George Bedard & the Kingpins
by Sandor Slomovits
The music of George Bedard & the Kingpins is, by turns, as solid and dependable as a '57 Chevy and as flashy and flamboyant as a long-finned '59 Caddy convertible. It's American roots music rockabilly, blues, country, swing, surf, soul, rhythm and blues, and early rock 'n' roll tunes that hearken back to the days when "longhair music" still meant Bach, not rock.
If you heard Bedard & the Kingpins only on radio, you'd picture pompadours, jeans, and T-shirts with packs of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeves. And you'd be partly right. Bedard does sport a 1950s-style haircut, but no casual clothes or cigarettes on stage. He follows the time-honored tradition that performers dress up for shows. It's one of the ways he shows his respect for this music, and for the audiences who love it. "I've never known anyone so into the music," says Kingpins bassist Randy Tessier. "Whether we're playing at Hill Auditorium or some Saturday night roadhouse, George gives the same thing."
And Bedard doesn't rate an A only for effort. Richard Dishman, the Kingpins' drummer, adds, "George is such a great student of styles. When he plays the blues, it sounds like the blues. When he plays a surf tune, it sounds like surf." Bedard is not only a monster guitar player in a huge variety of genres, he also writes convincingly in those styles. The trio's live shows and three recordings are about a fifty-fifty mix of originals and covers, usually of obscure classics. And you'd be hard pressed to tell which is which.
When Bedard & the Kingpins are playing, my wife races me to the dance floor. It's always crowded, and no wonder. Dishman, who's "got a back beat you can't lose," and Tessier, who lays down the perfect melodic foundation for Bedard's soaring solos, make for an irresistible rhythm section, and the band always plays with abandon and joy.
Bedard & the Kingpins have
been Ann Arbor's house band for more than a decade. They've been the soundtrack of Top of the Park, Ypsilanti's New Year's Jubilee, and countless other raucous celebrations. But their show at the Ark on Saturday, May 7, will be a rare opportunity to hear them in a small club. There won't be much room for dancers, and Bedard is looking forward to playing more blues than usual. And that's something we can look forward to as well. We'll be able to hear, even better than usual, every word of Bedard's well-crafted lyrics and every note of his muscular yet crystalline guitar licks. It will be a chance for the Kingpins to bowl us over, again, in yet another way.
[Originally published in May, 2005.]