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Bowe’s Jangles

Local veteran songwriter and producer Kevin Bowe and his band The Okemah Prophets will be co-headlining the Varsity Theater on Friday with Alison Scott.
Songwriter and musician Kevin Bowe poses for a portrait Saturday.
Songwriter and musician Kevin Bowe poses for a portrait Saturday.


What: Alison Scott with Kevin Bowe and The Okemah Prophets dual CD release show with Johnny and Molly from Communist Daughter, Desdamona, the Laurel String Quartet, Ellis and Ben Lubeck from Farewell Milwaukee

When: 8 p.m., June 8

Where: Varsity Theater, 1308 Fourth St. SE

Cost: $15 or $12 with student ID

Like so many other punk rockers from his generation, Kevin Bowe remembers his first Replacements gig vividly. As a matter of fact, it was actually the band’s first official show.

It was the late ’70s and Bowe, 18 at the time, had been living in a halfway house for troubled teens.

“They let us out on the weekends to go to these sober teen dances, which is pretty much like the seventh circle of hell. Tommy [Stinson] had a pot leaf on the back of his bass and they ended up getting kicked out after one set,” Bowe said. “They weren’t good, but they were the best band I ever seen. That had a big effect on me. I formed a band after that.”

Bowe didn’t go on to enjoy the same sort of critical success of a group like The Replacements or Husker Du, but he spent his formidable years performing right alongside them. He even has old gig posters and remains close friends with local luminary and Mats front man Paul Westerberg.

Now, following a 10-year hiatus, Bowe, along with his band the Okemah Prophets, are releasing a full-length album of original material entitled “Natchez Trace.” Bowe isn’t a decorated vanguard of the local music scene, but with an album that includes collaborations with everyone from Westerberg and Nels Cline (Wilco), to The Meat Puppets and Bob Dylan violinist Scarlet Rivera, he might as well be.

Produced, written and recorded entirely by Bowe, “Natchez Trace” is 16 tracks of polished, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll. From the radio-friendly anthem “Everybody Lies” (co-written by Westerberg) to the sun-kissed twang of “Waiting for The Wheel,” the album is fairly conventional, and there are moments that recall the garage punk heyday that Bowe grew up in.

Bowe’s an immensely talented musician in his own right, but he’s spent the bulk of the last two decades writing and producing songs, scores and instrumental spots for everyone from Etta James to ESPN (yeah, the sports news network). He never had any intention of writing material for other artists early on until meeting local producer David Z (“Purple Rain”, Lipps Inc.). Z was a fan of Bowe’s work and had asked him to submit a track for an up-and-coming blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Z took the song and put it on Shepherd’s album. The record went gold almost immediately.

“After that I was like ‘I should do this.’ Writing songs for other people is incredibly fulfilling and awesome. I love it. In many ways I’m more comfortable and arguably better suited for producing and writing albums,” Bowe said.

And despite Bowe’s limited success as a solo artist, he’s not jaded or bitter about it. However, he recalls a time when that wasn’t so much the case.

“One of the reasons I will probably never get anywhere here is because of how I’ve spouted about in the past about certain things that are not great here,” Bowe said. “It’s never about the musicians. I’ve spouted out several times about the music business people and the radio people and stuff like that. But I don’t do that anymore. That’s stupid.”

 Bowe’s not interested in chastising local tastemakers or trying to climb social ladders anymore. Now he’s just here to make music — both for himself and others.

 “Westerberg came over the other day and he laid down on my couch and said ‘I want to hear every song.’ It was a dream come true but at the same time it was uncomfortable,” Bowe said. “When I played ‘Fallen Satellites’ he sits up on the couch and goes ‘Look at this (points to arm). Actual goosebumps.’ A moment like that makes the whole thing worthwhile. I don’t need to get on the cover of City Pages or whatever constitutes success in the Minneapolis scene. I feel like I’m all set just from that.” 

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