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iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
Connecticut-based ax-man KRIS HEATON had his fill of the rock n roll lifestyle back in the 1980s as the guitarist for the new wave rock band CONTROL CAMP. A wife and a blossoming family took center stage as his guitar picking was forced into the basement of his homestead. Four years ago, HEATON got the urge to dust of the ax and let her rip but being older and wiser meant settling on a sound the reflected a new outlook on life Ė the blues. The KRIS HEATON BLUES BAND has released two albums since HEATON made the decision to crank things up Ė ĎRUNAWAY TRAINí (2005) and ĎSHE AINíT RIGHTí (2007). Now the band has released ĎR-ME STRONGí, a blistering set of blues rockers - emphasizing the ďrockĒ Ė that include the punchy ĎWEATHERMANí, and the snappy ĎSHUT UPí but the AC/DC inspired stomp of the title track ( a dedication to the men and women serving overseas) and the light-waving ballad ĎWHEN MEN CRYí are what steal the show.

Aside from music, HEATON has a heart as big as his guitar sound. As the founder of the non-profit organization ĎWHEELS OF HOPEí, HEATON has set out to feed the homeless and destitute of his New England community on a weekly basis. According to HEATON, his social consciousness is something that has grown with age. ďItís got something to do with the fact that Iím older.Ē says HEATON ďWhen I was a kid and fooling around with rock n roll, I was a lot more narcissistic. I just wanted to party and meet girls and have fun. When I got older, I just became a lot more socially conscious.Ē

ROCKWIRED spoke with KRIS HEATON over the phone. Here is how it went.

How is the CD ĎR-ME STRONGí different from your two previous releases?
To be honest with you this album is a little more rock oriented. There are a few rock songs on the other ones but this album has a lot more. My background is in classic hard rock when I was younger but I also loved the blues. On this album, I kind of combined the two. I tried to be more in the blues genre but Iíve deviated a little bit. Iím not an absolute purist when it comes to the blues. R-ME STRONG Ė the title track Ė is more of a rock song, and Iíve got a ballad at the end of the CD. As you might know, rock n roll came from the blues.

But for you, rock n roll came first.
In the eighties, I was in a band called CONTROL CAMP and we were definitely a rock band. That was when new wave music was happening. We were kind of a heavy metal/new wave group with these heavy guitars and these catchy dance beats and a female singer. I was the guitar player and we toured all over the southeastern part of the United States and played a lot of concerts. We were kind of regional heroes. We never made it nationally but we had a pretty big following. Then I stopped playing for a while because I got married and I had kids and I didnít want to raise my kids playing music. Itís just too crazy so I stopped for about ten years and I would just play guitar in my basement. Then, about five years ago, I got the bug and I started writing and recording and the music I was making was going in a different direction and that has a lot to do with my age. Iím fifty years old now. Itís hard to get out there and play metal music when youíre fifty. I found a way to kind of get around that by playing blues. I end up playing a lot of the instruments myself, although it doesnít sound like it. I try to make it sound live but a lot of it is myself multi-tracking. I do have a lot of musician friends play on some of the CDís but the basic tracks are myself and the harmonica player ACE. Weíre kind of strange in the way that we perform live. The blues purists donít like it. We play live and we use electronics as our back up. I record all of the back up parts into a hard drive. Music has changed so much now because of technology. Itís all live parts played into a hard drive and me and ACE play along with that and it sounds exactly like weíre playing live. At first I wasnít sure if people were going to accept that but weíve played this way for four years and people donít give a crap. Times have changed. Back in the seventies and eighties, I donít think that wouldíve worked. The technology was there but I think people are getting used to the pop music and BRITNEY SPEARS stuff where the music is piped in and computer generated. People are much more used to that now.

How did music begin for you?
I actually started in high school. I was pretty much a classic sports jock in high school and then I got hurt severely. I hurt my ankle and my back. I couldnít play sports for about a year and then I started to play guitar and it just became a passion for me. I just fell in love with playing the guitar. I used to practice it for hours and hours and I still do. Itís something that Iím always going to love. I started way back then and I started writing music when I got into college. It had taken a while to learn to write complete songs that made sense. Writing is a journey. I used to write weird and crazy stuff that no one was ever going to want to listen to. It was just way out there. I remember one of my jobs when I was in college was making pom-poms. Thatís got to be the weirdest job so I wrote a song about being a pom-pom man in a factory. Anyway, Iíve been writing for a long time and itís coming together. I think every CD is getting better and the older I get, the better Iím getting. I feel young and I see my friends that have been through divorce and their hair is falling out and they just donít have that joy of life. I feel like Iím twenty years old. I love writing music and recording music and playing out live. Guitar is my passion and Iím just now starting to write my fourth CD. Iím very enthusiastic about it.

