In the central Maine area — Hallowell, to be precise — there’s a musician who’s become a legend in the eyes of his fellow performers: Kenny Cox. He’s been around for years in various musical groups, and the latest one is a trio made up of Cox, David Gagne and David Thibodeau. They will perform together at Slates in Hallowell on March 27 as part of the eatery’s Monday Night Concert Series. It pains me to admit that I have never chatted with Cox before, so I was more than ready to remedy that embarrassment by arranging a phone interview with him at his home in Augusta.

In that conversation, which follows, I learned that those three musicians formed the Band From UNCLE (with a drummer and two horn players) which performed R&B and the blues for 25 years every Monday night at The Bag at Sugarloaf.

I began the phone conversation by asking him to give me more information about how he got started in the music business.

Cox: I started singing in the chorus in high school, and after school I joined up with a band called The Hole in the Wall Gang in 1969. We played until about ’75. We played mostly around Augusta and Waterville, and we did play a few gigs at Sugarloaf, too.

Q: I understand you have something coming up at Slates?

Cox: That’s correct, yeah. David Gagne and me and David Thibodeau — a little trio thing. I played with David Gagne for a very long time in a duo and various band forms. And David Thibodeau is from a very bluegrassy family. His father is probably in the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame for his bluegrass (playing). David’s a bass player, and he not only played that sort of music for years as a kid growing up, but then he went to UMA’s music program and studied. When I first got to know him, he was playing in a jazz group called Joyspring. He’s really a great bass player. David Gagne and I got together in the fall of ’79, and we put a little duo together and played just every night if we could. We were trying to decide what to call it, so I decided that Neat and Clean was what we should call it. Some wise guy one night said, “Well, who’s what?” and David didn’t even take a breath and said, “I’m neat and Kenny’s clean.” (Laughter) And it’s been that way ever since. We played together for a long, long time … for 10 years up at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel when it first opened on top of the mountain. They even gave us a cabin to stay in year-round.

Q: Sweet! What kind of music did you two perform?

Cox: Pretty folky, a little countryish and some old rock — just pretty much listening music. It was a lounge. There wasn’t any dancing or anything, just guests sitting there listening to us. Both David and I played guitars and we both sang. David’s the real guitar player. I play chords to accompany my voice.

Q: Musically speaking, what’s going to be happening at Slates?

Cox: You know, our music is pretty eclectic, but we’re going to be doing a couple of songs that David Gagne wrote — which are very cool — and just pretty much the Neat and Clean shtick: folky mostly, a little bit of country, a couple of jazz tunes, but mostly pretty folky.

Q: Do you do any songwriting?

Cox: I don’t, but every once in a while I have one that comes popping right out — a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing — but they mostly just go flying by.

Q: Well, I, too, started in 1969 so you have been doing this as long as I have.

Cox: I have, yeah.

Q: Still having fun?

Cox: Oh, I enjoy it, yes. I mean, I played Sugarloaf this last Friday night and it was a gas. We play the Sugarloaf Inn every Friday night: myself and another guitar player named Dick Dow. He’s a good guy.

Q: I think I know the answer to this next question, but I’ll ask it anyway: Have you performed at Slates before?

Cox: Oh, I play Slates as a solo every month. I play two Saturdays a month, but we did a show very similar to this one seven or eight months ago, and they invited us back again, which is great.

Q: Cool, with the same three players as this upcoming show?

Cox: Yes, and it’s kind of fun. I like the old building better for this concert type of thing because the new building is quite a lot smaller.

Q: Well, this is an observation I voice quite often, and it’s one you can probably attest to: There are more musicians and artists per capita in Hallowell than any other place on earth.

Cox: Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ll tell you the real truth: David Gagne and I started that music scene in 1979, and there’s no getting around it. I mean, we were the guys to come and see at the Wharf, and then people started coming out of the woodwork.

Q: Like Bob Colwell and that crew?

Cox: Yeah, Bobby grew up in Gardiner, and there’s no getting around it: Bobby’s a very talented guy. I’ve recorded in his studio a couple of times, and he’s really great. And the Boneheads are legendary in town and all around.

Q: I first saw them opening for B.B. King in Lewiston back in the day.

Cox: Me, too. I was there.

Q: No kidding?

Cox: I drove them to work there. We got to meet B.B. King after the show. He was a very humble dude, a wonderful man. It was unbelievable, like going to meet Buddha.

Q: So, Ken, in wrapping this interview up, is there anything you’d like to get across to the folks reading this article?

Cox: Just if they missed the last time we were at Slates, they missed a great show, and I hope they come this time.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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