In a town that birthed House music and wears Blues music on its sleeve, Kent Rose is an outlier in the Chicago area. A child of the 1950's and 60's, Rose grew up in suburban Glencoe devouring the rock & roll of Buddy Holly and Elvis. He was also enamored by country and honky-tonk and the folk music of Pete Seeger and Mahalia Jackson.
“What I found was that I was given some records by country artists by my cousin, and WLS radio at the time played a wider mix of music. You could hear something like Stonewall Jackson or The Statler Brothers. I was pretty entranced by the whole thing.”
Rose said when he began playing and writing his own music, he never strayed from those early sounds. He said legendary singer/songwriter Roger Miller was another big influence and was flattered when it was pointed out “Tonight That Lover Ain’t Me” on his new album “All That American Music” has a distinct Roger Miller vibe to it. He said that song got him back into songwriting.
“Sometimes you just hit a dry spell. I was at an open mic and had the idea for the song based on looking out into the audience. When I think about the song, it sort of has some Roger Miller, and it sort of has some Floyd Tillman.”
Rose has a reverence for legendary country artists including Miller, Ernest Tubb, and Merle Haggard. But he also has an interesting musical history of his own, including an early stint with Tayna Tucker.
“That was definitely an interesting experience and exposed me to a lot of things that are hard to capture these days because bands don’t tour much in buses like that. So I got to meet and be on shows with people I looked up to. It became easy to play in front of large crowds, because they were always playing in front of large crowds.”
Playing behind top bands like Tucker, Rose said he learned professionalism firsthand.
“Even with Tanya, who was only 15 at the time, we were taught, in a sense, to focus on her while we were on stage. We got a chance to see other people doing that as well. You definitely encounter a professionalism you might not encounter on the local level.”
Rose said there was once a huge scene for music that catered to his tastes, a time when WLS Radio carried a barn-dance program that would feature violinist Johnny Frigo and guitarist George Barnes. He said though that music scene has diminished quite a bit in Chicago, there is still an outlet for the country/honky-tonk/rockabilly music he loves.
“There are a number of artists in the last few years interested in this music. Bloodshot Records has a number of artists like the Waco Brother and Robbie Fulks. So there’s quite a few people around Chicago who can play.”
“Leave This Town” has another flourish barely heard in recorded music today. Yodeling.
“I think there’s a few people left who yodel. I’d like to think I’m one of them. Just the other night I was sitting in with a band and did some yodeling. People always react pretty strongly to it. Either they love it, or they don’t like it at all. One of my earlier songs was actually called ‘What Good Is Country Music Without The Yodeling?’”
For 40 years Rose’s “day job” at the U.S. Postal Service supported his music. It was a job he says was invaluable in that it allowed him to live a more comfortable life.
“I think sometimes people see music is being something where you hit it big or don’t do it at all. Sometimes you get to a point where you say that music is a chancy sort of living. Having a job where you can count on that (an income) is a good thing to support the music.”
Rose joked that even when he played late at night, he was able to work in the morning at the Post Office.
“One of the advantages of the Post Office is that you don’t have to be charming to your co-workers if you just do your job. And I lived close to the Post Office so I could go out and work with bands at night.”
Rose is now retired from the Postal Service, but his music career continues to thrive. He continues to perform around Chicago, and said he’s thrilled with the sound of his new album. He pointed proudly to the song “When The Sadness.”
“The strings sort of captured a Roy Orbison sound. And the bass player on it (Jimmy Johnson) used to work with Roy Orbison. Originally when I played the song it was up-tempo. Once I slowed it down, it opened up the song.”