From Johnny Kee

I had the good fortune to grow up in what has been called the “folk music revival” era of the late ’50s through the ’60s. Starting with the big Kingston Trio hit of 1958, Tom Dooley, I was hooked. Tom Dooley, a simple song played with just two basic chords was based on an 1866 murder in Wilkes County, North Carolina. I loved that folk music told stories, and often historic stories. I loved the harmonies of groups like Peter, Paul and Mary and the comedy of groups like the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Smothers Brothers. I loved the older performers, like Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, and the Carter Family. Others who influenced me were Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan.

As best I recall, it was around 1958 that I was introduced to the guitar by a friend who lived on my way home from school. Sometimes we’d stop by his place after school and hang out. He showed me a few chords on his guitar, and it was enough for me to ask my parents for one for Christmas. I’m not sure they thought it was something I’d stick with, but they heard and, sure enough, Santa brought me my first guitar. For the first few years, I pretty much played by myself, working with books from the Kingston Trio (and others) featuring the songs on their albums.

In early 1962, our church youth group planned a talent show. I found another member of our group, Bob Cross (on the right in this photo), also played guitar and sang, and we decided to put together a couple songs as an act in the show. We chose to call ourselves the Bayou Brothers (from the Hank Williams song, Jambalaya on the Bayou). Our timing was perfect as we actually lined up a couple gigs before the talent show. It all went so well, that we decided to keep the little group going, and soon added another, Dave Petersen (in the center), to make it a trio.

We had a great time for a couple years, doing a regular gig at a local Milwaukee coffee house for a couple months, and a couple appearances on local TV. Many of our performances were as members of a “hootenanny circuit” made up of maybe a dozen small groups like ours and solo folk performers. It was a good time for young performers.

The Bayou Brothers continued performing until we graduated from high school in 1963 and went our separate ways. I tried to set up a couple new groups while in college at UWM. There were a few gigs, but none took traction.

After college, my performing went on the back burner as “life” took over. I did a few songs now and then for my Air Force unit’s functions, but not much else in public. That was until I joined the Praise Band at Pineda Presbyterian Church after the turn of the century.

In 2007 some of us from the Praise Band went out on the local coffee house circuit, playing as the Shouting Stones. The photo here is from an evening at the East Coast Coffee & Tea, with Ken Holt (left), Kristina Bracket (center), and me in the front, and Sammy Pontillo in the back on the drums. We played together for a little over a year until the local coffee house scene started to dry up, some going to new owners not into the music and others just shutting down.

In 2010 I joined with a talented Native American flute player, Laura Covel, as a guitar backup under the group name Easy Feelin’. We played for about a year and a half, with our performances at the 2010 and 2011 Native Rhythms Festivals in Melbourne the high points.

In 2012 I decided to start performing as a solo act, going back to my roots in folk/blues music, and Johnny Kee was born. What was new was the addition of the Native American Flute to my instruments. (By the way, I started making Native American style flutes in 2006.) I’ve also been very fortunate to have my good friend, Ken Holt, appear with me on guitar in many of my performances the first few years, including appearances at the Native Rhythms Festival in 2014 through 2017.

Check out the photo history of Johnny Kee, the performer, on my Photo Gallery page.