as seen through the eyes of the artists on

Singer-Songwriter Heaven.


By Paul Zollo


In preparation for writing the liner notes for Singer-Songwriter Heaven, The Songs of Kevin Faherty, I invited all the participating artists to send me answers to a few questions I posed about Kevin. Questions like “When did you first meet him?” and “Why did you choose the song you chose to sing?” Also “What makes him special as a songwriter?” I also invited Kevin’s wife, Donna, and his good friend Sonnie Browne to send me Kevin info, which both of them generously did.


I expected that the Kevin I would come to know from these answers would vary somewhat from person to person. But the truth is that the Kevin who emerged is pretty constant; everyone who wrote me back presented pretty much a variation on the same theme: a Bostonian in Nashville who forever loves his Red Sox and Celtics; a brilliant and very serious songwriter who loves writing songs but has no inclination to market them, and would much sooner sing the praises of his fellow songwriters than his own; a loyal and generous friend; and a generally sweet and very funny guy.


Admittedly, my idea was that they’d give me a lot of great quotes I could weave in and out of my notes, and they’d do a lot of the work for me. But, as it turned out, while their answers informed and enriched my notes, I  didn’t directly quote anyone because there was so much – everyone answered with great, detailed and happy anecdotes about their old friend – and I had a whole lot I wanted to say myself.


But there was no question that all these Kevin accounts, when edited together, provided a pretty rich portrait of Kevin Faherty. And as Darryl informed me he was putting together a website for this project, it seemed like the perfect choice for a place to publish these reminiscences. And so, thanks to all the artists and to Sonnie and Donna, what we have here is a little documentary on the history and making of Singer-Songwriter Heaven: The Songs of Kevin Faherty. 


ELLIS PAUL: I first met Kevin singing beneath the stars at some long ago Kerrville, Texas campfire.


JOYCE WOODSON: Kevin and I met at three in the morning under the Texas sky at Kerrville. A few of us pickers were still standing 'round a small campfire when a quiet guy stepped up and sang "Singer Songwriter Heaven."  I was floored.


MICHAEL McNEVIN:  I can't remember exactly when I met Kevin, but I know it was at the Kerrville campfires, early ’90s? Who knows which year, or which fire. I bet I've known him longer than he's known me. Kevin & Donna, when I was touring through Nashville later on in years, were kind enough to let me crash at their place, adopted me for a day or two here and there, even though I left junk all over the house and drank all their wine.


JANNE HENSHAW: I first met Kevin at one of Joyce Woodson's many famous parties (complete with charades, costumes, and silly games) here in Nashville. Many parties and gatherings later, he’s one of my dearest friends.  


JIM STEPHENS: I first noticed Kevin in the audience at a Nashville house songwriter round when, between songs, he yelled out some hilarious wisecrack, bringing the whole crowd into uproarious laughter. I thought, “Now here's a guy I'd like to know; I can relate to him.”


TOM KIMMEL: I can’t remember when I met Kevin, but it seems like I've always known him, like we must've grown up together.  One bond for us is our devotion to the Celtics and Red Sox. He's all Celtics, and understandably so, his mom being Red Auerbach's secretary all those years. And I'm a Sox nut from Alabama. But I find that Bostonians have a special kind of affection for outsiders who've fallen in love with Hub teams. We're converts to their religion, and therefore we're fanatical. (Aren't all converts fanatics?)


SONNIE BROWN: I met Kevin in 1995 at the Napa Valley Folk Festival. There he was, a Bostonian/Tennessean in the heart of wine country, entering a folk music competition, trying to set up his tent. I think I laughed at him. Sorry, Kevin.


DARRYL PURPOSE: I met him at the Napa Folk Festival in 1995. He sang “The Kid With the Invisible Smile”, "Angel Walking Home" and of course, "Singer-Songwriter Heaven". He commented years later how special it was and to meet two people he knew would be friends for life – Sonnie & me. It’s easy to be with him. so quirky and interesting. You could just tell he was a mensch right away. And a talented one.


DONNA DeSTEFANO:  Before we got married, a friend's brother asked why I was marrying Kevin. This guy was one of those let-no-thought-go-unsaid kind of folks who thought his brother was much more talented than Kevin. I ended up saying “Because he makes me laugh.”


DARRYL PURPOSE: Kevin once started writing a song about me and him. I was Skipper and he was Gilligan. Before I surprised him with these 20 tracks, I made him promise to finish it, if I ever helped him do a project something like this. So, we should be hearing it!


JOYCE WOODSON:  I remember hearing him in Kerrville and thinking, “Who is that guy?”  We introduced ourselves and instantly became lifelong friends. The very next day I was driving by and spotted him. I stopped, rolled down my window and said, "You!  You're a great songwriter!  Get in my car!"  I drove him to my campsite and showed him where to come that night to sing his songs for me and my friends.  We laugh about that even now.  Where else would anyone ever stop their car and say that to you? 


