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Clay Kirkland: Beat the Reaper XVII

January 27 @ 8:00 pm

Clay Kirkland is back at Swallow Hill!

In celebration of his seventy-seventh birthday, Clay Kirkland’s Seventeenth Annual Beat the Reaper Concert presents the trio “Trunko, Kirkland, and Kull,” composed of three long time faculty members of the Swallow Hill Music School.

Paul Trunko, on guitar, Clay Kirkland, harmonica, and Stef Kull, piano, have performed together for over fifteen years. Though they enjoy playing in large ensembles, they love the musical clarity, the depth of emotion, and connectedness in playing as a trio. You can hear the beautiful subtleties and nuances in the playing and singing of these three great musicians.

Stef Kull is a long-time Colorado performer and educator with a degree in music education from University of Colorado, Denver. She began playing piano at the age of four. Her mother is an organist and a world renowned scholar of J.S.Bach. Her father builds harpsichords. Stef performs regularly on the front range, teaches students of all ages, is a member of The Miles Lee Band, and plays in a piano/guitar duo with Paul Trunko. She also adds keyboard jams to Denver-based bluegrass project, Scott Slay and the Rail. Stef has done it all, played it all, from gospel tunes in church, to her long-lived Doors cover band, “The Garage Doors.” Current Stef keyboard tracks can be heard on Jammyman’s latest release, “Is there a Flight on this Movie.” When she is not playing music, you can usually find Stef chillin’ with her kids, riding her e-bike, camping, or in front of a video poker machine…but not on Facebook.

Paul Trunko, on acoustic and electric guitar and vocals, began at Swallow Hill Music years ago behind the front desk and soon became a member of the faculty. His performance career began as a teenager in St. Louis, playing with his brothers. After moving to Colorado, he and his band, The Keepers, became a fixture in the Front Range as the leader of the open stage blues jam at the Little Bear Saloon in Evergreen. He was a long time member of the nationally recognized Grateful Dead tribute band, Shakedown Street. As father of three young boys, he recorded popular albums for youngsters under his Jammy Man handle. Now that those boys are grown he continues to record under that name and recently released “Is There a Flight on this Movie.”

Kirkland’s musical performance and training began at the age of six, singing a duet with his twin sister, Claire, in the school talent show, and playing “sticks” (claves) in the Winterville, Georgia Elementary School Rhythm Band. His mother, a highly accomplished pianist, taught him piano at age eight. He began playing cello at age ten, and played baritone horn throughout high school in the marching and concert brass bands. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother was choir director. At age thirteen, while living in the small Missouri town of Calhoun, his mother said, “Son, it is time for you to sing in the church choir.” He began singing tenor and, as his voice changed, he sang bass and continued singing in school and church choirs through high school. He learned to sing the blues on the assembly line, welding tops on Ford truck cabs. While working his way through college, earning a BA in psychology with a minor in philosophy, his girlfriend gave him a harmonica for Christmas and he taught himself to play. He has studied piano, saxophone, tabla drums, and guitar, and has always returned to his favorite instrument, harmonica.

The transcendent nature of Kirkland’s performances and his virtuosity and depth of feeling on such a humble instrument was made possible by his lifetime of musical training, his yoga practice which began in 1970, thirty plus years of exploration of deep feelings in Primal Therapy and Holotropic Breathwork, and his introduction to Gurumayi Chidvilasananda in 1989, with the resulting involvement in Siddha Yoga Meditation. He feels deep gratitude to his parents for encouraging him to play and perform throughout his entire life, and to his son, Luke, for the fun they have had listening to and playing music together throughout his entire life.

Kirkland has performed in concert with Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Robben Ford, Chuck Berry, Willie Nelson, Lou Rawls, Junior Brown, The Nighthawks with Jimmy Thackery, and many others. Kirkland performed his blues harmonica arrangement of the Third Movement of Brahms Third Symphony, “Brahms In Blue,” with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, The Stratus Chamber Orchestra, and the DaVinci String Quartet. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Colorado Blues Society, Distinguished Faculty Award from Swallow Hill Music. His album “Blues, Rock, Raga Harmonica,” featuring the Royal Musicians of Nepal, world renowned flamenco jazz guitarist, Miguel Espinoza, and blues rock guitarist, Neil Haverstick, was awarded “Best World Beat Album of 1995” in Westword Magazine’s Best of Denver publication. Perhaps Kirkland’s most important hippy blues rock guy credential is that he was at Woodstock1969.

Kirkland first taught briefly at Swallow Hill Music in 1981, and returned full time in 1992. He moved back to Kansas City five years ago and now lives in the small SW Missouri town of Osceola. He has been given the title of “Swallow Hill Music Touring Faculty Member” and is head of the online harmonica department. He is delighted to find a real and unexpected “heart connection” with his students via Zoom.

Kirkland was born in Macon, Georgia. A great place to be during the birth of rock and roll. The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, when Kirkland was twelve. He began high school in the farm town of Calhoun, just thirty miles from where he now lives. He considers this area to be one of his homes. Living in Osceola enables him to spend time in the beautiful wooded acreage he and his brothers have owned since 1993. He returns to Denver to teach and perform.

Kirkland’s professional career began in Kansas City 1970. He recently performed in Kansas City in celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the legendary “Cowtown Ballroom” concert hall, and hippy gatherings in Volker Park, venues where his band “K.C.Grits” often performed. British Blueprint Magazine, London, says of Kirkland, “Phenomenal technique…a visionary musician, stunning…rooted deeply in the blues.”

Larry Mahan, five time world rodeo champion, hired Kirkland to play in his Great American Cowboy Band, and said, “When Clay plays it ain’t harmonica. It’s Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.”

Nashville star and male lead in “Les Miserables,” Gary Morris, with whom Clay played in the great Denver country rock band, Breakaway, says of Kirkland, “he’s the best.’


January 27
8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Event Category:


Swallow Hill Music – Daniels Hall
71 E. Yale Avenue
Denver, CO 80210 United States