Featured, Latest News

Nashville songwriter Kevin Major celebrates W.Va. roots with tunes about Jerry West and place

It was the existential angst of execution, the whole perception-vs.-reality thing, that plagued many a wannabe rock ‘n’ roller coming of age in the late 1970s.

Back then, the pioneering genre was trying to reassert its dominance over the upstart, shiny disco ball.

And just like Johnny B. Goode, strummin’ with the rhythm that the drivers made, a fundamental and fair question rang from the land.

To wit: Just how damned hard could it possibly be to play AC/DC on the $50 acoustic guitar from J.C. Penney you unwrapped on Christmas morning?

“Pretty damned,” laughed Kevin Major, and he knows.  

He was that kid in 1979.

He was 12 and just starting out on the six-string.

Every barre chord was akin to a knife fight in a phone booth.

“Lots of sore fingers and harsh realities.”

Major now plays guitars on the decidedly higher end.

He knows his way around the fretboard and song lyric, too.

The Morgantown native who lives and works in Nashville — he’s an assistant vice president and information technology professional for a major insurance company — has also moved past three-chord, Aussie outback blues-rockers.

These days, he’s closer to the Three Chords and the Truth strata that runs deep in the creative soil of his adopted hometown.

The above formula is what the late Harlan Howard, Music City’s iconic songwriter, decreed should be included in every country tune in order to achieve jukebox immortality, or the 21st century, social media equivalent thereof.

Major, a past winner for Song of the Year in Nashville’s prestigious Music City Songwriting Competition, has two better than that.

He has the entire state of West Virginia — and Jerry West — to go with it.

Celebrating The Place

Two of Major’s most recent tunes with the above subjects have quickly turned into fan favorites up here, courtesy of YouTube, mainly.

Like most ex-pat people from the Mountain State, Major answers the requisite, “Where are you from?” question in a precise, sense-of-place way.

“Well, I live in Nashville,” he’ll reply, “but I’m from West Virginia.”

That’s what “West By God Virginia” is about.

It’s a love song, a travelogue and a celebration of home and place, all at once.

It’s about getting in your car, in your driveway, in your development and ZIP code and area code where the geography is just unnaturally flat and motoring those country roads to the hills back home — at least for the weekend.

“Country roads,” in this case, being the road: Interstate 79.

Next month will mark 25 years that Major has lived in Nashville, but he still gets a charge out of driving under the “Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia” sign on the highway.

Along the way in his tune, he name-checks all the places: the Coopers Rock Overlook, the Gauley River, Blackwater Falls, and the like.

There are clever, respectful nods to John Denver’s song and a funny, little reminder-rejoinder that the place is, indeed, West Virginia, and not western Virginia.

And that singalong, throw-your-arm-over-your-buddy’s-shoulder, chorus:

It’s West by God, West by God Virginia

Where it’s almost heaven and wild and wonderful

It’s West by God, West by God Virginia

Where the country roads and mountains are magical

It’s a part of me, it’s the heart of me

It’s West by God, West by God Virginia

It’s also a song he dedicated to his parents, Pervis and Peggy Major, who are West Virginians by choice, he said.

An homage to The Logo

If that first song conjures images of family reunions and campfires, his second offering, “Jerry Alan West,” is all about fist-pumping and full-throated roars at the WVU Coliseum.

As the title says, it’s an unabashed celebration of Jerry West, the WVU Mountaineer and L.A. Laker legend, whose silhouette was used for the NBA logo.

Major, in fact, pulls off the lyrical distinction of having rhymed “silhouette” with “and we’ll never forget,” which can’t help but give him a chuckle.

There’s that, and the fact that the song is a three-chord rocker, written with the not-shy goal of getting large groups of people to sing, loud and proud, in a public venue:

He was better than the rest

He was better than the best

So raise your voice and beat your chest

For Jerry Alan, Jerry Alan, Jerry Alan West

The accompanying video is complete with archival cuts of No. 44 in fast-break glory at the old Stansbury Field House on Beechurst Avenue, where the dust from the rafters and girders overhead would waft down, shaken loose by all those stomping feet.

Stomping was a Stansbury tradition — and usually done in response to something West pulled off in a clutch moment.

Major is thinking about the big scoreboard screen at the coliseum. He pictures fellow West Virginian and Nashville resident Brad Paisley tearing into the tribute.

He pictures Paisley rocking out on his signature Fender Telecaster with the flying WV logo — a step-up from a $50 axe from Penney’s — which is appropriate, since the tune does contain a gnarly guitar solo therein.

He sees fans on their feet, with their fists in the air.

Second verse, same as the first

At 55, with an established career, Major likes the smalltown vibe of urban Nashville.

His wife, Dr. Amy Major, is a pathologist at Vanderbilt University.

His son, Jack, 23, a serious guitar-picker in his own right, is a videographer who did a lot of the principal shots on the “West By God Virginia” video.

Daughter Anna, 20, is a student and soccer star at Samford University in Alabama, where Bobby Bowden graduated and roamed the sidelines for his first gig as a head coach.

Kevin Major, meanwhile, likes his day job and laughs when he looks back at his first band at Morgantown High School, “Phil and the Blanks,” a trio formed with pals Pat Ferrise and Phil Jenks.

Their set included songs by The Police, Black Flag and R.E.M., and they killed it during “Jam ’85,” the big concert of their senior year in 1985.

They even scrawled their names on the back wall of the MHS auditorium after the show.

“We actually thought we were rock stars.”

He enjoys pitching songs on the side, and having them considered, by Nashville’s leading lights.

And he does have celebrity status in his family, he said, laughing.

Major especially likes that his song about the nuns who open a tequila bar to save their church, “Sister Mary Margarita’s,” is his dad’s favorite — even if he jokingly worried he might be excommunicated for writing it.

“I’m never gonna get rich doing this,” he said of the songwriting craft. “I’m never gonna get famous.”

However, he’s still hoping for what is known in Nashville as the “commercial cut” — where the big-time star takes your tune and runs with it.

A certain one about a certain basketball player is getting buzz, he said.

Major is getting that sonic intelligence by way of WVU, as he knows the people — who know the people.

“I’m told that Jerry West has heard it and likes it,” the songwriter said.

“That’s good enough for me.”

TWEET @DominionPostWV