MEGAN McLAUGHLIN: Every year at Kerrville, I reconnect with Kevin. He is walking around with a Celtics t-shirt and shorts, Converse high tops and his guitar on. I think he is always listening to voices, turns of phrase and stories that show up in his songs, making his writing quite conversational. Like in “Singer Songwriter Heaven,” how he snuck Harry Chapin's taxi driver talking in that one. 


JIM STEPHENS: It was a slow process, but through the years we kept running into each other around town (we seemed to be drawn to the same type of songwriters). Here at the end of 2009, we've been best of friends for years and hang out together a lot. We also both get to Kerrville nearly every year.

JANNE HENSHAW:  I first heard him sing “The Lesson” in a song circle at his and Donna's house and was so moved. It's something we all encounter in life, dealing with our fears and doubts, attempting to hide them away, but ultimately realizing that we have to face them head-on and learn our lessons. He opened up his huge and vulnerable heart to write this amazing song.


DIANA JONES: Kevin has a way of creating something visual and visceral.  “Angel Walking Home” is the kind of story-telling that gets inside without the listener realizing it's been internalized. Suddenly it's there so powerfully. And the melody like something you remembered.


DARRYL PURPOSE:  Diana [Jones] booked a studio in London to record some of her songs. It was getting very late in the game for Kevin's project. At the end of her session, she told the engineer that she wanted to try something. At this point she had never played “Angel Walking Home.” She had never seen the chords. She had listened to the rough MP3 of Kevin singing it, and she had the lyrics that I had sent her. She also had her new tenor guitar. The engineer turned on the mikes, and she started the song. When she finished, the engineer was in tears, then Diana herself was in tears. That is the one and only time she's played the song, and that's what you hear on the CD.


DONNA DeSTEFANO : You cannot talk about Kevin without talking about the Boston Celtics. His mother worked for the Celtics for 30 years and as administrative secretary to Red Auerbach.  Kevin, a skinny guy from Boston, had dreams of one day playing for the Celtics, and he had attended the Celtics training school for young athletes. But, that was not to be. However, he is undying in his support of the Celtics and will be for the rest of his life.  Our house is like a Celtics shrine, and his wardrobe mostly green.


SONNIE BROWN: The first things one noticed about Kevin Faherty at a folk festival were, in this order: His very orange tent, his stick-figure-man appearance and his deep-chested vocal delivery in song.

I heard him sing “Kid with the Invisible Smile” that weekend (after a protracted display of capo calisthenics, I might mention.) Zowie. That's it - sewed up! I'm a fan, I'm a convert, I am going to change my name to Faherty.


DARRYL PURPOSE: I heard “Singer-Songwriter Heaven” around a campfire and it turned my head. I think that’s how most people connected with Kevin, they heard “Singer-Songwriter Heaven” and went whoa.


ELLIS PAUL: I'd find myself entranced by each one of his lines direction. Every corner of his songs had imagery that was a baker's chocolate surprise. He's gifted in a way few writers of songs are.


TOM KIMMEL: Obviously I think his songs are wonderful. But it's not just that they're good. They're also on the money in a special way. Only a real artist could have written them (and there are so few real artists to be found these days).


JIM STEPHENS: I've been intrigued by the depth of detail in his characters, scene-setting and storytelling. He is also one fine fingerpicker on those guitars.

DARRYL PURPOSE: There are no weak lines in his songs. No laziness, no filler.


ELLIS PAUL: To me he's like one of the old time sports journalists who could paint a picture of Mickey Mantle far clearer than a television could. It’s a lesson in vivid color to hear his songs.

DARRYL PURPOSE: I love the hidden jokes. You’ll discover these jokes after you’ve been listening with these songs for years. In `Life’ he sings, “I pick up Jimmy at the gate for his weekend getaway/say what’s the skinny on your life today/he says in a nutshell it’s mostly hell, except for the high waters/ is there anyone in charge, this is not the life I ordered, dam’s about to break and I cannot fix the tracks. I said I’m sorry – I asked.”

There's a lot of those hidden jokes, they keep the songs fresh as they reveal themselves over time.


SONNIE BROWN: The beauty about Kevin is that he writes - and he lives - and he writes some more, and he takes it all very seriously, but then he somehow throws it all away. It's so Zen. Kevin-zen.

TOM KIMMEL: I see Kevin as a true artist because he answers his calling with his work. He doesn't need to imitate. I think he gets it that for better or worse it's best just to plow ahead as his own man.


