues, folk, soul, funk, and beyond, King Corduroy is a savvy multi-instrumentalist, captivating storyteller, and real-life troubadour. These pillars of his artistry are worn well on his sleeve throughout his fourth release, Avalon Ave. The EP finds its place between the varying facets of King Corduroy’s own character, finding legitimacy between the pages of his travels—born in Montgomery, Alabama and laying his hat in Austin, Los Angeles, Todos Santos, Nashville, and beyond.

“It’s all about storytelling,” he says. “I go around, I see stuff, and then I report it by telling these stories. There are different types of troubadours who have carried that tradition. Ernest Tubb was The Texas Troubadour. Woody Guthrie was The Dustbowl Troubadour. I’m a cosmic troubadour — The Cosmic Troubadour of Southern Soul.”

Following the August release of Avalon Ave., For Folk’s Sake is privileged to publish King Corduroy’s answers to our ongoing ‘FFS 5’ interview series.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?
I got started in music at a very young age singing in the school choir and taking piano lessons at 8. When I was 10, I found my grandfather’s 1935 Kalamazoo parlor style acoustic guitar and couldn’t put it down so my grandmother gave it to me. She invited a cousin over to show me some chords and I was hooked. I started taking guitar lessons and then started my first band when I was in high school. We played the high school circuit: birthday parties, the homecoming dance, the Valentines’ dance, a couple bars, bar mitzvahs…the whole lot.

I went to college at the University of Alabama and played around Tucaloosa, Auburn, Montgomery and Birmingham. A lot of solo gigs and with a couple different cover bands. I knew deep down that I wanted to pursue music. I took a break from college and sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door for about a year then went back and finished college, the path that my parents expected.

I got a degree from the University of Alabama in Political Science with a minor in Journalism, but a defining moment for me occurred while I was sitting on a curb late one night in Tuscaloosa with a friend who had just graduated. When I asked him what was next he said he was going to go to an Audio Engineering school In Austin, Texas and that the school was actually just a recording studio owned by Willie Nelson that was on permanent lock-out. He said that you could record for free if you were a student. I thought holy hell this is what I need to do so I made my way to Austin and MediaTech Institute.

I had recorded in various fashions since being in high school and cutting songs at my Dad’s office with some friends from school that had recording equipment, down to owning a four track and making all kinds of recordings and experimenting on my own. Also, my neighbor in college had a small home studio set up where I would go and he would practice engineering and I would demo my songs. By the time I got to Austin I was familiar with the process, but I was blown away by the studio that I walked into. A huge custom API console and an incredible mic closet and all the dressings: Avalons, Tube-Techs, LA-2A and more. It was an amazing place to grow as an artist and engineer. The staff at that school really helped me navigate the scene in Austin and all the clubs where I needed to be playing. I started a band with some classmates that were from Arkansas and emerged myself in the scene.

Six years in Austin were a great experience of learning what it is to be a professional musician. I’ll never forget our professor Mac McDonnell who would always say: “are you a local or are you a professional?”. The question had nothing to do with whether not you were working in your hometown, it was all about your approach. I worked the door at an amazing club called Momo’s that is no longer around and just really soaked up the entire scene giggin’ at Antone’s, The Saxon Pub, The Continental Club, Threadgill’s and other iconic Austin venues. Austin that’s the place that molded me and made me into the musician I am today.

As an artist, how do you define success?
Success is so relative. To me the basic objective is simply monetizing my art to the point where it is my only necessary source of income. I think for any journeyman artist such as myself every small step of success feels great. Many artists reach great heights in a very short time period; what some might consider a failure could be a success in my book. I just feel grateful that I’m still growing as a musician and can continue to become better at my craft. My intent is to make records I am proud of and to grow my following so that I can perform all over the world. 

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?

We are in such a unique moment in time for the music business. There is a huge paradigm shift that has occurred and has allowed individuals to create a successful brand without the help of a major record label or sometimes any label at all. There are a few basic services that record labels provided in the genesis of the industry that were crucial: facilitating the production of a record, distributing the record and then putting a PR team behind the release; with tour support and major radio promo being the icing on the cake.

With the evolution of digital recording technology people can now make an album in their closet, use platforms such as Tunecore to be distribute the music in every single digital outlet available and then finally they can promote themselves via social media or by paying a PR firm to help market the brand. There is so much music being released these days that the hardest part is breaking out of the pack and becoming relevant. Obviously you have to make music that people can relate to, but the crucial component is money. It just takes money to break a band and that can be the biggest struggle for everyone: coming up with the money that it takes to be able to build a brand that is capable of career sustainability.

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?

For me the lyrics of the song are just as important as the music and melody. I draw inspiration from things that I experience; whether it be firsthand or through another conduit such as a person, book, documentary or even an NPR story as was the case for this record. I was listening to SNAP Judgment on NPR and heard a story about Norma Wallace. Norma owned a brothel in the French Quarter in the early 20th century and is said to have invented the lap dance. She didn’t give the dances, Norma was the proprietor of the establishment.

This was way before Heidi Fleiss and Norma was a much more powerful woman. She was actually able to help President Hoover capture Alvin Karpus who was Public Enemy #1 in 1936. Because of the fact that both gangsters and politicians frequented her establishment, Norma was basically untouchable. The Madam wound up taking her own life because she was so unlucky in love herself. It was quite a moving story there’s actually a book called “The Last Madam” by Chris Wiltz. I just wrote the song completely based off of everything I heard in the radio segment. The song is called: “The Queen of New Orleans”.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

One time a guy came up to me at a bar after I played a solo set and wanted to tell me about a guitar that his dad had given him. The story was incredible. His dad was a luthier and a musician that accidentally chopped off his own hand so gave his son Darien this guitar. There was a lot to the story and it was really tripping me out. So I asked the fella if I could take some notes and write a song and he said “no problem.”

I actually wrote the song and wound up putting it on my first King Corduroy album Austin Soul Stew. I took a copy of the record back to the bar and described Darien asking if anyone knew him…no one had a clue. I never saw that cat again, but I wrote a song about him and his pops called “The Ballad of Douglas McAdams” and it’s all stuff that he told me. I don’t know if that song will ever find him, but I sure found inspiration in his story. That is the true purpose of a troubadour not just to write songs but to tell stories; the stories of the time, the stories that we hear.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm