Lex Neon on his uncle Kenny (music mentor)

Lex’s musical mind was shaped by a variety of different musicians, none more important than his uncle, Kenneth Wickes. Uncle Kenny’s birthday lands on February 18th.

After two tours of duty in Vietnam, my Uncle Kenny came back home. After some down time, he started catching up on his first passion, which was music. He was an award-winning brass player who could pick up, and master, almost any instrument.

I was almost two years old when he came back from the war. As time went on, I would wander upstairs to Kenny’s room, where he would sit and absorb jazz, rock, classical, and pop music. I’d sit there and he would explain the music as it played.

He learned that I loved music, even at such a tender age. I’d sit in his lap, and we’d listen to records from the collection he’d been building from the mid-50s until his induction into the army in ’68. I remember him playing old 78s of Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Orchestra. I also remember him playing Miles Davis, and jazz-rock like Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chase and Lighthouse.

He loved virtuosity in music; John Coltrane was one of his heroes. He also loved singer-songwriters, like Todd Rundgren and the Beatles. He heard me singing “Yellow Submarine” one day, and he introduced me to Beatles records. I was in heaven, and starting to become a musician.

As I sat in Kenny’s lap, he’d talk to me about music. He would also listen to a piece of music several times and analyze arrangements. He would teach me to follow along to horn parts in Chicago songs, vocals on Beatles songs, and drum parts on Led Zeppelin records. He would hum a part of a song to me, and I’d imitate the notes as best I could.

Just before school became a 20-year career, Kenny introduced me to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.   I remember sitting on his lap while we listened to the album. He took my index finger and together we followed the lyrics to each song. Before I hit kindergarten, I knew how to read and spell every word on Pepper. Kenny put me way ahead of the pack in school.

As I got older, I got to “jam” with the small, informal family “band.” Kenny and his younger brother Ronald would instruct the kids in the family on which instrument to play, and how to play it. The most fun stuff to play was James Brown kind of stuff. We’d vamp on a riff and play until it sounded like music. That, and monthly trips to our local Sears Department store (record and tape department, of course) were the most fun of my childhood.

As I got older, Kenny exhibited symptoms of post-war traumatic syndrome. It became harder and harder to get music time in because he didn’t feel well. During my early teens, he had to be hospitalized. He’d experience severe flashbacks of his tour of duty. I’d visit, and he’d ask about my piano classes. He also gave me my first electric guitar while he was away. I promised to play him some Hendrix when he came back home.

Life for Uncle Kenny was very tough after the war, and he passed away at the age of 36. I lost him just before my 16th birthday, but he’s still with me. I think of him when I’m in the studio, jumping from instrument to instrument. He’s with me when I cannot find the right harmonies to fit a vocal part. When I wax poetically about certain pieces of music, it’s really Kenny.

I wasn’t drafted at 20 like my uncle. I didn’t fight in the jungle and lose friends, or come home to face the fire of hundreds of protesters who took their disapproval of our government out on our soldiers. I also didn’t have to spend 14 years suffering in silence after Vietnam, trying my best to put on “the brave face” for my family.

I was lucky to have this man as my uncle, and mentor. He may not be as famous as a lot of the people to whom I dedicate these blogs. But as sure as I am sitting here, he was the best music teacher I had; he cared. He discovered and nurtured the musician in me when nobody else knew.

He’d often say, “There are only two kinds of music; good and bad.” I keep those words in my head to help keep me “honest” about Poppermost music. He also told me that the best part of humanity is the musical part.

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)


~ by Poppermost on September 6, 2008.

2 Responses to “Lex Neon on his uncle Kenny (music mentor)”

  1. today I read “here and there”… and I think this is a beautiful story. Sure.

  2. Amazing blog!

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