Kevin Welch has achieved international acclaim as a singer/songwriter from performing in venues around the globe. No YouTube phenomena, he did it with his voice and guitar playing before live audiences in pubs, community centers and festivals. Welch will be bringing those entertaining fundamentals to the second installment of the 2013-14 Winter Wind concert series for an atypical Saturday evening performance tomorrow night. With significant Okie roots he’s often asked about the state by people largely unfamiliar with it.
“It’s pretty complicated in a lot of ways,” Welch said. “One thing my European friends have told me when I’ve taken them to Oklahoma is that they’re always a little shocked by how friendly everybody is and how kind people treat them.”
That’s often easy to take for granted even though much of the world doesn’t seem to match the genuine warmth and compassion found here. Welch tells them about the cattle, wheat fields and oil rigs but what they find amazing is the people.
Those folks, their stories and insight into their lives form a significant part of Welch’s remarkable songbook. He’s the father of three adult children and will be enlisting son Dustin to play those tunes with him at his show here.
“We sit down next to each other and just kind of go at it,” Welch said. ‘I’m doing a lot of new songs, unrecorded stuff, some off the last record and some very old numbers.”
The younger Welch plays banjo and what his dad described as spacey slide resonator guitar. They only play together when personal schedule allows and Dustin will be doing some of his own original compositions.
Welch has an extensive repertoire but he finds adding new songs can be a challenge.
“I’m not that prolific of a writer but wish I were right now,” he said. “It’s the typical touring musician problem, it’s hard to find time to write and it’s been this way for years.”
Currently Welch has been penning story songs about his recent past. He doesn’t have a deliberate creative process as much as just being receptive to the words and images that arrive in his consciousness.
“Whoever you are is going to come out in your songs in one way or another,” he said.
Many of Welch’s songs are intensely personal and come from a very private place. Part of his gift is the ability to distill universal themes such as life, death and family into a ballad. It’s a successful formula that speaks to legions of fans he’s won over decades.
Naturally a critical part of that winning recipe is singing those songs well for an audience. He has that nailed as well.
“You have to be really focused,” Welch said. “Your awareness has to be turned up when you walk on stage and you have to take charge. That’s your job and responsibility as a performer to take care of the people in there. John Hadley taught me that a long time ago among many other things.”
Visual artist and songwriter Hadley is a long time Norman resident who has collaborated with Welch as well as serving as mentor to him.
“Hadley’s a born teacher, that guy,” he said.
Welch is a music coach, too. He conducts songwriter workshops, most in home-base Texas but some as far away as Australia and New Zealand. It took some incisive thought initially for Welch to be able to articulate to students the art and craft that comes to him intuitively.
“Over time I realized I was glossing over great big chunks of the whole process because they were things that had always been there for me,” he said. “They weren’t things I thought about. I just did them.”
Welch organized ways of thinking about songs, red flags for problems and how some ideas work and others don’t. It developed into an intellectual awareness of what he was doing and why.
“One really good thing about it is that I’ve always been interested in other people’s songs,” he said. “There’s a joy to exploring the nuts and bolts of these songs because it’s a remarkable little four-minute art form that you can’t get to the bottom or top of.”
Welch and Welch will be performing a set of those 240-second masterpieces at the Santa Fe Depot tomorrow evening.
If You Go
What: Kevin Welch in concert as part of the Winter Wind Concert Series.
Where: Norman Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave.
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 19
Kevin Welch's offsrping Dustin Welch will be playing with his dad at Winter Wind. The younger Welch shown here in 2005.