By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
This Sunday, March 24, head to the Hideaway Tavern in Rutland at 7 p.m. to see King Arthur Junior (KAJ). He also hosts some of the open mics on Mondays at the Killarney in Ludlow and will be at the Iron Lantern, March 31. He describes his music as “acoustic roots jam rock.” He plays mostly covers, but sprinkles in some of his 15 originals. He’ll cover the ‘90s and 2000s with some new school pop songs from the radio. He also plays some Bill Withers, Otis Redding and Allman Brothers-type stuff.
KAJ picked up the guitar 15 years ago at age 15. He said, “Who doesn’t love music, right? Being a teenager and wanting to play guitar.” That being said, he never got into it then because he was more about being an athlete than a musician. He was a hockey goalie and ended up here in Vermont because he was recruited to play at Castleton.
KAJ grew up in Homer Glen, Illinois, 30 miles southwest of Chicago where his parents still reside. Back then he was just Arthur Cartrell. In his junior year of high school, he moved to Wisconsin to play hockey and lived with a host family. He played more guitar then and said, “I didn’t have many friends there, so I spent a lot of time in the basement. I didn’t have an amp; I played electric guitar unplugged, acoustically.” He went back home for his senior year and then off to El Paso, Texas, for two years, and then to Castleton. He only played hockey his freshman year at Castleton. It wasn’t what he expected. The college hockey season is very short – only about 25 games. He was used to playing 75 games.
I asked if hockey is big in Texas. He said, “Surprisingly, after the football season ended, we would sell out our Friday night games, which is 1,200 seats, but when we went to Dallas or San Antonio, there would only be parents and girlfriends in the stands.”
His parents listened to Motown and R&B music, but when he got the guitar, he was listening to punk rock and ska. His biggest musical influence is Alkaline Trio, a band from Illinois. He listened to them before they blew up worldwide. He was also into Green Day.
KAJ, like a lot of young people, taught himself from YouTube. The only lessons he ever took were at Castleton, learning classical guitar. “We have the internet at our fingertips. I remember getting AOL and it being dial-up, and then in junior high, we got high speed internet and YouTube.” After he graduated high school, his mother bought him an acoustic guitar. He said, “I had to actually learn how to play that thing. That summer, I was a lifeguard at the local pool and I just sat all day and watched YouTube videos.” Apparently, not the swimmers – haha. “I just watched Dave Matthews Band all day and then some O.A.R. and Jack Johnson.” It’s those artists he likes and covers to this day.
KAJ tries not to play the same set list every night. He said, “I probably have 100 songs floating around in my head, so I mix it up. Even if I play the same song night-in and night-out, I switch them up. I’ll change the tempo, or if I’m feeling crazy, I’ll change the key; little things to make it different. I use a looper, so maybe I’ll jam on a song for a little longer or I’ll loop two songs together. I try to keep it entertaining for myself as well.” Every gig, he reads the crowd and plays accordingly, with oldies for older folks and newer music for a younger audience. KAJ said the biggest compliment he ever got from his father was, “I knew you were a good player and could play; I didn’t know you could sing that good. But that didn’t impress me. What impressed me was how you dealt with the room.” KAJ added, “You have to know the room and then read it once you’re there, on the fly.”
KAJ has loved live music his whole life. He said there’s a big difference from being a performer to a musician/guitar player. “Being a performer is another skill that I’ve learned and developed. I like to think I’m pretty good at it now because I’ve worked at it for a few years. The biggest thing is getting in front of people and being comfortable.” He started out performing at open mics and now he runs them.
KAJ loves the connection he makes with the audience. He said, “To play a song and see somebody’s eyes light up or get a big smile on their face and to know that I have positively impacted their life in some way – for however brief a moment – is really fulfilling. It’s one thing to practice in your room and it’s fulfilling to get that new lick, but it’s not the same feeling as when you’re there in person, connecting with people. The best compliment I receive is when people say, ‘I like your style and you sound like you.’ I love that aspect of it because I’m just trying to do my own thing. Connecting with people through music is such a beautiful thing. It breaks down any and all barriers, whether racial, social or language barriers. Music is a language and we all understand it.”
Photo by Moments Photography VT
King Arthur Junior