Upstate Beat: Kendell Marvel brings rockin’ honky-tonk country sound to Greenville

If you’re a fan of that sweet spot where honky-tonk country and rock ‘n’ roll meet, you’ll probably love Kendell Marvel. If you enjoy what artists like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson have been doing for the last few years, you definitely want to check out Marvel. In fact, Marvel has known Stapleton for more than 20 years; they both worked in the trenches in Nashville writing songs for other artists before becoming noted performers themselves.

Heck, you probably already know a couple of Kendell Marvel songs, even if you don’t know his name. If you’ve heard Gary Allan’s top-five hit “Right Where I Need To Be,” or George Strait’s “Twang,” or Chris Stapleton’s “Either Way,” you’re familiar with Kendell Marvel’s songwriting.

“Just because you put a steel guitar on something does not make it a country song.” – Kendell Marvel

Stapleton actually guests on Marvel’s new album “Come On Sunshine,” on a perfect honky-tonk country tune called “Don’t Tell Me How To Drink.” That track kicks off Marvel’s album, and he dives right into a series of collaborations with singer-guitarist Al Anderson (NRBQ), The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Willie’s Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael and many more.

“I’ve known most of those guys for a long, long time,” Marvel says. “Me and Stapleton go back 20 years; we’ve written 70 songs probably together. So I just enjoy, you know, unique talents. And as far as Al Anderson, Paul McCartney’s a fan of the guy so how can I not be? I love writing with people like that, who just come from different genres or just different walks of life. I surround myself with people who are more talented than me.”

“Come On Sunshine” relies just as much on thumping rhythms as it does pedal steel, so there’s plenty of rock and roll in the mix, but the lyrics are pure country. Marvel focuses on hard times (“Dying Isn’t Cheap”), heartbreak (the aching “Fool Like Me”), true love (“Never Lovin’ You”) and raising hell (the aforementioned “Don’t Tell Me How To Drink”).

Real country, the kind in Marvel’s lyrics, is in short supply on the radio these days, and he’s well aware of that fact.

Kendell Marvel
Kendell Marvel. Photo by Laura e. Partain

“Just because you put a steel guitar on something does not make it a country song,” he says. “I feel like the lyrics to these songs are country. Country music has always talked about what’s going on in the world and heartbreak and love and drinking, and I feel like it touches all those things.”

As an independent artist, Marvel is able to release the kind of music he wants to make. It also helps that he’s in his 50s and long past caring what other people think.

“If you don’t like it, that’s fine,” he says. “I’m at that point in my life with just about everything. I’m going to do what I want to do. And if it works, fantastic. If you love it, great. If you don’t like it, that’s great too. Everybody has their own thing. But yeah, I mean as far as coming to it later in life, I think I enjoy the small successes that I have a lot more than I would have as a young man.”

Marvel, his band and opening act Justin Ray Williams have a show coming up here in Greenville at the Radio Room, and Marvel says you can expect a good time whether you’re a fan of country or rock.

“It is a very up-tempo, rock and roll, honky tonkin’ country show,” he says. “That’s basically what it is.”

Want to go?

Kendell Marvel w/ Justin Clyde Williams
Radio Room, 110 Poinsett Highway
Friday, Nov. 4

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