Prior to his sudden death on July 4, 2012, Kent Gooding was on his way to being an important name in Americana music. Although he played rock in his early years, he had settled into a calmer, more acoustic style of guitar picking.
He had also found his style as a songwriter, writing or co-writing all but two songs on “The Goat and Kent Gooding,” released after his death. His songs can stand with those of John Fullbright and Parker Millsap, currently the sweethearts of Americana. And, had he lived, his catalogue of work most likely would have stood the test of time and would have been mentioned along with those of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Joe Ely.
He was that good.
Gooding, who was 33 when he died, grew up in Clarksville, the son of Robert Gooding, an attorney, and Janice Gooding.
His talent was obvious early on.
“Kent has always been very artistically inclined, both musically and artistically,” explained his older brother Allen Gooding, an attorney in Arizona. “He could sketch and paint and create things.”
His paternal grandmother taught him to play the piano. His maternal grandfather and uncle were country and bluegrass guitar pickers.
“When he was in junior high, he wanted an electric guitar,” said his mother, Janice. “It was in October or November. I told him we’d have to wait until Christmas. But, we went to the music store in Paris and looked at a particular one he wanted.”
They came home with the guitar.
“My daddy taught Kent to play some of the old songs,” Janice explained. “They lived in Longview. Every time we would go down there, Kent would go back and get Paw-Paw’s guitar out and they would both play.”
After the lessons with his grandfather were done, Gooding turned to other genres.
“From the time he was a kid, he liked the 80s hard rock stuff,” Allen explained. “As he got older and found what he liked, he kinda gravitated toward the country sound.”
Gooding’s friend and collaborator, Russell Wilson, used to visit on a regular basis.
“Kent would lock himself up in his room and teach himself,” Wilson said during an interview at his home in Paris. “Every time I came, you could tell what kind of music he was in to. Like one time, he was into classic rock. I said, ‘Hey, man, play this,’ and he’d just go into Hendrix.”
He played lead guitar in several bands, including Post Oak Savannah.
“The band had a huge following in 2002 and 2003,” noted Jamie Gooding, Kent’s widow. The two were together 10 years, married for five. They have a daughter, India who is now five.
Post Oak Savannah released a self-titled CD, recorded and mastered at Siesta Ranch Studios, owned by bass player Rhandy Simmons.
“Kent struck me as the quiet one that glued the songs together while band members Russell Wilson, Jason Dyess, Kevin Hudgens and Uncle Jerry White provided the backbone for Kent and Russell’s songs,” said Simmons.
His lead work on Post Oak Savannah’s “Black Widow” harkens back to Hendrix’s hard-driving rhythms and intricate solo work, with a touch of Stevie Ray Vaughan echoing in the background.
Gooding played gigs for Cas Haley, a runner-up on “America’s Got Talent.”
“Cas would try to get Kent to go out after the shows,” Jamie said. “But, he was a homebody. He liked to go and play and then go home [back to the room.] He would call me while everybody else was out partying. He was sitting out there looking at the water and the sky, [telling me] how pretty it was.”
According to his widow, Gooding was in demand as a musician.
“There were always bands calling,” she explained. “He couldn’t tell anyone ‘No.’”
Jamie says there was a chance for her husband to play guitar for Gene Watson, but that didn’t work out.
“It would have been such a blessing,” she said. “It would have been a good steady gig.”
It would have also given Gooding’s music a chance to be heard.
“He would have been in the back room saying ‘Hey, here’s a song,’” said Wilson. “There is no doubt that would have happened.” Jamie said when they were dating, Kent would go through the CDs in her car, looking for older music, like the blues of Robert Johnson or the Southern rock of Graham Parsons.
“He didn’t like my music,” she confessed.
Wilson said he and Gooding discovered the music of Townes Van Zandt at the same time and that discovery changed something in Gooding.
“I tell you this, I may be wrong, but I think Townes was a catalyst,” Wilson explained. “I think Townes wasn’t as much as an influence as he was something to open a door that was in Kent all along. I think that’s what happened. All that stuff was in there.”
Like Townes, when it came to writing, Gooding would lock himself up in a room.
“Kent wrote songs in private,” Jamie said. “I knew he had a new one when he said, ‘I’ve got a new song I’m playing tonight.’”
Neither Townes nor Gooding knew just how good they were.
“He was better than anyone I’ve ever seen, but he didn’t have a whole lot of confidence,” Wilson explained.
What the two lacked in confidence, they made up for in performance. Like, Townes he could hold an audience in the palm of his hand.
