With a name like that, she’d better be good. Fortunately for Kaki King, she’s
very good indeed – a standout, virtuoso guitarist in a world of bland
uniformity, and not a bad singer and songwriter. She wasn’t always called Kaki,
either – she was born Katherine Elizabeth King in Atlanta, Georgia 30 years
“I was a small baby, so my parents decided to give me a smaller
name, and it stuck,” said King earlier this week, riding in a van somewhere
between London and Manchester, England where she was performing ahead of her
arrival in Israel for her local debut on Friday night in Tel Aviv.
remained compact in size upon reaching adulthood, but her ability on the
grew to gargantuan proportions, so much so that by mid-decade, she had
legend-like reputation in indie pop circles, which quickly spread to the
mainstream. Rolling Stone
magazine named her one of its “guitar gods” in 2006,
the first time that a woman was presented with the mantle usually
musicians with names like Hendrix and Page.
But it wasn’t ear-splitting
riffs and electric solos that King became celebrated for in recent
was, instead, as one critic called it, a
genre.” King handles the fretboard almost like a keyboard, and utilizes
entire guitar in a blur of activity for techniques like hammering,
fanning, ultimately creating an orchestra of sounds.
“I acquired my style
pretty much on my own. I took lessons as a young kid, but then I put the
away and switched to drums. I was probably 15 before I started to play
said King, who in 2007 won a Golden Globe for Best Original score along
Eddie Vedder for the American score to the Sean Penn-directed film Into the
She cited acoustic guitar masters like Alex Digrassi, Nick Drake
and Preston Reed (“he does that tapping stuff really well”) as primary
inspirations, and gave a special shout out to Leo Kottke, the veteran
picker who can make his guitar sound like an entire band.
he’s such a f****** legend, but I didn’t know him when I was learning.
when I started going through the history of guitar players, I sort of
him. He’s got that 12-string thing going – it’s so cool,” she
KING’S OWN six-string thing is also pretty splendid, with her
first, mostly instrumental, albums eventually evolving into a style that
encompasses full-fledged songs with backing musicians and lyrics sung in
breathy, childlike voice, as exemplified on her diverse
King explained that it was not only a natural progression
to move away from solely instrumental music, but it was actually a step
the days when she used to play in bands in Georgia, and later busk on
streets of New York City while attending NYU.
“When I was a teen, I was a
singer/songwriter, so, in a way, doing instrumental guitar was moving
something I already had,” she said.
“I was never fully comfortable just
playing the guitar, but then it became the ‘thing’ I did. I always
wanted to do
sort of what was natural, so while I didn’t consciously move away from
on guitar, I didn’t really think I could make a third instrumental
She was referring to her breakout third album, 2006’s ...Until
We Felt Red
, which expanded her appeal and caught the eye of many
including Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Grohl’s admiration for King’s
sparked a collaboration in which she played guitar on “Ballad of the
Beaconsfield Miners” from the Foo Fighters’ 2007 album Echoes, Silence, Patience
, and resulted in King touring Australia with the
Grohl was a fan and he emailed me a lot, stuff like ‘we have to get
said King. “When I was in LA one time, I looked him up, and he said,
by, we’re recording our record.’ They were still working on one song,
said, ‘what do you think, maybe you should play on it.’ There was no
Soon after the release of the album, King joined Grohl onstage
to perform the song at the O2 arena in London, where Grohl introduced
her to the
audience with the oftrepeated mantra: “There are some guitar players
good and there are some guitar players that are really f****** good. And
there’s Kaki King.”
The tour of Australia followed, a daunting experience
for a solo King to warm up an audience of Foo fans.
“It’s always weird in
arenas – they open the doors, shut down the lights and you start
said. “You need a little courage to get up by yourself in front of
COURAGE IS something King clearly doesn’t lack, however. Take,
for example, her good-natured tonguelashing of jazz legend Herbie
whom she hung out last week at the North Sea Jazz Festival in
On her Web site blog, she recounted a ribald exchange which
could have passed as a come-on by the 70-year-old musician. But instead
getting angry, King laughed and called Hancock a “dirty old man,” and
post by writing, “Herbie, I want to be just like you when I’m 70.
“Well, that pretty much sums up what happened,” King laughed,
in answer to whether she and Hancock were now an item. “People said to
must be so upset.’ But I was serious when I wrote ‘I want to be like you
I’m your age.’ “I really want to be a dirty old man like him. Did what I
come off like I was upset about it? That’s funny, because I wasn’t.”
small, attractive woman in a world of male musicians, King has had to
choose her fights, and admitted that she has no patience for people who
her gender instead of her guitar.
“Of course I encounter sexist
situations, and it gets me angry,” she said. “It would piss anyone off
weren’t taken seriously.”
Someone who takes King deadly serious is local
singer/songwriter Tamar Eisenman, who, last year, soon after the release
acclaimed album Gymnasium, found herself sharing a bill with King in
The two immediately developed a mutual admiration society.
“I didn’t know
anything about Tamar, but she was great. The show was awesome and after
out together,” said King. “We talked about making a show happen one day,
kind of left it at that.
Then she called me and now it’s actually
She was referring to Friday night’s show at the Barby club in
Tel Aviv featuring herself and Eisenman.
“We’ll play some songs
together,” promised King. “I’m not sure what, but we’ll figure it out
when I get
Chances are, though, it will be good, very good.