ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 2, 1988
By Steve Newton
Donald Kinsey knows the meaning of the blues. Lately–in the wake of Roy Buchanan’s suicide–he knows it better than ever. Kinsey was a good buddy of Buchanan’s, and played guitar on his late two albums, Hot Wires and Dancing on the Edge. Since Buchanan hanged himself in a Virginia jail cell August 14, Kinsey has been playing a tune for him nightly on his current tour, which brings him to the Town Pump this Saturday (September 3). The song is called “Drowning on Dry Land”–sadly appropriate since the incarceration that led to Buchanan’s demise was the result of public drunkenness.
“He was a very emotional person,” explained Kinsey, on the line from Aspen, Colorado last week. “And he didn’t really have anybody to lean on, I guess, when those emotions took over. And a couple of drinks could trigger it. You’d see him one moment, and the next moment he’d be totally different. He was an intense player and an intense guy. But I think he’s in a better situation now.”
Roy Buchanan was just the latest of a number of musical guests that Kinsey has performed with over the years, starting with blues hero Albert King, whom he toured with as rhythm guitarist when he was just 18. After that, he formed a bluesy heavy-metal band called White Lightning, which toured with the likes of ZZ Top, Aerosmith, and Uriah Heep in the mid-’70s.
“We used a lot of big chords and heavy solos,” said Kinsey. “I used to really check out a lot of Cream. And “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, which was one of my favourite tunes, inspired me too.”
While still a member of White Lighting, Kinsey met up with reggae great Peter Tosh, who immediately invited him to the studio to sit in on his Legalize It album. Since White Lightning was fizzling out because of disagreements within the band and with the management, Kinsey took Tosh up on the offer.
“It was quite a shocker when Peter asked me,” says Kinsey, “because I hadn’t really gotten my fingers wet with reggae yet. But reggae, to me, has a touch of country and western flavour–especially when you’re approaching it from a lead guitar standpoint. It was definitely the opposite of what I was doing with White Lightning, so I had to compress my style. It was good for me, though; it was a drastic change that caused me to discipline myself.”
After touring with Tosh for a year behind Legalize It, Kinsey returned to his hometown of Gary, Indiana, only to receive a call from reggae king Bob Marley.
“Bob says, “Don-al Kinsey! What’s happening, mon? We want you to come down and play some gits with me.’ It happened just like that, and the timing was perfect.”
Kinsey joined the Wailers and moved down to Kingston, Jamaica. He played on the Rastaman Vibration album, and took part in the Wailer’s 1976 American and European tours.
That year, the Wailers were voted Rolling Stone‘s Band of the Year, and in the fall they returned to Kingston to prepare for the huge Smile Jamaica benefit concert slated for December 5. With national elections scheduled for two weeks after the show, the political atmosphere was uncertain. Kinsey was with Marley on the night of December 3, when six gunmen attempted to assassinate the bandleader.
“It must have been about 8 o’clock at night, and we had just taken a break from rehearsal. Me, Bob, and his manager were in the kitchen, and all of a sudden we started hearing this ‘pop, pop, pop’. A guy put his gun inside the kitchen door and just started firing. We were in the corner, our backs pressed up against the wall, and we couldn’t go anywhere. It seemed like I could just see bullets pass right by me; it was like in slow motion. It was weird, man. When this guy pulled the gun back, I felt that I could walk, so I immediately jumped behind a big Anvil case in one of the corners. Don Taylor, Bob’s manager, caught most of the bullets, and he was in bad shape. Bob was shot in the arm, too.”
Despite the close call, and the danger of appearing onstage afterward, Kinsey agreed to perform with Marley at the Smile Jamaica concert. “I just had faith that the Almighty was with us, and because if something was meant to happen to us, it would have happened the night of the rehearsal.”
Both of them survived that show, although Marley later succumbed to cancer. Then Tosh was shot and killed last September. And now, with Buchanan’s tragic death (he leaves a wife and seven kids), Donald Kinsey, 34, is a blues survivor with a mission.
“To tell you the truth,” he says, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m thankful to have been part of those guys’ careers and their presence. And I hope I can keep passing on something of what they gave to me.”