Who says you can’t go home? That may be the title of another artist’s song, but Keith Sykes will make it happen Friday night (Feb. 29) in Murray, Ky. Sykes, a Murray native who has toured with the likes of Jimmy Buffett as a former member of the Coral Reefer Band, will take the stage at Murray State University’s historic Lovett Auditorium for an 8 p.m. show. This show will feature the popular onstage seating and is presented as part of LovettLive’s spring concert series. Tickets are $5 and will be available at the door or can be purchased in advance through ticketmaster.com, or locally at the Regional Special Events Center box office.
Sykes moved to Memphis when he was just a young boy. When he was a senior in high school, he remembers buying his first guitar for $20 at a pawnshop on Memphis’ legendary Beale Street. After graduation, he strapped the guitar across his back and hit the road on a mission to follow his dream. After two years of hitchhiking and working odd jobs, life as a musician began to take shape when his journey led him to showcase at The Bitter End in New York City.
LovettLive’s onstage seating design will be reminiscent to when Sykes toured nationally on the college coffeehouse circuit in the late ‘60s. During that time, other artists recorded two of his songs and by 1970 his self-titled debut album was released. Two years after that he got the acting bug and went to Japan to play the lead role in the movie “Summer Soldiers.” His music career continued even while he was out of the country with the release of his second album by Vanguard.
In 1973 Sykes decided it was time to leave New York and move south, first to Austin, Texas and later to Key West, Florida. It was there that he met up with Jimmy Buffett. Sykes said those were good times, playing with the road band and writing songs. Buffett recorded two of Sykes’ songs on the platinum Son of a Son of a Sailor LP. Later, he also co-wrote what was to become the Parrot-head anthem, “Volcano.”
“Touring with (Jimmy) Buffett were great times,” noted Sykes. “I still enjoy getting together and spending time with him and many of the other great artists that I have worked with during my career.” Sykes said the upcoming gig in Lovett Auditorium is actually the third time that he has played that venue. The first was when he was a member of Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band and a few years later as a solo artist.
Sykes says he’s heard great things about the acoustics in Lovett Auditorium and is looking forward to the LovettLive performance and coming back to the area where he spent some of his young years. “I still have several family members here, aunts and cousins,” Sykes said. “I get down to the area some, but not nearly as often as I would like to.”
When asked to recall one of the most memorable moments of his career, Sykes was quick to respond. “I have a lot of good memories, but one definite highlight was performing on the weekly TV show Saturday Night Live. It was in 1980 when Eddie Murphy and other new cast members had just been brought in and they called and asked me to perform. I’ve had a lot of cool experiences throughout my career, but that was really special.” Sykes has also performed on Austin City Limits and has been featured in Time and Newsweek magazines and garnered record reviews in Rolling Stone.
Sykes has been a prominent force in the music industry for over 30 years, earning respect not only as a performer, but also for his talents as a songwriter, and later as a producer. In addition to Buffet, some of the most notable artists that have covered his songs include Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine, Roseanne Cash, Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell, Lacy Jay Dalton, Guy Clark and the Judds. He has also completed projects for Tommy Tutone, GaryBoy, premier songwriter John Prine and veteran hit-maker B.J. Thomas.
After working behind the scenes writing and producing for several years, Sykes says he is now “refreshed and ready to hit the road” once again. “I still play with the full band some, mostly during the summer, but now I really enjoy working the smaller acoustic shows,” Sykes said. “Americana” is the industry term for the style of music he concentrates mostly on now. “It’s been called folk music, singer/songwriter, lots of different things, but I like the name ‘Americana.’ It really encompasses the theme and feeling of what I like to do.”
Connecting with the audience is the part of touring Sykes enjoys most. “One of the nicest things that was ever said to me after a concert was when a lady who had been in the audience came up to me and said ‘You made me laugh and you made me cry.’ I thought that really said a lot about what I was trying to do through my music. I thanked her and told her that I was glad I gave her what she came for, and I hoped she enjoyed the trip. That’s the feeling I try to leave everyone with.”
Forever a songwriter at heart, Sykes says he keeps a notebook handy at all times to write down lines that strike him. “I’m inspired by my craft,” he said. “I really have to get off by myself for a few weeks or couple of months every now and then to get inspired to do my best writing.”
Current tour dates also gives Sykes a chance to connect with his fans and promote a new album due out soon.
Jed Zimmerman, one of Sykes’ protégés, will open the LovettLive concert. Sykes produced Zimmerman’s first two records and is happy to be able to share the stage with him in Murray.
For more information about tickets to see Sykes and Zimmerman go to www.ticketmaster.com, call 1-877-894-4473, or visit the RSEC box office. The local number for the RSEC box office is (270) 809-4895. Log onto www.myspace.com/lovettlive for the latest information about upcoming shows and schedule of events.