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The Real Deal – Teague “The Colonel” Kernan

August 17, 2010

I asked Teague for some background information about him & Shantytown for Blog Talk Radio Host Marcia Johnson.

This is what he wrote:

A little lengthy perhaps, but I felt it necessary to include some of the more decisive moments in my life as a basis for the philosophy by which I live and write and play. Let me know if this is helpful – I think in a roundabout way it explains the way that I think about “Peace” – such a grand term, that I find it easier to use some examples of simple stories.. If you’d like some specific ones, I can write them, but if Marcia is OK with this as a general bio, I’d be happy to give her some stories upon request..

Teague Kernan Bio/Background Singer/Songwriter

I was born in Concord, MA, a few stones throws from Walden Pond. Growing up in Littleton, MA – about 25 miles west of Boston, I spent most of my childhood days like most kids, romping through the woods, playing sports, and learning things at school and from my friends and family. It wasn’t until my early high school years that I found my love for words, and more specifically, stories. I had already begun to play the harmonica by then, and sought out lessons from a paraplegic named Dave Fuller. He had fallen from a second story window while doing construction, and broken his back years before. Now in his early fifties, he found it difficult to manage tasks around his home, and keep up his health. Having no money, I arranged to help him with everything from furniture moving to baths and bedsores in exchange for a one hour harmonica lesson every Sunday morning. Dave was primarily a bluegrass player, and his early teachings coupled with my love for the blues are undoubtedly the foundation for the way I approach the instrument – rhythmically wailing. In high school some friends and I formed our first band, Dead Man’s Hand, and we began our musical careers at the campus student center. I was out of tune on our first number, lacking confidence, and kept my eyes closed for the entirety of the first number, Simple Man, by Lynyrd Skynyrd. At the end of the song, I opened my eyes to a barefoot crowd of my peers, and looked down in astonishment at the circle of sneakers and sandals surrounding the band on stage. I remember thinking at that very moment, “This is something I will do for the rest of my life.”

Dead Man’s Hand continued to improve, and we played local gigs here and there where clubs would allow us, eventually headed up to Burlington VT for the summer following high school to focus entirely on music. I picked up the guitar, and began to write my own songs, and although the chord progressions were simple, I very much enjoyed the poetry of the words, and the stories that could be told through the music.

College was a strange experience for me. I had decided against traditional college rote, and instead headed out to California and majored in poetry. I felt that the use of words was most likely the best way in which I could contribute to my community, and I wanted to hone my craft to a fine point. After a disappointing first semester in which I was told I would not be able to minor in music (I refused to choose only one instrument), and a long conversation with a friend one night, I decided to leave school for the spring semester and…

Hitch-hike around the U.S. for 3 1/2 months.  The world of words and stories I was seeking was not in the classroom, it was out there somewhere, and I was determined to find it. I left Boston on a sleet-filled morning in early February, and with a few harps, my guitar, a tarp and my backpack, I began to make my way to New Orleans. This being the first of many major intersections in my musical life,  I chanced upon a sax player by the name of Kenny King while (accidentally) street performing in “his” spot near the corner of Bourbon and Canal streets. After several similar meetings, some of which came a hair’s breadth from a fistfight, he invited me to sit in with his band, Bryan Lee and the Jump Street 5. Bryan was an old blind man, and one hell of a guitar player, but he didn’t like harp players much I was told, so “I’d best wait to jump in until you get the nod.”
I did as was told, and learned right there and then the importance of space in music, letting it breathe, and allowing each instrument to stand on its own, with others gently holding it up. The same can be said of good friendships – there is always give and take, and learning when to lead and when to follow and support. Fundamentally, if we all allowed this to each other, I believe the world would be a more peaceful place. New Orleans was just one of the many stops on my long road across the country and back, and along the way I found many more gracious folks than those that wished malcontent. Some cooked me dinner, or offered me bedding, others simply wanted someone to talk to about their lives, or wished to hear about mine. I learned a great deal about people, how we are all different, and yet all quite the same, and I wrote a lot of songs and poetry along the way. In many ways the simple and very often extremely brief meetings one has as a hitch-hiker are similar to songs and poetry – you have a short time to exchange an idea or tell a story, and then that moment is gone, and the ride is over, or the song fades into silence.

I did return again to University following my long and eye-opening travels, but it was not for me, as I had touched something a little deeper inside myself which I felt I needed to explore. I had gotten the travel bug and the writing bug at the same time- a dangerous combination for the structure of a classroom or office. I briefly moved back to Boston, and then left for Alaska.

I had about $340 and it was winter, but a place where it was cold and dark and I knew not a soul, seemed like a great place to write. There would be no distractions, and if I could find a place to live and a job before my money ran out, well, I was pretty sure I’d find the time to write some good stuff, maybe even a novel. After three days I had found a dishwashing job at the local blues bar in Anchorage, and had moved into an old pot growing room in a single wide trailer on Chugach Way. After peeling the reflective foil from the walls, I outfitted my room with all that would fit – a twin bed and small bureau. I began to play Wednesdays at the Chef’s Inn where I worked and landed some other gigs around town. I bullshitted my way into opening up for C.C.R. and some other national acts with my new band, Bucket O’ Bolts. I never did write that book though…

After nearly a year up in Alaska, I headed back to VT to play with Dead Man’s Hand, and then following a breakup, bumped around the country for a bit, spending some time in San Diego, and then San Francisco. It is here in San Francisco where I feel I have finally found a home. The idea of the city has always pleased me – “Do whatever you want as long as you are not hurting anyone else” – and I have over the last twelve years met both fascinating and beautiful people. I try as often as possible to leave the country, and find new ways of thinking and open my mind to possibilities of living an understanding. It is an enjoyable but endless search. I have found peace in the openness of the city and its inhabitants. I know and love impassioned artists, disgruntled workers who keep their heads up and roaming spirits. Everyone has a story to tell. It is these stories which I still find so inspiring. Perhaps the reason that I am so attracted to music is that it is a cross cultural, international language. You do not need to speak the native tongue to feel the lull of a melody, or feel your body move to the rhythm of a song. These are things which bring us all together, and the more that we understand each other, the more we will realize that we are all very much alike, and that there are ways to resolve our differences. These differences are great and small contextually, but emotionally, they are not so far apart. I wish I could get all the opposing cultures of the world together and have a big barn dance. I’d like to play that show, and I’d be happy just laying back and adding some accompaniment when needed…

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