JIM STEPHENS:  I'm a piano player who came up through the folk scene and I approach the keyboard differently than most players because I’ve played with so many acoustic guitar pickers. I'm somewhat of a "Piano-Finger-Picker."  Kevin picked up on this and came to me with an instrumental piece he'd written and said he'd always heard it as a piano song in his head.

I so enjoyed searching out all the little notes and nuances on piano that he had finger-picked on his recording (it took some "finger-crunching" to pull it off....)

After some final direction from Kevin, off we went one day to a studio with a big Kawai grand piano. It felt great to record it for him and even more gratifying to give something back to Kevin for all the things he'd done for me over time.


DARRYL PURPOSE: It matters to me that his songs are so heartfelt. It’s all really him. The coming of age story of “Intangible Evidence of Love,” that actually happened to him. Just like in the song. And the authentic search for spirituality in songs, I have always loved that.


ELLIS PAUL: He is a word-weaver like no other.


MICHAEL McNEVIN: I chose the song “In The Zone” because Kevin tried to teach it to me once, with a zany half-capo tuning thing, and I failed. But who am I to argue with Kevin? He feeds me. So, here it is in standard tuning so normal people can play it. It captures the dreamer in Kevin. 


DARRYL PURPOSE: McNEVIN was being modest when he talked about why this song for him. When I first got him on the phone (weeks after my first try, only after Megan did her magic to make him return my call!) I told him that either he was doing this song, or nobody was doing this song. I don't know if Kevin specifically wrote it for him to sing, but he might as well have.


TOM KIMMEL: I was given several songs to choose from, and “Intangible Evidence of Love” was speaking to me the loudest. I felt lucky I was able to nab it for the project because it was easy for me to find my voice in it. It's a real piece of poetry.


PETER LAMSON: To wit, I didn't pick “What I Expect” – Kevin ordered me to perform it for some twisted reason of his own. His demo of it was in C %*&# tuning and he sang it with several of his only-whales-could-hear-them bass notes of his. I had to listen to it twenty times just to figure out what language it was written in.


JANNE HENSHAW: He has a sly wit that keeps me in stitches and he's the ultimate punster.


SONNIE BROWN: Every time I hear “No Borders” I can't help but think of Kevin saying “no boarders” or “no bored – ers” or “no hors d'oeuvres” ....see, that's what Kevin's quirkiness has done to my brain.  He'll never say “No boarders" cause we've all stayed at his house but he might say “no bored –ers” because he loves good company, and forget about him ever serving something so high faluting as horsey-doovers....


SALLY BARRIS: He looks like Jackson Browne, he sings like Bob Dylan sort of, and he always makes me laugh. He’s the best coffee buddy in the world. I live in the same neighborhood with him and I just feel better knowing he's down the street.


BUDDY MONDLOCK: Somehow I can't keep from thinking of Kevin as the Sam Spade of songwriters. He's that cool! And, of course he really is a private detective. He lives to serve (Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham...or possibly a subpoena). Now, being stealthy by nature is good for a gumshoe but not necessarily the best way to get your songs heard. That's why this project is such a cool and valuable thing. Because Kevin writes really good songs. And they need to be exposed!


SONNIE BROWN: Kevin doesn't really care what anyone thinks of him, but he cares deeply about his songs and his friends. He shows up for both. Kevin writes and re-writes and works it out on paper, fret board and the stylus of gray matter. He talks to his friends. He feeds their dogs, walks their dogs. He holds their hands. He buys tickets to their concerts. He hands them a cold beer. And he sings to them. Thank goodness, he sings to us.


MICHAEL McNEVIN: Kevin is one of those special souls who bring people together out of friendship, and then the music follows. The last time I was at their place, about ten of us jammed in their living room, for hours and hours, while the first winter snow came down and covered Nashville. Then we all walked around in it. Magical.


BUDDY MONDLOCK: Kevin is one of those people who is always doing for other people. A ride to the airport, Thanksgiving dinner for all the songwriter orphans whose families are in far away cities or just not around anymore. He's excellent company because he's so damn bright. A man in love with language, especially the double entendre. So a conversation with him always has some pep in its step. And all that spills over into his songs, of course. But they are not just clever; ‘clever’ is just a better way to express the true and thoughtful heart inside. So, I'm glad to get a chance to do a little thing for the guy with the big heart.


PIERCE PETTIS: Kevin Faherty has been the kind of friend everyone should have.  When I play in Nashville, he comes to every show.  I mean every show.  This has been going on for years.  He's been there on miserable nights when he was practically the only one there.  He's brought tables of friends out to see me.  In fact, at one point I tried to give him a "life-time free pass" but he refused.  I put him on the guest list, but he pays anyway.  What do you do with a guy like that?  Just be grateful I suppose. And say thank you.


