by Len Lear and Lou Mancinelli
Andy Kimbel, an L.A.-based, former Wyndmoor musician who has acted in several television shows, recently returned to the Chestnut Hill area for a series of concerts and guitar workshops. Kimbel will be performing at Halligan’s Pub, 1619 Bethlehem Pike in Flourtown, on Saturday, Sept. 13, 9 p.m.
Most recently, Andy, 59, left Wyndmoor and traveled to Los Angeles, where he landed acting roles in such shows as “New Girl,” “American Horror Story,” “Criminal Minds,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and two indie films.
“I enjoy the world of acting and plan to continue,” said Andy, “but my roots are in performing, writing and recording folk and blues music. It is great to be back in the Chestnut Hill area and meeting up with friends and fans who really made my career possible.”
In the early 1990s, when the economy turned sour, Kimbel, who was an airline pilot at the time, was placed on a temporary leave of absence. Andy, father of two who went to Lower Merion High School and graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida in 1978, had spent more than 1,000 hours teaching others to fly at the North Philadelphia Airport and countless hours working as a commercial and freight pilot, but now he had lots of free time.
“I thought the furlough would only be for a few months,” said Kimbel, so he “grabbed his guitar” and started playing open mic nights in 1992 at the Samuel Adams Brew House, then located at 1516 Sansom St. in Center City. (It’s now home to the Oyster House.) His then-girlfriend at the time, Susan, whom he later married, urged Kimbel to play the open mic since he’d been playing music since he was 9. In the sixth grade, he played Rolling Stones-inspired rock ‘n’ roll with The Dimensions, his first band. But that was more than 25 years earlier, and now Kimbel had an acoustic guitar, not electric guitars, amplifiers and drums.
“I didn’t know any songs,” said Kimbel. “I made up the pieces as I went along. I was simply waiting for the airline to call me and give me my job back. I had no intentions, it wasn’t even on my radar, to go out and play guitar for my livelihood.”
But Andy’s Americana finger-picking and flat-picking (using a pick) style evoked positive responses from crowds, and soon he was getting asked to play his own gigs. In 1992, the same year he started playing open mics, the owner of the Samuel Adams Brew House offered Kimbel a paying gig. One paying gig led to another. A year later, Kimbel discovered his love of using metal finger picks expanded from classic rock like Buffalo Springfield, the Who and Bob Dylan to bluegrass musicians like Doc Watson after Andy attended the Nashville Full Moon Bluegrass Jam.
After the festival, an organizer invited scores of musicians to a large farm where all-night jamming ensued. Kimbel was hooked on that style of music. When he returned to Philly, he bought his own metal finger picks from Eight Street Music. “I still have that recording from the first time I tried to use the metal picks,” he said. “It’s full of expletives from me missing notes.”
It took about a year to become confident with the metal picks. By 1993, Kimbel was hired as the weekend night house musician at New York City’s The Improv, a comedy club that sometimes hosted HBO showcases. It’s fitting that one of Kimbel ‘s early paying gigs was in an improvisational club since his own music career started with Kimbel passing around yellow legal pads to audience members. He would ask them to write down one-line lyrical phrases, and he would use the audience’s words to form lyrics to original songs.
In 1993, Kimbel was forced “with the most difficult decision” of his life, when Executive Jet, now Net-jets, a corporate airline, offered him back his job as a pilot. “Was I going to give up music and go back to playing the guitar for fun?” he asked himself. One night, during the process of making the decision, he played a packed house when he looked at all the people in the crowd “there to see me. I knew I could make a difference on the stage.”
And that’s where he’s been ever since. He started getting more press, newspaper write-ups and jobs, toured and was featured on radio gigs like WXPN’s Folk Show with Gene Shay. In 1994, he was offered a record deal with First Choice Records, and recorded his first album, “Time Moves On.” In 1995, he was featured on the front-page of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Weekend” Edition.
In 1999, he started an open mic at The Point in Bryn Mawr. At first, four or five people came out. Soon, there were 60 people every Tuesday night “waiting to play one song in that atmosphere.” An unknown Amos Lee, who has since opened for Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, used to frequent The Point. Later he hosted an open mic night every Tuesday at the O’Towne Tavern on Plymouth Road in Oreland. A recording of Andy’s, “Red Hot Blues,” was downloaded almost a half-million times.
More information about the Halligan’s Pub gig at 215-836-9597, or visit www.andykimbel.com.