Post-divorce, singer/songwriter Kevin Welch embraces acceptance, and finds that the 'Sky' is the limit

Kevin Welch
8 p.m. Thursday
The Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley

In a musician's life, there's someone who profoundly affected his or her future. For Kevin Welch, it was University of Oklahoma professor John Hadley.

As a youth in the Sooner State, Welch had gotten it into his head to become a singer/songwriter. Other than a brief moment at 15, he was steadfast in his dedication. Some might even say bullheaded. His parents lamented he didn't have a fallback plan, but Welch didn't want to ever fall back, so he plunged on.

At one point, Welch played some music for Hadley, who he was critical.

"At first, that pissed me off until I went and listened to it and was like, 'Oh, yeah, he's right,'" said Welch, who returns Thursday to perform at The Blue Door. "He became my best friend, chief mentor and tutor for years and years after that, and I still consider him to be that."

In the late '70s, Hadley suggested Welch he move to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue a songwriting career in the music publishing industry. It was a great education for Welch, who learned the way of the song.

"One of the best lessons I learned early on when I was just getting started there," he said. "I played some songs for one of the song pluggers and he said, 'I'll tell you what. Go home and play that song for your wife, and then 30 minutes later, go back to her and ask her if she can remember what the song was about.' I said, 'All right. You smart ass.' I did that, and sure enough, she had no idea."

Welch would spend a decade writing songs, earning cuts by artists like Patty Loveless and Reba McEntire, among others. With three kids and a hesitancy to leave home, he didn't try to make it as a performer. It wasn't until the late '80s when a wave of traditional-minded artists like Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and Nanci Griffith broke into country that he finally threw his hat in the ring, partly at Steve Earle's urging.

He released a couple albums through Warner Bros., but they didn't do as well as the label expected; he was dropped after 1992's "Western Beat."

An offer from another major label beckoned, but he wasn't sure if he should take it. They wanted him to write for country radio, which gave him pause, so he asked a musician friend for her advice.

"She said, 'You just have to decide if you want to be an artist or not,' and what she meant was, did I want to have a record deal and make records, but what I heard was, do I want to be an artist or not. I still have never told her to this day what that meant to me. I just told her, 'Thanks,' and let it go," he said." That was when I decided I was not going to sign that other major-label deal. I made a lot of decisions that now I look back on and kind of wonder if I should've played it a little bit differently than I did. But there you go."

Instead, he hooked up with several musician pals, including country artist Kieran Kane, and started their own label, Dead Reckoning. With another friend, Fats Kaplan, they formed Kane Welch Kaplan, and released three albums this decade, mining a moody roots sound without any bass or drums.

Finally, earlier this year, Welch got around to writing another solo album, "A Patch of Blue Sky," his first since 2002's "Millionaire." Written in the wake of a divorce, it features a gentle folk tone and some fine lyricism, exemplified by the lonely, reflective, "Answer Me That," which concludes, "self-love is the ruler of all of our kingdoms."

"I always try to live with something for a pretty long time until I feel like I have a handle on it, and kind of an understanding," he said. "I kept waiting to have some sort of understanding that I could write about. Some sort of revelation and finally, I decided after a long, long time, I'm just not going to understand."

That helped form an album that he said is "much more 'bout acceptance than information."

Welch promises more from Kane Welch Kaplan when they aren't so busy individually. In the meantime, he's just happy to be back in Oklahoma, where he grew up.

"Oklahoma just has a feel about it that can't be replaced," he said. "And Oklahoma audiences are really fun to play for. The Blue Door is probably my favorite gig in the country. I just love it." "Chris Parker

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