JIM STEPHENS: Kevin is one of the nicest, most accommodating guys you could ever know He always makes time to listen and say “Hmmm....I'll see what I can do to help you with that.” And then really does!  I cannot count the times I've heard him say, “Hey, Let me buy you a beer!”


DONNA DeSTEFANO: He’s passionate about music. In a similar fashion to talking about Celtics' stats, he can tell you who recorded what, when, with whom, what groups he/she may have belonged to, who he/she co-wrote with, etc. He is a master at keeping a lot of facts.  He brings his perception of people, his wit, and his creativity to every song he writes.  It took him a lot to start performing, and it surprised me to see how nervous he was and sometimes will still get when performing his songs. 


MICHAEL McNEVIN: He’s got a laugh that lasts for days, nothing like a crack up in a living room to make you forget you're broke. 


JANNE HENSHAW: Kevin and I have occasionally exchanged bad limericks.  Here is one that I wrote for him awhile back:

There once was a young man named Faherty

Who was known for his kindness and charity

He was a fine lad, though his puns could be bad

Still he kept us in fits of hilarity.

Bad limerick, but true sentiments.  


SONNIE BROWN: One time he told me that he would write a song constructed solely from the emails I sent to him. It would have to be a haiku; I don't send many emails to him, but he thought they were clever. I thought I won the Nobel Prize when he said that.


PETER LAMSON: Kevin is a very arrogant, bombastic, and conceited individual , so please don't print what a great guy we all think he is, because that would ruin your reputation. Seriously, Kevin is a wonderfully warm, funny individual with one of the drier wits you'll ever encounter, not to mention that humongous Korean War era field phone of his.


MEGAN McLAUGHLIN: When you're chatting with Kevin, he will often answer you with the voice of Popeye, Groucho Marx, and his father (from Ireland). He’s got a singing voice that will surprise you with its depth and color. He doesn't sound like anyone else you have ever heard. 


SALLY BARRIS: All the problems of the world seem small when he breaks into his Irish accent.


DONNA DeSTEFANO: Kevin has a quick and erudite wit that entertains many. He is also a good impersonator -- Ed Sullivan and Bob Cousey (Boston Celtics) are among his gems.  His grand-nieces have been calling him "The Funny Man" and sit near him waiting for him to be funny. Of course, when he has such a command performance, he doesn't perform as well to their expectations!

DARRYL PURPOSE: I did a show in Southern Indiana, and a guy came up after the show, a fan, and said he loved it – said. “That song `Singer-Songwriter Heaven,’ - what a great song that is, how did you write that?” I said, I didn’t write it. Kevin Faherty wrote it. He said he also loved “Perfect Revenge,” and I said, well, Kevin wrote that, too. He was very disappointed. 


JIM STEPHENS: Nashville is such a transient town; songwriters come and go constantly. Having a long-term pal like Kevin means everything. I'm one of many in his circle here. He's the genuine article. We make each other laugh, and that's healthy.


SONNIE BROWN: Far too many people have never heard Kevin sing. I used to slip his cassette into the player at the radio station where I work. Until they unplugged the CD player and installed a flash drive in its place. Kevin, I need a CD. If you can't sing every song on it, I'll take what I can get. “Kid with the Invisible Smile” still trumps. But these other tunes spill the beans, Mr. Bostonian.


MICHAEL McNEVIN:  I just love the guy. And I'm really proud to be on this CD with so many friends. That is one of the things that needs to be said: Kevin's eyes and ears as a songwriter ties us together.


DARRYL PURPOSE: I performed his song “Singer-Songwriter Heaven” at most of my shows for ten years. 150 shows a year. It was always a show-stopper.  People love it. They love to sing along with it, and to laugh at it. It’s a gift to perform it. I believe the work I’m doing here, on this project, might be a kind of a payback for the privilege of performing that song for so many years.


DONNA DeSTEFANO: Kevin's mother was perhaps his strongest supporter -- she believed in him so very much. She passed away a year ago and would have really appreciated this album and everything everyone has done on this project. His dad is 93 and still alive. I know he will appreciate it too.


DARRYL PURPOSE: Virtually every single person I asked to get a track done got it done. That blew me away. I hear these tracks in their totality and the love for Kevin comes streaming through. Each track is powerful, and the sum is even more powerful than the parts. I think I’m more excited about this project than any of the 6 CDs that I recorded. It's like, my-favorite-team-won-the-World-Series-excited. Or, I’ve-got-a-new-girlfriend excited. I am so thrilled these songs will have a life through this project.


SONNIE BROWN: I love you, Kevin. And so do these writers who learned one of your tunes well enough to record it and sent it to Darryl to be included on this project. Zowie. More than ever, I'm a fan, I'm a convert, I wanna be a Kevin-zen master. At the very least, I want to hear you sing again and again.