Almost a year after releasing his second album, the Gainesville singer/songwriter appears on the Bo Diddley Plaza stage tonight alongside Michael Claytor, Sam Moss and his trusted band.
All you need to know about singer/songwriter Ricky Kendall is that his latest project is a children’s album that comes directly from the heart.
The album, to be released later this year, will feature seven songs Kendall wrote with young patients at UF Health Shands, where he works as a musician-in-residence with the Arts in Medicine program.
“The themes in the album are very relatable to children and adults,” Kendall said. “I’ve tried to elevate the musical scope for the whole family.”
The album is funded by the family of a young girl who Kendall worked alongside in the hospital and who was undergoing a heart transplant.
Tonight, Kendall will take a break from his Arts in Medicine work to provide musical therapy for the Gainesville community in the form of a Free Fridays concert at Bo Diddley Community Plaza. Kendall will appear with his band, appropriately named the Healers, from 8-10 p.m.
Ricky Kendall and the Healers have not appeared in concert together in almost a year. Kendall has performed solo around town a few times to promote his 2015 album, Passing Chord, but the Free Fridays concert will be a reunion of sorts for him and his band.
“If you do a gig every month, it tends to get a little monotonous,” Kendall said. “We really love to perform, but every time we do it, we also want it to be special.”
Kendall will share the microphone tonight with longtime friends Michael Claytor and Sam Moss, both of whom also work at Shands’ Arts in Medicine. The Healers will also include Ryan Baker (piano), Drew Allen (drums), Ashley “Dump Truck” Wilkinson (bass) and Jon Alexander (pedal steel).
“One of the great things about this band is that everyone is down to play any style,” Claytor said. “No matter what we’re playing, we have fun with it.”
The Bo Diddley Plaza crowd can expect to hear plenty of original music as well as covers from Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Van Morrison and Gillian Welch.
Kendall will sing “Transport” from his recent Passing Chord record and “Old Man Blues” from Soul Searching, his first album. Claytor will offer a new treatment of the song “Bury Me In The Sand” from his My Trespasses CD.
“It’s as much Michael’s band as it is mine,” Kendall said. “We both love singing harmony and backup. To have him there takes so much of a load off of me.”
Claytor’s fondness for Kendall is mutual.
“He’s my favorite musician,” Claytor said. “His songwriting, his performance and his stage presence are so dynamic.”
They did their first show together in 2008 and developed a friendship that would allow them both to hone their individual song craft while also sharing a stage with one another to strengthen the concert medium.
When it comes to music, Claytor describes Kendall as a “feeler.”
“He’s emotionally intuitive,” Claytor said. “He understands people, and it comes across in his songs.”
One such song is Kendall’s ballad “Old Fashioned Way.”
“It’s beautiful,” Claytor said. “It sounds like a classic Kris Kristofferson song. It’s got a great lyrical hook and a melodic hook. It’s lazy but penetrating. I couldn’t believe someone I knew wrote this song!”
Kendall said that tonight’s Free Fridays concert will include a mix of music genres – soul, country western, folk, R&B and what he calls “fictional” and “autobiographical.” The fictional work is a Claytor specialty.
“He draws on his imagination a lot,” Kendall said. “Listening to him is kind of like reading a good fictional novel. He takes you on a ride that is not necessarily about his life.”
Claytor’s song “World’s Poorest Millionaire” is a perfect example of a song that takes listeners on a fictional yet philosophical trip. It’s about a man who sells his soul for a million-dollar bill but then can’t break it, can’t buy a beer with it and ultimately can’t take it with him when he dies.
“It kind of drips with satire but stays palatable if not infectious with this merry-go-round melody,” Kendall said.
Kendall, on the other hand, is more autobiographical with his songwriting.
“I write more about the internal workings of my own life experiences,” he said.
Some of his music is drawn from the patients he performs for throughout the Shands complex, including the emergency room.
“Because of my work with Arts in Medicine, art in general has taken on a whole new depth of meaning,” he said. “When I play in the community, everyone in the crowd becomes an individual to me with meaningful lives. I may not get to visit with people one on one like I do in the hospital, but I hope to connect all the same.”
Jill Sonke, director of the UF Center for the Arts in Medicine, said Kendall epitomizes what the program is all about.
“Ricky is a truly extraordinary musician who not only brings top-notch artistry but a huge heart to the work he does,” she said. “Patients are in awe of him. They are astounded and thrilled to have a musician of his caliber play for them.”
Although his grandfather was a jazz pianist, Kendall didn’t pick up an instrument until his teens. He taught himself to play the guitar while singing in a couple of bands.
A native of Jensen Beach in Martin County, Kendall studied musical theater at Indian River Community College in nearby Fort Pierce. He gravitated to Gainesville in his late teens when two of his best friends enrolled at UF.
“When I came here, I fell in love with the area,” he said. “I was like, ‘This can’t be Florida, with the trees, the hills and the springs.’”
He also was unaware of Gainesville’s history as a music hotbed, the birthplace of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and many less-heralded yet very talented bands and musicians.
“When I got here, I didn’t know anything about the music scene,” he said. “I started listening to Dylan, playing folk guitar and writing songs, but I pretty much stayed in my room. I finally realized there was a downtown and that there were people doing this sort of thing.”
Now he is very much part of that scene.
“I’m really grateful for this town and the people in it,” Kendall said. “There’s such a sense of appreciation and such an investment in what I do from everybody here that it’s truly fostered artistic growth in me like I don’t think anywhere else could have done.”
— Noel Leroux
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