Bloomfield Hills resident Eddy Kay has been writing and performing music for more than half a century, but the folk singer and songwriter breathed new life into his music career after retiring from his day job nearly four years ago.
With three recently self-recorded albums under his belt, in January Kay performed his first solo concert for an audience of about 150 people at the Bloomfield Township Public Library – his first solo, stage performance since giving up the nightclub scene years ago to work a nine-to-five job and raise a his son.
“I ran into an old friend who was doing libraries. He said all these libraries have concert series, and he plays them all,” he said. “I won't play bars or restaurants. At 72-years-old, if I can't play a concert, I won't play. I've been there and done that. I want a stage audience. It's a little too bad I had to wait until 72.”
Kay is one of many longtime musicians in southeast Michigan who are finding success and satisfaction on the library circuit after paying their dues at bars, nightclubs and other venues in their younger years. For Kay, the concerts provide an opportunity to showcase a lifetime of songs and his own brand of comedy in a personal and intimate setting that would have been difficult in years past.
“Why did the cowboy buy a dachshund?” Kay asked his audience at the start of his show. “Because someone told him to get a-long little doggie. Thank you, that concludes the comedy portion of our show.”
With that, the audience was hooked, he said, as he took them on a storytelling journey of his start in music, his time in Los Angeles, Asheville, North Carolina, and back to Michigan.
“There were a lot of people who played or sang better than I did, but nobody was funnier,” he said.
Kay's interest in folk music started at 14 years old, when his older brother brought home a record by The Kingston Trio, exposing him to the five-string banjo sound. By high school, Bob Dylan had broken open in the folk scene, and Kay helped form the Northwest Detroit Folklore Society while attending hootenannies every Friday.
In addition to banjo, Kay learned the guitar, bass, mandolin, mandola, octave and keyboard strings. By his senior year in college, he was making as much as his father each week by performing solo shows around Detroit.
“From 1968 to 1978, we made cars by day and played bars by night. For at least a decade, we owned the town. I played five nights a week,” he said. “My ego said, 'Go to California and be a star.' I left in 1978, and in two years I called my dad and told him I was hungry.”
Transitioning into sales was a natural fit, eventually becoming a motivational speaker and professional sales trainer. He has also written multiple trade-related books.
While working his regular job, Kay purchased recording equipment and began making his own albums in a home-recording studio. Since retiring four years ago, he has recorded four additional albums, including “Bloomfield Hills” and “Detroit.” His second album, “Molasses,” is a historical tribute to the end of the Civil War.
“I was vice president of sales and marketing for a multi-million dollar company, but I always thought of myself as a musician with a really good job,” he said.
Photo: Laurie Tennent