Thursday Jul 09 2009
Media Life:Auburn’s Allen Kemp part of Rick Nelson, New Riders of Purple Sage bands
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
Guitar player, singer had roots in mid-1960s Denver music scene
Sometimes people are so far removed from past fame that it takes a factoid or two buried deep on the obituary page to provide a glimpse into a life lived in a larger arena than Auburn’s. Such was the case last week with the notice of the death of Allen Kemp. An Auburn resident, he died of cancer at the age of 62 late last month. Who was Allen Kemp? Well, he was a much-loved husband, father, uncle and son, his death notice noted. But he was also an outstanding guitar player and singer whose star shone most brightly during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Doing some digging, Media Life found Kemp’s most notable association was with Rick Nelson, the former teen idol who revived his career in 1969 with the help of the Stone Canyon Band. Bass player Randy Meisner and Kemp, on lead guitar, combined with Nelson on three-part harmonizing with the band. The sound would be a preview of one that Meisner would take with him when he left the band in 1971 and joined The Eagles. TOP 10 RECORD In 1972, Nelson, Kemp and The Stone Canyon Band would release “Garden Party,” and it would reach No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The song details Nelson (and Kemp’s) appearance at a rock revival festival in 1971 at Madison Square Garden that also featured 1950s stars like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Nelson and his band faced a cascade of boos when they played their new, country-rock material. Nelson’s truculent take on events that day turned into the band’s biggest hit. For Kemp, the road to what was perhaps the highest point of his music career in terms of popular success started in earnest in his home state of Colorado with a mid-1960s band called the Soul Survivors. Bolstered by local stardom, including a legendary gig in Denver opening for Bob Dylan, the group headed for Los Angeles. With another group bearing the same name (and a hit to come for that group in 1967 with “Expressway to Your Heart”) the Soul Survivors changed their moniker to The Poor and began to find a following in Sunset Strip clubs. Performances opening for major acts like the Animals and Sonny & Cher followed but the band never broke through on record. OPENED FOR HENDRIX In 1967, The Poor was flown to New York for what would turn out to be another legendary performance – this time for the first U.S. appearance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. But the band’s work was more a footnote in 1960s rock history. Meisner and Kemp had worked together since their Denver days so when Meisner linked up with Nelson, Kemp was a natural fit to follow. Kemp’s work with the Stone Canyon Band would end shortly after “Garden Party” and he would eventually become an integral part of another well-known band, the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Starting as a bass player and then moving on to rhythm guitar, Kemp would contribute to the NRPS sound between 1978 and 1982. He’s on the 1982 disc “Feelin’ All Right.” He also co-wrote a song to Roger McGuinn’s first album after leaving The Byrds. The song is called “Somebody Loves You.” Kemp’s music and life will apparently live on, with a Canadian fan and friend of the musician directing a music and film project. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.