So when you were with CONTROL CAMP- you werenít the songwriter.
I co-wrote some of the songs. That band was more of a collective in terms of songwriting. Everybody would add their little part to a song and weíd all come up with an overall structure for it. With this, Iím the boss and Iím doing whatever I want. I find it better to be the boss in creating music. When youíre in a group you have to consider everybody elseís feelings and everyone has to get their own little part in. Itís harder to write music that way. Itís easier when itís just you because you can do what ever you want. The harp player in the band doesnít really write any music so I come to him with the song and say ďdo you like this?Ē or ďdo you like that?Ē He definitely plays a part in telling me what he thinks is good and what is not good but he buck stops with me.

What kind of place do you think that youíre coming from these days as a songwriter?
I tend to write in two veins. Iíve played in so many bars and honky-tonks and clubs over the years that I tend to write very simple groove music that is kind of party oriented. Itís not too over-stimulating intellectually but itís something that you can immediately tap your feet to and relate to musically. You can sing along to the words after listening to it twice. I also like to write stuff that has some sort of social consciousness and has a lot more meaning to it. For example, the last song on the CD called ĎWHEN MEN CRYí is the mellow song on the CD. Itís about the emotions of men and women and how men tend to internalize their sadness and not show it overtly while women on the other hand tend to cry tears and wear their emotions on their sleeves. The song is inspired by a conversation that I had with a guy who was really enjoying the music and kept telling me that he was only a factory worker and wished that he couldíve done something more with his life. For me, what makes a person is not really what they do. You can be rock star or you could work at 7-11. Itís what is in you heart that really matters. That is what really makes a person. There is a kind of duel meaning to that song. R-ME STRONG has a kind of an AC/DC type feel Ė especially in the rhythm playing. I wanted to dedicate a song to the men and women who are defending our country. All of us owe them a debt of gratitude. In Connecticut I started a radio campaign with the number one rock station in Connecticut. For this campaign, anyone can download my single R-ME STRONG and Iíll donate twenty-five percent of the download to the troops.

WHEELS OF HOPE is another charity that you started and youíve done a few shows for it as well. Talk about that.
Itís got something to do with the fact that Iím older. When I was a kid and fooling around with rock n roll, I was a lot more narcissistic. I just wanted to party and meet girls and have fun. When I got older, I just became a lot more socially conscious. When I started WHEELS OF HOPE I looked around at hunger in my own area. The economy has hit a lot of people so I decided to buy food for homeless and low-income families and I decided to do this once a week, so for the last two years every Thursday, I load up the trunk of my car and deliver food to various organizations and food banks. I help out the YMCA as well. There are single guys there as well that donít have much money. I also decided to combine music with my organization. Twice a year, I do a benefit concert to try to raise money. The next concert that we are doing is in Bridgeport Connecticut on April 3rd in a small theater house called PLAYHOUSE ON THE GREEN and weíve got three bands playing. Itís going to be a nice event. We are going to take the proceeds and donate it to the organization.

Your music has also been getting a great deal of attention in other parts of the world thanks to RADIO DIRECT.
Weíve been working RADIO DIRECT since the first album and weíve been getting requests for our music from places like Australia and Germany and Great Britain. All of a sudden, our music is getting played all over the world. Itís crazy. I just got a request from two radio stations last week in France. Itís exciting. The internet has opened up this world full of opportunities. You can have exposure all around the world. Itís exciting.

Going back to the time you first picked up a guitar up until now Ė what didnít you expect to happen as a musician?
I really didnít expect to still be enjoying and loving the music as much as I did when I was first starting. I also didnít expect certain opportunities to arise because of the music. When you start getting opportunities back from your own creativity, itís a great feeling and itís completely unexpected.

What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard this CD?
That they liked it so much that they canít wait for another CD. That they want more and canít wait for more music.