Kendell Marvel has been writing songs since he was 10 years old, when his dad would take him to southern Illinois bars to perform for the locals. Back then he was paid in pickled eggs and sodas.
Today, things are a little different. He’s one of the most sought after songwriters in Music City. And after writing a top 5 country hit and album cuts for some of the biggest artists in the business, he’s earning a lot more than snack food.
But Marvel says when he moved to Nashville in 1998, he planned on singing those hit songs himself.
“I moved there to be an artist,” Marvel tells Wide Open Country. “Once I got there I kind of realized they weren’t going to give me the good songs. Songwriters were going to give their good songs to Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. I just jumped in with both feet and started hitting songwriter nights and meeting songwriters that were hungry like me. I met some guys and I started writing songs. The first day I moved to Nashville I wrote my first hit song.”
That hit song was Gary Allan’s “Right Where I Need to Be,” which reached No. 5 on the country chart in 1999. Since then, Marvel has written a string of cuts for artists like Chris Stapleton (“Either Way”), George Strait (“Twang”) and Jake Owen (“Don’t Think I Can’t Love You”).
Now it’s time for the hit-maker to step into the spotlight on his own. And not a moment too soon.
Marvel is set to release his debut studio album Lowdown and Lonesome, produced by Keith Gattis, in October. So what made the singer-songwriter decide to make a solo record after almost 20 years as a Nashville songwriting veteran? Marvel says he made the decision after seeing a change in the kind of country music that was selling. The timing was finally right.
“I decided to make that record once credible music started coming out again – Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Cody Jinks. Those kind of guys started getting traction,” Marvel says. “I’m way too old and way too bald for mainstream radio.”
Marvel released the first single from Lowdown and Lonesome, the gorgeous and soulful “Gypsy Woman,” last week.
Marvel says with various streaming formats and a widespread hunger for traditional country music, artists are no longer dependent on country radio for success.
“All this cool stuff that’s coming out with all the digital platforms nowadays and all these people who are developing serious, serious tours and selling out the Ryman three or four nights in a row – I’ve never heard any of these guys on the radio.”
Earlier this year, Marvel launched his “Honky Tonk Experience,” a monthly residency at Nashville’s Exit/In. The show is now one of the hottest tickets in town, with guests like Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Jon Pardi and Brothers Osborne.
With support from the Music City community and a collection of hard-won lyrics most Nashville artists would kill for, Marvel is set to break out with the long awaited Lowdown and Lonesome.
“There are people out here starving for good country music – something that I love to play,” Marvel says. “There are fans out there and you can reach them now without being on the big radio stations.”
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