Kentucky native Kory Caudill has toured the world with his piano, and on Saturday, Dec. 15, he’ll be swinging by the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Theater to share his talent with us in “Christmas with the Kory Caudill Quintet.”
Insider caught up with Caudill talk about his influences, his favorite holiday albums and the first song he ever played.
As a small child, Caudill watched the “Superman” movie on repeat constantly, and one day, much to his parents Keith and Kathi’s surprise, he toddled over to the family’s piano and picked out the film score’s iconic theme.
In the Caudill home, music was a must, as Keith and Kathi were involved with the educational programs at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonburg, Ky.
Caudill recalls his father’s strong opinions on the subject of arts education.
“Folks would come in and say, ‘Well, we’re pulling our child out of lessons, he doesn’t seem to like it.’ And Dad’s logic was, ‘Well, Kory doesn’t like math, but he has to take it because it’s part of an education.’ ”
Still, Kory Caudill didn’t dream of a musical profession until high school, when he attended the Governor’s School for the Arts.
“It showed me that if I did have to eat, sleep and breathe music all day, well, I would be thrilled,” says Caudill. “After finishing that program, I came away knowing I was going to tackle it head-on, I wasn’t going to have a backup plan, and I was going to play music for a living.”
At 18, Caudill moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University and started gigging at some of the honkytonks there on Broadway and other small clubs.
“My junior year of college, a fellow named Justin Moore came into the Tin Roof,” he recalls. “He had just signed a record deal with Big Machine the day before. He said, ‘I’m going on tour with Skynyrd, you want to come?’”
“Through that gig and through country music in general, I’ve knocked off just about every bucket list venue in my career,” he says. “I’ve been able to meet folks in the most random walks of life and seen so much that I’ve never dreamed of.”
Over years of touring with Moore, Caudill says he saw the music business done right. The band — still the same touring band as the one Moore started when he recruited Caudill — plays a diverse range of venues from resort casinos and state fair stadiums to frequent appearances at the Grand Ole Opry.
“But I’ve done it all also knowing that I want to circle back and do this with my own music, on my own terms,” he adds.
Those “terms” aren’t the Johnny Cashes and Vince Gills of the world, as you might expect from a seasoned country musician. Instead, Caudill’s influences are a completely different list.
“Pat Metheny Group, Billy Preston, Yanni — folks hear the name Yanni and have kind of a preconceived notion of what it is, but I’d encourage those folks to check out ‘Live at the Acropolis,’ because it’s one of the most rockin’ shows or albums you’ll ever see,” he says.
Caudill was able to polish his chops in a variety of genres because of the musicians at the Grand Ole Opry.
“They’re all professional studio players, so they are all well-versed in various styles,” he explains. “They helped me hone my skills and push me in the right direction, and not only be fluent in different genres but sound authentic.”
He now has four albums and an EP under his belt, including two Christmas collections — two volumes of “Christmas with Kory Caudill and Friends.” The selections run from traditionals like “Silent Night” to newer classics like “Run Run Rudolph.”
The Christmas concerts he plays grew out of a family get-together in Elizabethtown. Caudill’s wife has relatives in the area, and the owner of a small theater asked him if he’d sit in with a group of local musicians for a show.
“The show happened to be in December, and (the band) thought, ‘Well, let’s do what we do,’ and we’ll filter in some Christmas music,” he says.
Caudill returned the next year, and the next, each time playing more holiday tunes until the entire show was dedicated to Christmas songs. It’s a great gig, according to Caudill.
“For us, Christmas shows are a time we can step completely away from (the music business) and focus on being with each other, the real meaning of Christmas, and not worry about making music for any of the wrong reasons.”
His favorite Christmas music to listen to comes from an artist who clearly inspired his jazzier material.
“Anything from that Vince Guaraldi album,” he says.
“Christmas with the Kory Caudill Quintet” will light up the Bomhard Theater stage for one night only, on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.