Noted Nashville musician Paul Kirby, who fronted popular outfits Walk The West and the Cactus Brothers, died yesterday of cardiac arrest at his home. He was 48.
After singing and playing guitar in a series of hot local bar bands including Rebel Bite, Kirby, the son of songwriter Dave Kirby ("Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone"), along with Hendersonville, Tenn., school mates John (bass) and Will Goleman (guitar) and drummer Richard Ice, launched Walk The West in 1984. The band was signed to Capitol, releasing a self-titled album for the label in 1986. They were one of the biggest bands in a sizzling Nashville rock scene that included Jason & the Scorchers and Royal Court of China. Walk The West later added multi-instrumentalist Tramp to the lineup on fiddle and toured incessantly, playing to packed houses across the Southeast and opening national tours for such acts as the Smithereens before being dropped from Capitol amid late-80s label shakeups.
Even without a label deal, the band retained a fiercely loyal following, and as the '90s began, Walk The West shifted its focus to their musical side project the Cactus Brothers, an energetic country/roots rock band featuring dulcimer wizard David Schnaufer, steel guitarist Sam Poland, and drummer Dave Kennedy, along with Kirby, Tramp, and the Golemans. The Cactus Brothers were signed as a country act by famed producer/label head Jimmy Bowen to Capitol Nashville, releasing two critically acclaimed albums and touring internationally (also appearing in the George Strait film "Pure Country") before again being dropped from the Capitol Nashville roster in the wake of Bowen's exit from the label.
In the years that followed, Kirby remained a popular Nashville music figure, writing and recording independent projects and gigging around town.
In 2008, the original members of Walk The West reunited for a fiery one-off show at Nashville's Exit/In, selling out the venue as the band took the stage for the first time in 16 years. More recently, Walk the West played a set at the Exit/In as part of a 40th anniversary celebration of the famed venue earlier this month.
Survivors include Kirby's longtime companion Elizabeth Forsythe, mother Emma Lou Kirby; brother, songwriter Wade Kirby; sister Janis Ross; nieces and nephews, and an expansive international music family. Funeral arrangements are still being determined.