“[Kent] was different when he was on stage,” Jamie said. “He was different when he played.”
“We would set him up right in the front and center of the stage,” he remembered. “He was the center point. Even though all the musicians in the band were good enough to showcase, Kent was our ace in the hole because of his voice, his confidence and subtle swagger. Everyone loved him.”
And, like Townes, Gooding was sensitive.
“I guess like all of us, he was afraid of rejection,” Jamie said.
“He would have never gotten rejection from us,” Wilson stated. “But he experienced it growing up. He had long hair and didn’t fit in. He struggled with that.”
Simmons, who has played with some of the best rock and roll bands, admired Gooding’s artistry.
“I was struck by Kent’s way of being in control of the arrangements of the songs but letting all the other musicians go free to play as they felt,” Simmons explained. “[He had] kind of an earthy Frank Zappa approach. I mean that as the best compliment. Kent’s musicianship was very deep. What ever instrument he picked up he played not just passable but very accomplished. He could play acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and drums.”
Simmons co-produced, “The Goat and Kent Gooding,” after Gooding’s death.
Simmons was so impressed with the young musician that he used him “on several sessions when I needed what I call a clean up batter to come fix tracks when other musicians couldn’t quite cut the parts.”
Simmons and Gooding worked on “The Goat and Kent Gooding” off and on for “about three or four years,” Simmons says.
“The only thing that kept the CD from being released was that he wanted to lay down two final songs, ‘Lost Highway,” [by Hank Williams] and ‘Hickory Wind’ [by Graham Parsons and Bob Buchanan],” Simmons explained. “Kent’s band mates and friends stepped in and we finished it up.”
The record is one of the most stunning examples of songwriting purity in the Americana catalog.
“Shifting of the Blame” goes deep into a failed relationship. In fact, it digs way into the pain of what remains.
“Caneywell Hillside Waltz” takes the listener back to a simpler time when harvests were cause for celebration. Gooding’s picking and a haunting cello solo during the last 33 seconds will stay with you for a long time.
“Slightly Tilted” has the sound of George Harrison and Ravi Shankar and is a throwback to 1960s Hari Krishna music.
“Make You Blue” and “Bakersfield” reflect the influence Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle had on Gooding’s songwriting. The songs’ simple picking style paired with complicated lyrics would fit on any acoustic set list.
Gooding performs an excellent cover of Graham Parsons’ “Hickory Wind,” a high lonesome waltz that drifts around your heart, pulling at every loose end, until there’s nothing to hold it together anymore.
Gooding visits the Delta in “Tupelo” and “Jake Leg,” laid back blues numbers that will make you wish for a front porch and a tall glass of something cold.
“Puddin’ Tain” is a quirky number with a weird rhythm, put there on purpose by Simmons.
“I had come up with this crazy out-of-time bass line that, if played repeatedly, would turn out in time,” Simmons remembers. “Kent said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The song that touches Simmons and Wilson the most seems to be “Eileen,” the sad tale of “not a young girl, still not an old maid,” who cares for an elderly widow.
“This is the best recording I have ever made,” Simmons recalls. “[I did it] with the help of Kent and the great cello work of Dirje Smith.”
To Wilson, it’s a “perfect” song.
“It is one of the best recorded songs I’ve heard in a long time,” Wilson said.
“Devil and The Taylors” takes the listener into the ancient struggle between good and evil. Gooding’s guitar work harkens back to Robert Johnson and other Delta Blues musicians.
“‘Devil and The Taylors’ was going to be the name of the record,” Jamie said with a soft laugh. “The goat symbolizes sins and the devil. My husband was crazy and he wanted a goat on the cover.”
He got his wish. Front and center on the black and white cover is a goat in a field, with a precious little blonde-haired girl in a white sun dress standing in the background. The imagery is powerful.
Wilson and Gooding’s friend Brandon McNeal volunteered to market the record because it’s tough on Jamie.
When asked how she was doing after her husband’s death, Jamie simply said, “I do.”
She says her daughter gives her comfort.
“She has his huge blue eyes,” she explained. “She’s Kent made over.”
Gooding’s friends and family are coping with his death as best they can.
“I have Indie Bear [India] most weekends,” said Janice. “She likes to be creative and make things. Kent always wanted to make something or draw something.”
Simmons misses his friend’s easy-going style.
“He was never flustered,” Simmons remembered. “He was always patient. His songwriting reflected his personality. It was never cluttered. He had a very soothing style.”
Jamie says Kent’s talent is still appreciated.
“To this day, there are people who talk about how good Kent was,” she said, closing her eyes to fight back tears.