Kendell Marvel Explores His Wide Range of Influences on 'Come on Sunshine'

Singer-songwriter will perform on November 18 at the Winchester

Kendell Marvel. - Laura E. Partain
Laura E. Partain
Kendell Marvel.
For many singer-songwriters, moving to Nashville with the hopes of becoming successful just doesn’t pan out. While it certainly hasn’t been easy for Kendell Marvel, he received a stroke of good luck during his very first writing session in the Music City. On that first day, he teamed up with Casey Beathard to write “Right Where I Need To Be,” a tune that would become a big hit for Gary Allan.

“[Moving to Nashville] was a little like going from a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond,” he says via phone from Mexico Beach, a small Florida city where he owns a vacation home. Kendell Marvel performs on Friday, Nov. 18, at the Winchester Music Tavern in Lakewood. “After I wrote [‘Right Where I Need to Be’], I thought it was easy. But then, it would take me a couple of years to get into the groove."

And even if the songs didn't come as easily after Marvel cranked out "Right Where I Need To Be," he says the Nashville music scene proved to be inspiring nonetheless.

"I caught the tail end of the ’90s when there was a lot of good music still around before the pop-country crap took over and ruined it for all of us," he says. "I was just in the right place at the right time writing with the right guy and working with the right publisher. We really wanted Marc Chesnutt to record that song. Fortunately for us, Marc passed on it and they gave it to Gary Allen. It helped change his career.”

In 2004, Marvel caught another big break when his publisher introduced him to Chris Stapleton, who was a little-known songwriter at the time.

“We just hit it off,” says Marvel when asked about that first meeting. “At that time, we were just writing songs for other people. Chris was a lot younger than me. The moment I met him and heard him sing, I thought, ‘Where has this guy been my whole career?’ He’s the best singer I ever heard and a great songwriter on top of it.”

Marvel says he began writing the tunes for his latest effort, Come on Sunshine, during the height of the pandemic. It  explores the wide range of Marvel’s influences and features a slew of musical guests, including Stapleton (vocals, electric guitar, songwriter), Dean Alexander (songwriter, background vocals), Al Anderson (songwriter), Dan Auerbach (songwriter), Nick Bockrath (electric guitar), Kolby Cooper (songwriter), Dan Dyer (background vocals), Devon Gilfillian (songwriter, background vocals), Josh Morningstar (songwriter), Waylon Payne (songwriter) Mickey Raphael (harmonica) and Dee White (songwriter).

“We wanted to get some hopeful songs out there and that’s what a song like ‘Come on Sunshine’ is about,” Marvel says. “We were locked in our houses, and everyone was so depressed, and we wanted to make a hopeful album.”

As Marvel contemplated who would produce the album, he discovered Beau Bedford by way of singer-songwriter Leah Blevins.

“I had heard Leah Blevins's record and loved the way it sounded,” he says. “[Bedford] produced it. I had met him once or twice in the Texas Gentlemen. I called him up and sent him the songs. He immediately called me and said he loved and that he knew just the band to use in Texas. We flew down to Texas and I worked with these guys I had never met in my life, and magic happened. We just got to work. Everyone was having so much fun that no one wanted to quit. We recorded 12 songs, and it was a great week of camaraderie and country music.”

The first single, “Don’t Tell Me How To Drink," a tune Marvel wrote with Stapleton, finds Marvel adopting an outlaw attitude as he virtually growls on the hard-rocking tune that features a ripping electric guitar solo.

“We was writing and said, 'Let’s write what sounds like an old Hank Jr. song,'” he says. “My kids are grown. They both work for me, and we went to a bar where they card everyone. They gave them a hard time. I always just tell people that they are my children, and that they shouldn’t hassle them. We were talking about that. I think [Stapleton] had the title, and we knew we had a song.”

Marvel wrote “Hell Bent on Hard Times,” another highlight, with songwriter Dean Alexander.

“We wrote that over a Zoom call,” says Marvel when asked about the track. “We hadn’t written any songs together. He had that verse, and it was a little faster. I had that title, and I thought it would work. We wrote that damn thing in 45 minutes to an hour. It just fell out. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.”

The HBO comedy The Righteous Gemstones inspired “Put It in the Plate,” a tune that marries rock and gospel.

“We got the handclaps and made it feel greasy and rock 'n’ roll,” Marvel says of the songs. “I got to hand it to Beau [Bedford]; he’s the genius behind that.”

Marvel says he'll take a “lean and mean” approach for the show that brings him to the Winchester next month.

“It’s me and three other guys," he says. "My guitar player also plays steel, so he can play steel on ‘Hell Bent on Hard Times.’ We do a few ballads but it’s an uptempo show of my shows, and I’ll do three or four things I’ve written for other people. It’s a unique show in that sense. I get to cover songs that I wrote.”
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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