I just realized that a few weeks ago marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Kevin Gilbert. I still remember opening up USA Today and seeing the short blurb about his death, at just 29, and actually gasping out loud.
You might not know the name Kevin Gilbert, but you know many of his songs. When people ask me to turn them on to someone who they might not know, there are a few names that spring to mind. I could say Marshall Crenshaw – my favorite in the rock/pop genre – but he’s well-known enough that you’ve probably heard several of his songs. I could say Tommy Keene, and David Wilcox too. You can’t go wrong with any of them. But for shear “You’ve probably never heard of him and more people should know him,” I’d have to go with Gilbert.
Kevin Gilbert was one of those guys who could do everything, a prodigy who could sing and write and play every instrument except the bagpipes (and he probably could have learned that if he wanted to). He won contests when he was young (though to be honest, he will always be young). He worked with people like Madonna and Michael Jackson and Eddie Money and Keith Emerson. He wrote music for TV shows and produced albums for other artists. He loved Genesis and was almost their lead singer, replacing Phil Collins, but that never came to be.
The songs from him you probably know were on Sheryl Crow’s first album, Tuesday Night Music Club. The Tuesday Night Music Club was a group of people who got together on Tuesday nights to write songs, including Gilbert, Crow, Bill Botrell, David Baerwald, and David Ricketts – the last two you might remember as David & David. (Crow was a keyboardist/backup singer in Toy Matinee and Gilbert’s girlfriend, but that ended when she not only went on Letterman’s show and took credit for writing “Leaving Las Vegas,” she told the group that most of them weren’t needed for her follow-up – it was a split that got nasty and sad and you can read all about it if you want to know the details). Gilbert co-wrote “All I Wanna Do,” “Strong Enough,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” and most of the other songs on the album. He plays on several of the songs, and was a big factor in fixing the album after the record company wasn’t thrilled with the first mix.
But let’s get to the music. Here’s a song from Toy Matinee. It’s a 1995 live version with his band Thud. It’s about another ex-girlfriend, who left him for an Elvis impersonator:
This is “Queen of Misery,” co-written with Patrick Leonard. Play close attention to the lyrics. It’s about Madonna:
This is “Goodness Gracious,” the song that introduced me to Gilbert. I remember hearing it on the radio driving down the highway. It’s from Thud:
“Tea For One” is from Thud too. This song means a lot to me, for many different reasons:
This is “The Best of Everything.” Andrew Gold did a cover of his song many years ago that sounded so much like Gilbert it was uncanny. Such a beautiful song, and I’m pretty sure it’s about Crow:
From The Shaming of the True, his posthumous rock opera. It’s “Staring Into Nothing.”
“When You Give Your Love To Me”
He could do any type of song. This is “Waiting For The Rain” with his band Giraffe:
I hope these samples whet your appetite for Gilbert. Go to his official site and buy all of his albums. He’s someone everyone should know about and remember. Someone whose name should be mentioned when you’re talking about great music from the ’90s.