Gordon Kennedy trudges between rooms of his music lesson studio lackadaisically.
He’ll pop in to one room to check on a lesson, and then look in on another – not necessarily to oversee whether the instructors are doing what they’re supposed to, but because that’s just what Kennedy does.
He’s sort of the Rick Rubin of Manteca’s youth music scene.
And the man knows what he’s doing.
He can pick up nearly any instrument or sit down at one and play it flawlessly. He can offer advice during a break that can improve a performance tremendously. And when he steps in on an entire band performance and stands off on the side, just watching him nod enthusiastically as a group of 16-year-olds rock as hard as humanly possibly it raises the tempo like a maestro slowly bringing his hand up to a crescendo.
Take, for example, when GK Music band Time Frame competed in the prestigious Hayward Battle of the Bands last year.
At the beginning the group was just a basic rock band – a singer, a drummer a bassist and a guitar player. All that you really need, and sometimes even more. Green Day got by with just three. So did Blink 182. Nirvana. Rush.
But Kennedy thought that could be something more there. So did the rest of the members. And they found that something more by scouting out band programs at local high schools and looked for brass players to assemble a section that resembled that of Tower of Power or Chicago. Then he utilized the bilingual capabilities of the lead singer to perform Santana’s “Corazon Espinoda.” They brought the house down.
The judges didn’t know what to do with themselves.
It was the quest to push the members further than what they knew was possible. To look at the kids that he had assembled in the room and think, “Maybe there’s something else we can do here that would make this extra-special.”
It wasn’t a knock on the traditional rock band that existed in the beginning. But for anybody who has listened to an early Chicago record knows, there’s just something there when a saxophone or a trumpet takes over after an amazing guitar solo or complements a rhythm.
The fact that the bands he’s continually putting together keep getting selected to even participate in the annual Hayward competition is a testament to the man and his methods.
Out of all of those who audition – and there are a lot of bands in the Bay Area that want to be able to take home one of those trophies and call themselves either a finalist or a winner – only 12 make the final cut. Last year two of Kennedy’s bands got in, and one of them had had only been playing together for six-months.
When Time Frame took home the top prize, the phone at Kennedy’s studio wouldn’t stop ringing – offers for shows were flooding in, and people wanted to know about this place in the Central Valley that was producing these bands that were literally blowing away professional bands from places like San Francisco.
If you’ve been to a major public gathering over the course of the last five years, be it the annual Sunrise Kiwanis Pumpkin Fair or the weekly Convention and Visitors Bureau Farmer’s Market at Library Park, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen Kennedy or his students rocking away under the canopy of the gazebo.
Sometimes the instruments seem larger than the kids – the neck of the guitar protruding awkwardly out, or the drum set seeming to rise higher than the person behind it.
But at some point not only do they grow into it, but they master it.
Look no further than Zephyr.
The band that was once a group of young – young – kids that were still learning the basics of music have now blossomed into a fully-fledged rock group. They write their own songs. They perform shows. They’ve been finalists in the Hayward Battle of the Bands, and continue to mature and progress into something new, unique and different.
And it’s all thanks to Kennedy’s guidance and mentorship.
If you ask him about what makes him tick, Kennedy will tell you it’s all about the kids. And you can see it in the way that he interacts with his students. They listen to his sage-like advice and he works with each of them to make them better at what it is that they each individually possess.
Why be in one band when you can be in 15?
Kennedy has been mentoring music students for decades, and the proof, as they say, is in the numbers – the number of people that come out to support the bands that go on to be successful, and the number of new students that pick up an instrument for the first time and never put it down.
He has great numbers.
But most of all he has great patience. And that virtue is important when you’re crafting the next virtuoso.