Born 1957 in Philadelphia, Kevin Roth was a child prodigy, playing the piano by ear from the age of three. At thirteen he discovered the mountain dulcimer and fell in love with its sound and peaceful quality. “I first saw the dulcimer at a meditation gathering…It was love at first sight. The simplicity of sound, the elegance in the hourglass shape cedar and walnut woods, as well as the heart-shaped sound holes announced itself as my musical soul mate.”
Although the traditional music of the dulcimer is simple, Kevin’s musical background and interests ranged from Peter, Paul, and Mary, to jazz, classical, and world music. He followed his calling and developed a style of dulcimer playing completely his own. “My generation was more rock and roll, but I tended to lean always towards the more thought-provoking ‘confessional‘ type artists. I had played the piano by ear since the age of three, and studied voice at about the age of twenty. My voice teacher told me at my first lesson ‘Singing is emotional, physical, mental and spiritual.’ She was right. That philosophy and truth stuck with me my entire life.”
This unique sound caught the ear of Moses Asch, legendary founder and director of Folkways/Smithsonian Records, who signed Kevin in 1974, to what would become a twelve-album deal. Kevin quickly became known around the world as a leading innovative dulcimer player. “The truth is, I used and still use the dulcimer more like a canvas and never stick to any rule. In fact, I run from them. I knew of no limits except for a few chromatic notes missing here and there due to the dulcimer being modal. Less was more in my book and I searched for meaning within its simplicity. My songwriting began as a much-needed expression and release of how I was feeling and what I was searching for. I tried to find out where the song and my feelings lived…”
In the early eighties, Kevin began to write, record, and perform for children. His music career skyrocketed as he produced award-winning albums and made numerous television and concert appearances. He sang the theme song to the hit PBS/FOX television show, ‘Shining Time Station’, based on the character of Thomas the Tank Engine. Kevin has recorded for Sony Music, Random House, National Geographic, and the Book-of-the-Month Club, to name a few. “The dulcimer was like a small boat to carry me to the other side. Since a young kid, I was always aware of ‘something bigger’ going on in life which I could never see or put my finger on. I was drawn to the spiritual, mystical side of thought from about thirteen onward. Like it or not, it’s my nature. What I do on the dulcimer now some forty-six years later is constantly search for the muse in the music.”
His concert, radio and television appearances along with his recordings have carried him across the country and abroad, performing in solo and symphony concerts, music festivals, and two appearances at the White House. His entire Folkways collection is now part of the Smithsonian Folkways label. “I have never practiced a day in my life. Honestly. I always just played. Never the same song the same way twice. I have taught students this way as well. More a loner, and never into cliques, I follow the muse and watch with curiosity as to what the Cosmos brings my way in answer to the question: Who am I? Both musically, and lyrically…”
Kevin joined forces in 2006 with his long-time mentor, Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary, to record a collection of songs based on original artwork. The resulting CD/DVD collaboration, ‘Between the Notes’, garnered rave reviews and his art and music were premiered at the San Diego Museum of Art. Several years later he began work on a new project of mostly original songs revealing his inner-reflection about love, loss, hope, and discovery.“‘Awakenings’ was the first album of its kind for me in the sense I began to explore my relationship with spirituality on a deeper level musically. Many things had changed during that year. I was still getting over the end of a nine-year relationship, as well as closing my business, and dealing with the loss of my father who was also my best friend. It was a tough year.”
One evening in 2015, around ten thirty at night, Kevin’s cell phone rang. It was Noel driving home from a concert. He had been listening to the early demos from ‘Awakenings’ and, although previously recorded, Stookey suggested that the songs deserved re-recording with a more ‘supportive ambiance’.
He also convinced Kevin that he should write additional material for the new album which became titled most appropriately: ‘Reawakening’. “I wasn’t overly eager truth to tell, but something said, ‘give it a try’. I was simply amazed at the amount of new material that flowed out of me that seemed almost channeled. The songs emerged from deep reflection, meditation and a new awareness that began to unfold that quite honestly, I didn’t think I was prepared for. But as the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher shows up!”
Stookey then contacted keyboardist/arranger Michael McInnis who, according to Kevin “seemed to crawl into each song, find out where it lived and come up with beautiful arrangements…” Working via the internet for the better part of a year from their separate residences and studios in California, Maine, and Missouri, the album ‘Reawakening’ unfolded in a most beautiful and cosmic way. “I always wondered why I had such an obsession with Peter, Paul, and Mary starting at the age of five. Nearly fifty years later, it would all come around full circle, and I now understand what consciousness had in mind (so far). Working with Noel’s insights, guidance as a producer, and enthusiasm was wonderful. Hearing Michael McInnis’s colorings were amazing. In a world where the awareness of who we are and what our hearts are longing for continues to call to us ever stronger, I hope these songs will reawaken the answer that is within each of us.”
Kevin’s latest album “The Deviant Dulcimerist” has been called “His most innovative, fun, quirky and beautiful album to date.” A collection of thirteen original songs, Kevin took the dulcimer to a new playing level using its sounds and his innovative style to deviate away from traditional music.
When I moved back to California, I began to write a few new songs that were fun, quirky and different than my past work. I planned to put out a 4 song EP, but the songs kept coming and then original artwork followed for the cover and disc, so I kept writing, painting and recording. When I was about to put finishing touches on the album, I said to myself “This album has magic”. Magic is very hard to make on an album, it either is there or it’s not. I’m a very hard critic of my own work, so I was pleased with my gut reaction, and in an odd way fell in love with music all over again. “Reawakening” was a very introspective and soul-searching work. “The Deviant Dulcimerist” was totally the opposite. Light, fun, quirky, and very deviant. I wrote about life, love and even Banksy, the painter from London when I read about his shredding his own artwork at an auction. There was also a song about Turkeys that were raised on marijuana. I found an amazing trumpet player to give a Miles Davis feel to a few of my songs and generally just went for it. I had no intention in making this album commercial. I made this one for myself out of joy, and it worked out to be for everyone. This album is one of my favorites.
““Awakenings” is a beautiful album. The words. The music. The voice. Jaw droppingly beautiful” – Noel Paul Stookey ( Peter, Paul & Mary)
“Was it through the third or fourth encore, you had the audience totally under your spell” – Grand Opera House, Wilmington DE.
“Kevin has an unbelievable talent that combines melodies and lyrics that sink into your soul” – Jake Adams- Big Daddy
“His music is thought provoking. His mellifluous voice and dulcimer playing is both rare and enchanting. His body of work is proof there’s something magnificent still going on”. – Phila Inquirer
To Purchase Kevin Roth’s Music from iTunes CLICK HERE