Kenn KwederView in iTunes
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Philadelphia singer/songwriter Kenn Kweder has been called "the Bard of South Street," a reference to the trendy, club-filled Philly thoroughfare that is comparable to New York's Bleeker Street and Chicago's Rush Street. And even though he is not well-known nationally, Kweder has been a folk-rock/rock & roll institution in Philly since the early '70s. Arguably, Kweder is to Philly rock what veteran saxophonists Bootsie Barnes and Larry McKenna are to Philly jazz: Someone who has enjoyed local hero status but has never received the sort of national recognition that he deserves. In fact, non-Philadelphians who have caught Kweder's Philly gigs when they visited the city have often asked the same question that visitors have asked about Barnes and McKenna: Why isn't this guy better known outside of his hometown? And for Kweder, that lack of national attention probably comes down to his refusal to sacrifice creative control. In the past, major labels have expressed interest in signing him; at one point, veteran industry mogul Clive Davis was seriously interested in signing him to Arista. But Kweder wanted more creative control than Davis was willing to offer and that outlook also kept him from signing with other major labels. Refusing to make compromises, Kweder has opted to record independently for the small Pandemonium label and his recordings have ranged from folk-rock and roots rock to new wave. Kweder, like David Bowie and Prince, has had no problem being a chameleon and taking himself in a variety of musical directions; he has refused to adhere to any type of formula and that lack of predictability may be one of the things that has intimidated major labels. Kweder brings a variety of influences to the table and along the way, his influences have ranged from Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Captain Beefheart, and Bruce Springsteen to Bowie, Lou Reed, and the Velvet Underground. Born in Upper Darby, PA (a Philly suburb), on January 29, 1952, and raised in a working-class neighborhood of southwest Philly, Kweder grew up wanting to be a professional basketball player. But when he decided that he wasn't tall enough for pro-basketball, he concentrated on his other passion: music. Kweder was only in his late teens when he started playing around Philly in the early '70s and one of the people who gave him a lot of encouragement was the late Billy Schied, a local singer/songwriter who had a reputation for being reclusive. At first, Kweder played solo gigs and accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, but after a few years, he put together a band called Kenn Kweder & the Secret Kidds. It didn't take Kweder long to earn a reputation as an irreverent, hell-raising wild man; he used a lot of profanity during his live shows and club owners were shocked when he did wacky things like wrestling with women on-stage and throwing firecrackers into the audience. And Kweder certainly found shocking ways to promote himself: One of the promotional posters that he plastered all over Philly around 1974 contained a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald (the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy) being shot by Jack Ruby. Kweder bombarded Philly with at least 2,000 of those posters and while some people found them tasteless, they did get him noticed. In the '70s, Kweder's over-the-top antics got him banned from certain clubs as some club owners considered him a loose cannon. But despite all that, Kweder was, in the '70s, the toast of Philly's rock scene. As the '70s progressed, the local buzz that Kweder and his Secret Kidds created became stronger and stronger and by the latter part of the decade, major labels were aggressively courting the singer/songwriter (who opened for Cheap Trick, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, and other major acts when they passed through Philly). In the late '70s and early '80s, many Philadelphians insisted that Kweder was destined to be "the next big thing"; his supporters assumed that it was only a matter of time before he would be signed by a major label and become internationally famous. And if Kweder had been willing to let Arista's Clive Davis have his way on creative matters, it is quite possible that he would have become as big as his Philly supporters predicted he would be. But Kweder was not willing to sacrifice commercial success if it meant being able to do things his own way and judging from his statements in various interviews, the Philadelphian doesn't regret sticking to his artistic guns. Along the way, Kweder led many different bands; the bands that came after the Secret Kidds have included the Radio Church of God, the Men From K.W.E.D.E.R., the Men From P.O.V.I.C.H. (whose name was inspired by talk show host Maury Povich), the Employees, the Codependents, and the Enablers. The lack of a record deal has not prevented Kweder from recording and building a catalog. His first release came in 1977 when he put out the 45 rpm single "Man on the Moon"/"Susie Said No." Subsequent singles included "Back on You"/"Mommy and Daddy" in 1980 and "Turning Myself Into Two"/"Amos Maggid" in 1984. Then in 1986, Kweder provided a vinyl EP, titled Kitchen Folk, which was was followed by the double-LP retrospective Pandemonium Years in 1987 and the album Man Overboard (produced by Philly singer/songwriter Ben Vaughn) in 1989. In the '90s, Kweder's albums included 1991's Flesh, Blood and Blue, 1995's self-titled effort, and 1999's Indre Sessions (all on Pandemonium Music). In the early 2000s, Kweder was still a fixture on the Philly rock scene and in 2002, he looked back on his career with Kwederology, Vol. 1 (a two-CD collection of live and studio material spanning from 1977 to 1999) and Kwederology, Vol. 2 (which also contains both live and studio material and spans 1981 to 2002). Kweder celebrated his 50th birthday on January 29, 2002. ~ Alex Henderson