With the highly-anticipated release on January 12th, 2010 of his fifth solo CD, Quicksand, multi-instrumentalist Randy Kohrs has arrived, once again, as a first-rate vocalist, songwriter and producer. Three Grammy nominations for producing Jim Lauderdale, and an actual win in 2008 for producing, as well as engineering, mixing, singing harmony, and playing on Lauderdale’s latest, The Bluegrass Diaries, solidified his standing as one of the strongest all-around musical forces coming up on the Nashville scene. The winning duo is also currently nominated yet again for 2010 in the same category.
Kohrs has long been celebrated for his inventive, mood-setting work as a dobroist (that’s him providing the dramatic framework on Dierks Bentley’s No. 1 hit, “What Was I Thinking.”) But his flashes of instrumental wizardry have often diverted attention from his wider musicianship.
Old Photograph, Kohrs’ fourth project, received much critical acclaim and chart-topping success. A #1 video on CMTPure for the single, “Who’s Goin’ With Me,” proved that the mainstream country audience welcomes his progressive acoustic sound, too. An appearance on the Rachael Ray Show further introduced him to the mainstream audience. In May of 2008, he made his debut appearance as a solo artist on the Grand Ole Opry, and has since performed on the hallowed stage numerous times.
Growing up on a farm in the rural town of New Virginia, Iowa, Kohrs was raised like every other kid in the area, getting up early to feed the animals before school and performing various other chores until the sun went down. At the age of eight, however, it became clear that he was not destined to spend his life on a farm when his Uncle Jack brought over an acoustic guitar, showed him a few techniques and promptly enchanted the eager youngster.
Having been taught always to pay his own way, Kohrs bought the guitar for about $100. Around the age of 10, he became more fascinated with his Uncle Jack’s main instrument, the resophonic guitar, or dobro, and resolved to learn to play that, too. So, in his typically industrious style, he raised and sold a feeder calf within the year to purchase his first reso.
In two practice-packed years, Kohrs became accomplished enough to begin playing full-time with the Missouri-based band, Possum Trot. He remained with them for 10 years. At 15, he began playing country music with a local band, as well, which he later fronted in and around Des Moines. During this time, he had been developing his uniquely soulful and powerful tenor voice, along with his repertoire of other instruments, including electric guitar, drums, mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, and bass.
Kohrs’ popularity continued to grow throughout the Midwest, and soon he realized that the next logical move was to Nashville. In 1994, shortly after the passing of his father, the grieving, yet hopeful, young artist loaded up a moving truck and headed to Music City.
In three short weeks, Kohrs found himself playing an incredibly grueling schedule at a club on Nashville’s fabled Lower Broadway called Maggie Magee’s (now the Nashville Crossroads). To supplement the minuscule income that gig yielded, he did auto detailing and light collision work from his home.
In 1995, during one of his nightly solo gigs, Kohrs so impressed Hank Williams III that he hired him on the spot for his own band. On his nights off, Kohrs continued to dazzle the folks on Lower Broad. When the legendary Tom T. Hall decided he needed a multi-instrumentalist for the band he was forming, he dispatched his personal assistant to check out this newcomer who was creating such a buzz. A week later, Kohrs was off on his first major tour with “The Storyteller,” a circuit that took him to Australia for a month.
In the spring of 1997, Hall retired from the road and Kohrs found himself back on Lower Broad. That summer, bluegrass stalwart David Parmley went to hear Kohrs play, and at 7 o’clock the next morning, he was on a bus headed to Canada as a member of Continental Divide. For the next two years, he sang tenor and occasional lead and played dobro with the band. He recorded on the album Feel Good Day, which made it to the Top 5 on the bluegrass charts and the Top 20 on the Americana charts.
Subsequently, Kohrs toured with Holly Dunn for two years and performed regularly with her on her Grand Ole Opry appearances. In late 2000, John Cowan offered Kohrs a gig playing dobro and lap steel and singing tenor, a task few people in this world have the voice to do. Yet, he performed exquisitely and can be heard on Cowan’s Always Take Me Back.
While grateful to be working with so many great acts, it had always been Kohrs’ dream to have a solo career. In 2001, he released his debut solo album, A Crack In My Armour, on Junction Records. Containing several original songs, it earned him new respect among the Nashville songwriting community and acclaim within the larger music industry. He followed it with a traditional country album, Now It’s Empty, on his own growing label, Left of Center Records.
In 2003, Kohrs accepted a gig with the unsinkable Dolly Parton, singing and playing dobro in her band, the Blueniques for the next two years. In addition to playing on three of Parton’s CDs, he also performed as her opening act. In 2004, Parton recorded a duet with him, “It Looked Good On Paper,” for his third album, I’m Torn, on Lonesome Day Records. It spent eight months on the bluegrass charts, rising into the Top 5. Followed by the success Old Photograph, it’s clear he has found a winning formula and shows no signs of slowing down.
Throughout his touring career, Kohrs has gained much success as a top Nashville session musician. To date, he has played on more than 500 albums, ranging from those by such legends as Hank Thompson and Jerry Reed to current chart-toppers Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley, Sara Evans and The Wreckers. Among his accolades for such work is a 2009 Academy of Country Music Award nomination in the Top Specialty Instrumentalist category.
It’s a lot of credits in a short time. But you can bet Randy Kohrs is just getting started.