Florida musician returns to Haywood County
Lifestyles Editor — Singer/songwriter Jimi McKenzie from Palatka, Florida south of Jacksonville, has performed at bars, restaurants, concert halls and festivals across the country and around the globe. But when this seasoned musician was first invited to play at Frog Level Brewing Company in Waynesville earlier this year, he knew he had found a venue he could come to call home.
Combining American folk, blues and jazz with a Cajun, coastll flavor, McKenzie’s evolving sound is distinctly his own. Mckenzie plays guitar and sings lead vocals with his band, Jimi McKenzie and The Kenzie Report, which includes Steffi Tassos on keyboard and vocals; Jim Crozier on bass and vocals; Bill Landing on saxophone and Steve Redmond on drums.
In celebration of the rerelease of his first album, “I’ve Got to Go,” originally recorded in Miami, Florida in 1979, this month, McKenzie returns solo to some of his favorite local venues to perform Americana originals and other popular hits.
At 7 p.m. tonight (July 17) he’ll hit the stage at Sid’s on Main in Canton.
Then at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 27, he’ll perform at Bear Water Brewing Company in Waynesville with long-time bass player Jim Crozie before making one last appearance Wednesday, July 31 at Sid’s on Main.
Between recording sessions and performance, McKenzie found time to sit down with The Mountaineer to reflect on his career and draw to Haywood County.
Q: How was The McKenzie Brothers band formed?
A: My brother Johnny had graduated from Florida State University and was starting to get a name for himself as a poet and songwriter. He wound up in Key West. I was accepted and ready to start at FSU when he called. He said he'd seen the reaction to sibling harmonies in family groups from the crowds and ask me to join him. The day I arrived, I think Johnny had like 31 nights almost in a row booked. So it was rehearse all day, play all night. That makes you get good really fast and we did. We were well known throughout the southeast.
Q:When did you first discover Haywood County as a music venue?
A: I guess I was 6 or 7 and my family was camping in one of the campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They took us to spend the day in Maggie Valley. Like a big thunder clap from the heavens, the music started and everything became alive. Everyone’s mood changed. Old people were dancing and singing along with the old, white bearded singer….Our parents had to drag my brother and I away. We stopped in a Jacksonville, Florida pawn shop and Dad bought a $60 guitar. That's the one I inherited. I now have a cabin on McClure Creek [in Canton]. Earlier this year, I performed at Frog Level Brewery and wanted to come back.
Q: How was your album, “I’ve Got to go,” that you’ve rereleased produced originally?
A: Hal Hansford [McKenzie’s musically talented friend from high school] had just taken a job as the recording engineer at Coconuts Studio in Miami, Florida, owned by a Jewish lady from Washington D.C. old enough to be our grandmother. She had a recording studio but no one to record. Jimmy Carter was president and offered tax breaks to supporters of the arts. She had many wealthy friend in D.C. who needed tax breaks. Hal asked me to come down and record with him in the studio.
Q: Why did you decide to rerecord your first album?
A: My house burned down three years ago and only three vinyl albums of “I’ve Got To Go” survived. When I opened one, it was scratched and a little warped. I realized the only way to preserve the album was to get it onto a CD. I spent months of time using Adobe Audition music software removing clicks and pops, trying to digitally remaster [my album] to CD quality. I printed about 20 copies, handed them out to friends and fans and their response was so positive.
Q: How would you describe your sound on your newest C.D.?
A: It's so hard to put in a category. There's a Cajun song, a couple of blues rockers, a couple of “cry in your beer” songs and some tropical feeling songs. It defiantly has a jazzy undercurrent.
Q: What's your favorite song off this album and why?
A: Your newest song is always your favorite. So many have fallen by the wayside, but two songs off “I've Got To Go,” “Wonderful to be in Love” and “Live Again” have been universally liked and played at almost every gig I’ve had since I wrote them be it honky-tonks, biker bars, concerts or at a bunch of weddings.
Q: How has your musical style grown or changed from the first time you released this album to now?
A: I'm a much better musician, writer and performer than I was. I try to write more radio friendly, but the style, for better or worse, is still uniquely McKenzie. It's better sometimes when you don't know what you don't know. Whatever talent I have is innate and God given. It's what I'm supposed to be doing with my time on this earth.
Q: What are your musical career goals for the future?
A: I'll always be the singer/songwriter troubadour. There's nothing more fun than playing in a new town to a new audience. So the plan is finish the Jimi McKenzie and The Kenzie Report album, promote “I’ve Got to Go” into the fall and then play with The Kenzie Report band in the winter months.