A FEW MINUTES WITH: Kyle Bourgault
By Don Wilcock
On Wednesday night (November 23), Local 518 music fans will get a chance to see the coming out party for the area’s latest country music group, the Kyle Bourgault Band, at the Hangar on the Hudson in Troy. Bourgault has a voice as distinctive as Garth Brooks, a band composed of area all-stars and songs written by a Nashville heavyweight originally from Greater Nippertown.
The back story on the birth of this incredible new band is a testament not only to the remarkable talent of our area, but also to the sense of community and team effort that has made Nippertown a breeding ground for great musical talent for at least the 47 years I’ve been writing about it.
As you can hear on his just released debut album Absofreakinlutely, Kyle Bourgault has a voice as good and a little deeper than his heroes – Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt. That said, three years ago, he wasn’t even singing professionally, and yet his new band includes Joe Mele, the area’s hottest electric guitarist regardless of genre; bass player Frank Valenti, who has clocked in 18 years with the Back 40 Band, a regional country band that’s opened for 60 national acts; keyboardist Paul Brassard, whose credits include the Burners UK; plus drummer Stephen Seney and guitarist Rich Romano.
Promoter Vito Ciccarelli calls the Kyle Bourgault Band a super group. Yes, he’s prone to hyperbole in his job as the pied piper for the city of Troy’s music shows from his annual Powers Park concerts to the Troy Pig Out, but he’s stepping outside of his usual role to Svengali this group and present them on his own nickel the night before Turkey Day.
“Kyle’s songs have all the components for hits: chorus, melody and a hook, which is needed in any hit because the hook is what catches people’s attention,” says Ciccarelli. “People can relate to this music. Everything was well written. His recording is outstanding. The CD itself has nine songs which all have a potential to be a hit, but that’s my opinion. What do I know? I’ve only been in the business 45 years.”
The last thing in the world Joe Mele needed was getting involved in another band. Bourgault came to Mele asking for his help. “I’m going, ‘Here I go getting caught up putting another band together. Everybody just puts a band together, you know? So, I just tried to back out of it,” says Mele. “I just wasn’t interested.”
So, who is this guy who pronounces his name “Bur Golt” with the emphasis on the second syllable? Actually, he’s a truck driver with 13 years on the road before he became an assistant sheriff in Rensselaer County. His musical experience consists mainly of karaoke, a garage band and two years with Whiskey Highway, a band that sold out Revolution Hall just before Bourgualt struck out for bigger things.
Mele told him not to give up his day job, not because he isn’t an amazing mainstream country singer, but because Mele toured with one of our highest profile regional acts, Ernie Williams & the Wildcats, whose gigs included Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago. Still, says Mele, there was no money in it.
“I hated country music growing up,” says Bourgualt, whose late dad was into Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Mom likes Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray and Loretta Lynn. “As I got older, I moved down to Georgia, and I started appreciating it in the early ’90s. That’s when Travis Tritt came out. That’s when Alan Jackson came out. Traditional country was brought back in a modern feel. I also started appreciating all the music my dad used to play all the time that I had hated, and I was like, you know what? This is really good stuff. Just being a kid, I guess.”
So, how did this assistant sheriff get all these talented people on his team? Raw talent is the simple answer. He first attracted Mele and Ciccarelli, two guys who have been team players around here forever and know when to push the right buttons.
An old friend of Mele’s turned him on to Bourgualt two and half years ago. Mele took him into Tony Perrino’s studio and cut some demos with Perrino on drums and Joe playing all the other instruments. Bourgualt sounded pretty good, but Mele didn’t think much more of it.
Then, about a year ago, Jack Smith, who was helping Bourgualt run Whiskey Highway, started bugging Mele to come see them at Revolution Hall. “So, I get to the door. It’s 10 buck to get in, and it’s sold out. And it’s like three times as packed as my (Dustin Mele) memorial concerts. We draw between 400-450. So, there had to be more than 800 people.”
Mele attracts band members like ripe peaches bring on fruit flies. One of the area’s premier country bands was the Back 40 Band, Northeast Country Music Association Entertainers of the Year with almost two decades of performing experience. They were managed by bass player Frank Valenti, who wanted out. “We basically ran our course,” say Valenti. “I decided I wanted something more refreshing. And this opportunity came along, and they had really good players like Joe Mele. I’ve known Joe for over 30 years.”
Valenti gushes, “You gotta hear this live.” He describes the band: “Paul Brassard is a keyboard player, who is a former member of the Burners UK. Then you’ve got Rich Romano, who has been around the area quite a while. Me, Paul and Kyle are doing all the vocals. The harmonies – that’s the other thing. I’ve sung with a lot of other people before, but this chemistry seems – I mean you can get a lot of people to sing harmony together. But sometimes the tone of their voice isn’t quite as good. This is like a chemistry. I mean, the tone is there. It’s awesome.”
As Tony Bennett once said, “You’re only as good as your songs.” And for his songs Bourgualt turned to a country hitmaker who had written “One Night at a Time,” a No. 1 country hit for George Strait. Eddie Kilgallon grew up in East Greenbush and worked at Drome Sound. He moved to Nashville and became a member of the country hitmakers Ricochet in the ’90s, racking up three Top 10s, a No. 1 and a Gold album. For the last 14 years Kilgallon’s been the keyboardist and bandleader for Montgomery Gentry.
He sent Bourgault more than 100 songs to pick from and brought him to Nashville to record. One of the songs on Bourgault’s new debut album Absofreakinlutely is “Sensitive Kind,” a Kilgallon original with the lyrics: “She prays over the Bible/I live life under the gun/She’s one to hold onto feelings/I’ve always known when to run.”
When Bourgault heard the song, he didn’t realize who had written it. “What I like is the old Waylon Jennings riff in it, the old school country feel to it. And I said, man, that is exactly the sound I want.”
People like Joe Mele and Vito Ciccarelli are catalysts for making musical magic. The Kyle Bourgault Band is their latest feat of magic. “I’m excited,” says Ciccarelli. “I’m not into this financially or anything. These guys are my friends, and I’m going to do whatever I can to help them out.”