John Kilzer
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John Kilzer

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


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Hide Away



f you wanted to know about Memphis
songwriter John Kilzer, you could start any
number of places.

If you chose to go all the way back to school
days, you could begin with Kilzer’s basketball
career as a high school All-American, and
later a highly-regarded player on the
Memphis State roster. Or you could begin,
more predictably, with his two standout
roots-rock releases on Geffen Records,
Memory in the Making (1988) and Busman’s
Holiday (1991).

Considering his youth, Kilzer’s signing with

Geffen was a coup even for a songwriter as
strong and promising as he plainly was. In the days when Geffen was the prestige label for

music as disparate as Sonic Youth’s roaring avant-guitars, Peter Gabriel’s world-music
experiments, and Guns N Roses’ decadent metal, John Kilzer brought a raucous but intimate
aesthetic to the label, a heartland-style rock rooted in Southern storytelling and character
development. Like his label mate John Hiatt, Kilzer possessed the rare gift of being able to tell
you virtually everything you needed to know about the men and women who populated his
songs in the first four lines, often to a stomping backbeat that made the poetic intricacies of his
lyrics all the more striking when you really paid attention. (Check his gritty single “Red Blue
Jeans,” long admired among roots-rock aficionados, for evidence of Kilzer’s lyrical skills.)

Kilzer’s music brought him high-profile exposure; it was featured on MTV, and even on the
quintessential ’90s series “Melrose Place.” That was the shiny side of the coin. The scarred
side was years of the fast living that Kilzer finally came to realize was beyond his power to
control. So you might pick up the story just after those records, with the tale of how a young,
gifted artist battled his way back from addiction to arrive at a place of sobriety and peace—and
how he worked to help others find their way back as well, through music.

Prior to his musical career Kilzer had earned a Master’s degree in English, even taught at
Memphis State for three years. After entering recovery in 2000, he went back to school again—
divinity studies this time—and merged his music work with his soul work. So you might begin
with the music, by noting John Kilzer’s long and productive career as a songwriter for other
artists. You might recount the catalog of musicians who’ve recorded his songs over the past 20
years, a list that includes country music royalty Roseanne Cash (“Green, Yellow and Red,” on
her classic King’s Record Shop album), multiple CMT Award-winning country singer Trace
Adkins, and Greenwich Village folk-blues legend Maria Muldaur, among others. Or you might
begin on the soul side, with his Master of Divinity degree (2005) from Memphis Theological

Seminary, with his Doctorate from Middlesex University in London England (2010), or with “The
Way,” the music-driven Friday-night “recovery ministry” services he’s run regularly at St. John’s
United Methodist Church, in the heart of midtown Memphis, since the year he received his

For years, most of John Kilzer’s work was gifted out to other people. His life has taken him from
the major labels through major addiction to ministry. And though you could call him the
Reverend Dr. John Kilzer, what he is at core is a songwriter who believes, as he once noted in an
interview, that “All Memphis music is gospel music.” Drawing on the deep traditions of his
beloved Bluff City, Kilzer’s songs are rooted in joyful soul, electric blues, and folk storytelling,
making his music a rich blend of styles and approaches.

Hide Away, John Kilzer’s new album on Archer Records, finds him turning in a new set of songs
in that rich, cross-genre tradition, with the help of Memphis’s established musical community
and members of the up-and-coming generation as well. Alvin Youngblood Hart, Luther
Dickinson, Steve Selvidge, Bobby Manuel, Greg Morrow and Kirk Whalum, among others, all
show up to help Kilzer bring it home. It’s a testimony to John Kilzer’s respected standing in the
Memphis music community, and it’s the reason Hide Away marks a return to top form for a
songwriter who knows, personally and professionally, how music can move, can shake, can heal

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