Home » Sounds of Syracuse » Meet Bassist “Reverend” Ken Kellerman

Meet Bassist “Reverend” Ken Kellerman

When Ken enters a room, everyone notices. The tall, bearded man with his long hair tied back saunters his way through those who greet him – usually toward the stage or often to the sign-up sheet. While he is a looming presence, he is equally a pleasant presence in any occasion. The free-spirited “Rev” has been on the scene for some time now, a regular figure in the open-mic circuit, and with his band I Am Fool.

An interesting thing to note about Kellerman is that he is a routine world traveler. Every time I see Ken, it seems as though he just returned from a multi-country travel tour (He conducted his side of this interview from Ecuador), or, he’s on standby to leave for his next trip. His air of worldly savvy is evident.

And from where I sit – or on several occasions jam with him – I think you can hear a bit of his travels in the unique way he plays bass, and approaches the musical situation in general.

Not by design, but it just so happens that we conducted this interview on his birthday while drinking coffee in the early morning.

Chuck Schiele: How long have you been playing bass?

Ken Kellerman: I got my first bass, a Hagstrom, for my birthday in 1966, inspired by seeing the Motown Review at the Apollo theater about a year earlier. l started playing it silently, because I couldn’t afford an amp. It was frustrating. A year later, I got an early solid-state amp, a Haynes. Almost immediately, I traded up to a Fender Jazz bass.

CS: I hear folks referring to you as “Reverend Ken.” (If this is relevant..) please explain.

KK: When I first came to Syracuse in 2008, I didn’t know a single person here. I started playing out with my 2003 Reverend Rumblefish PJ. Nobody had seen a bass like that, and it’s all anybody was talking to me about. Johnny ‘Rage’ Brown was hosting an open mic I attended every week. He caught on that people seemed more interested in the bass than me, and gave me the nickname (with my permission – he’s a real gentleman). The very first time he called me up as Reverend Ken, people picked up on it, it stuck, and I had a brand.

CS: Cool. How would you characterize your own style of bass playing?

KK: I was inspired to play bass by Motown’s James Jamerson. That’s the sound of bass I love. So, old-school, finger-style, bouncy, syncopated. Every musician who hears me knows what I bring. I take that sound and apply it to whatever song I’m playing. I don’t dislike other sounds, or techniques, but I’m pretty much a one-trick pony.

CS: What players have influenced you?

KK: It begins with Jamerson. There isn’t a bass player that doesn’t owe him a debt, whether they realize it or not – he was the first to give the electric bass guitar it’s own voice, I think. Others: Carol Kaye, Paul McCartney, Bernard King, Bootsy Collins, Chuck Rainey, John Entwhistle, and upright players like Ray Brown and Ron Carter.

CS: Please tell us about your projects and past projects.

KK: First and foremost, my band, I am Fool. Playing with them has been the most challenging, rewarding, and satisfying work I’ve done, mainly because of the songwriting of J. Brazill, an excellent songwriter and arranger. There’s nothing like getting to create a bass line for a new song – that’s skiing virgin snow. We’ve been on hiatus due to some medical issues, but we’re coming back this year. I also love open mics – that’s where I really honed a lot of my skills, and also are, directly or indirectly, where I’ve met about 99% of my friends in Syracuse. I’ve hosted some, been house bass for some, but I’m a regular participant, and they probably account for the majority of my playing. My past background includes Soul revues, one other rock band, and some studio work.

CS: You are a traveler. Do you think it brings anything to your music?

KK: I’m going to give the unexpected answer here. I am dedicated to open mics. I love the challenge of backing up someone new, not knowing, in advance, what’s coming, and trying to make something musical happen in an improvised ensemble. When I travel, that’s what I look for, and so far, I’ve always found it, but it’s pretty much the same as when I’m home.

CS: As someone who globetrots routinely, is there an area of the world where the music strikes a particular fancy for you?

KK: I’m in Ecuador right now (I’m a snowbird these days, in the winter I fly to warmth), and the folk music of the Andes really, really speaks to me. I heard a group the other night that blew me away. Then, yesterday, I ran across them playing in the street. They invited me to ‘sit in’ by singing a bass line along with them, and we did a very interesting instrumental version of ‘Wicked Games’ (Chris Isaak), which they had heard me perform. When I was in Lisbon, I was greatly moved by Faldo, which is kind of like Portuguese blues, more varied, melodically, but very melancholic.

CS: Your thoughts on the CNY music scene:

KK: I think it is an amazing, highly unusual scene. The first time I played out, at the Rooters Sunday night blues jam (gone and missed now), I was taken completely by surprise by the welcome I got from the musicians – I didn’t even expect to play, but instead I found the other musicians friendly, generous and supportive. That has pretty much been the case for the last 13 years. The gigging scene, though, is tough. Especially now. When I was coming up, it was a lot easier, but I think, in that respect, CNY is no different than anywhere else these days. The only reason I stayed here after my first year, and the reason I am staying here, is the music scene.

CS: What’s in Ken’s near music future?

KK: Watch for I am Fool in 2022 – there should be a new CD or two coming out this year, and we’ll be looking to play out again. Once I get back to CNY in the Spring, you’ll find me at nearly every open mic/jam session in the Syracuse area. I’ll continue working as a sub bass player when called (call me!).

CS: How do we stay in touch with you?

KK: I’m on FaceBook and Instagram. I have a musician’s page (Reverend Ken) and a personal page (Ken Kellerman) on Facebook. On Instagram, I am, unimaginatively @ kenkellerman. Also, I am Fool is on Facebook, and at iamfool.com.


Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.