From the opening lines “She’s got Stalin on the wall, Beatles in a box. Flags in the hall, linen in her locket”, ‘Red Blue Jeans’ was a simply brilliant three minute guitar-rock song. Kilzer’s vocals were a kind of hybrid of Don Henley and Jon Bon Jovi, but with a more stripped down, slightly southern style, guitar rock backing. I don’t recall the exact week I purchased the single, but ‘Red Blue Jeans’ debuted on the Australian charts in August 1988, spent eleven weeks inside the top 100 and peaked at #58. Co-written by John Kilzer and Richard Ford, the song was lifted from Kilzer’s album ‘Memory In The Making’ (released on Geffen), which also yielded the title track single (Australian #77 in February 1989). ‘Red Blue Jeans’ didn’t crack the U.S. Hot 100, but must have come damn close as it peaked at #12 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The colour coordinated Kilzer also reached #36 on the same chart with his preceding single ‘Green, Yellow, and Red’ earlier in 1988 (the song was also recorded by Roseanne Cash on her acclaimed 1987 album ‘King’s Record Shop’). His album ‘Memory In The Making’ reached #110 on the Billboard album chart.
Kilzer was born and raised in Jackson, Tennessee. He was a gifted athlete and played basketball for the University of Memphis (earning a Master’s Degree in theology and ethics), before taking up a career teaching English for several years. Throughout Kilzer maintained a love for folk and rock music, and in 1986 submitted a demo tape of his music to veteran Memphis based music publisher Keith Sykes (who had worked with Jimmy Buffet and the Judds among others). Sykes saw the potential for global success in Kilzer’s up tempo folk-rock sound, and negotiated a recording deal for the talented singer/songwriter with the giant Geffen label.
Sykes stayed on to produce Kilzer’s 1988 ‘Memory In The Making’ set. With the promising reception offered his debut album, Kilzer released his sophomore album ‘Busman’s Holiday’ in 1991, featuring the singles ‘Hands’ and ’Marilyn Dean and James Monroe’. Produced by Pat Moran (producer also for Supercharge, Iggy Pop and Lou Gramm), the album boasted an impressive roster of guest players, including Bruce Hornsby (piano), and two members of Paul McCartney’s touring band from that time, Chris Whitten (drums), and Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens’ (keyboards). Despite all the right ingredients being in the mix, the album was a major flop and soon after Geffen dropped Kilzer from their roster. Incidentally ‘Busman’s Holiday’ was also the name of a high rating British TV game show which ran during that period, though I suspect Kilzer’s album title referred to the more general meaning of the term, which is basically spending your leisure time doing the same thing you would be doing at work - I imagine a lot of professional musicians could relate to that.
In the years subsequent to his flirtation with the rock music scene, John Kilzer has continued to write and play music in the Memphis area. His focus these days is on a more acoustic folk-rock sound, still using his love of the English language to explore emotive and thought provoking issues through his lyrics. According to his MySpace page, Kilzer also works as a preacher, lists J.R.R. Tolkien as the person he’d most like to meet, and names the Beatles as his favourite music - a human being of impeccable taste!
Check out the promo video for ‘Red Blue Jeans’ on YouTube: