It’s like you finally started listening to your old drunk uncle from Shreveport and realized he was channeling an enlightened hillbilly cocktail of Tom Waits, Ernest Hemingway and Lenny Bruce. Kevin Russell, aka “Shinyribs”, begins as an assault on your senses and becomes a journey that cannot be described but must be experienced.

Russell’s early life followed the boom and bust cycles of the oil patch, his family rambling from Beaumont to Houston to Abu Dhabi to Shreveport like a pack of East Texas gypsies. At the tender age of fourteen, young Kevin found his father’s guitar under his bed next to a sewing machine, a billy club and box of comic books. Lucky for us he fancied the guitar.

His first move, from blue-collar Beaumont to the well-to-do suburbs of Houston, and the jump up in class status, left Russell a bit unsettled. Playing music and writing songs quickly became a habit, as did skateboarding and listening to punk rock, which left an indelible imprint on his young soul. Yet another move, this time to Shreveport, marked the true beginning of his musical journey. There that he formed his first band, the Picket Line Coyotes. Steeped in the punk of his Houston days, Russell also began to bend to the demands of his country/rockabilly soul, beginning to shape the outrageous persona we now know as Shinyribs.

Russell found his way to Austin in 1993 and soon founded a band called The Gourds. Featuring Kevin on vocals and guitar, Claude Bernard on keyboards and accordion, Keith Langford on drums and Max Johnston and Jimmy Smith on everything else, the band rolled down the music highway for the next eighteen years, never staying in the lanes and nicking a guardrail or two, and became both a favorite of Austin locals and national fans. The band is currently on “hiatus”, with members continuing to churn out their art in various side projects.

Russell, in particular, could not be satisfied with just one creative outlet, and in 2007 began to also perform as Shinyribs. Over the years, Russell has grown his instrumental repertoire to include mandolin, banjo, and most recently the ukulele. Few sights can rival big ol’ Kevin wailing on a tiny wooden uke, or busting out a hillbilly acapella on a moment’s notice. Listening to this creative giant might evoke Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Wonder and Woody Guthrie, and he has shared the stage with the likes of Jon Dee Graham, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Mark Rubin, Scrappy Jud Newcomb and Michael Fracasso. Enter this psyche. You’re tough enough.

Three things you should know about Kevin Russell: (1) the name Shinyribs came from a transient woman who panhandled on a corner near Russell’s home (after he gave her a plate of BBQ, she would shout “shinyribs” every time she saw him), (2) the Picket Line Coyotes played at the second SXSW event, where they were accused of stealing a dive bar’s Jim Morrison velvet painting (they were innocent of course, but one could easily see why such a fine establishment would miss a velvet painting of anything…) and (3) at seventeen he consulted a shaman and discovered paranormal ties with both Jerry Clower and Gene Watson.

If you love Shinyribs, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out K Phillips, Bob Schneider and Miles Zuniga.

A|S Series (July 13, 2016)

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