Spike Jonesand His City Slickers? “Yes,”says Kyle Lehning, with a laugh. “One of Spike’s records was the first I can ever remember listening to,in thebasement of our family home in Cairo,Illinois. My dad was a huge fan.”
Lehning’s father played a key role in the development of a long and stellar career that has garnered the producer three Grammys and a slew of hits.
Trained on the trumpet, which he kept at through his days in the Millikin University marching band (though he did not like marching), Lehning much preferred playing a Wurlitzer electric piano and a guitar with his rock band in the 1960s. “I had a Gibson single-pickup electric guitar and a 1964 Fender Princeton amplifier.I was the youngest guy in the band, and my dad would come to the club and stay until 2a.m. so I could remain after hours.”
Lehning was also a Jimmy Smith fan, and his father bought him a HammondB3 in 1969. “I’m looking at it right now,as we speak.There’s nothing quite like the original, but some of the software organ emulations are amazing; I also own a Nord C2D that has draw bars. It sounds great, has a double manual, and it only weighs 34 pounds!”
In 1967Lehning’sband recorded some tracks in a studio located in Paducah, Kentucky.“Tommy Morris was the owner,and in retrospect his place was well equipped. It had Ampex line mixers, Ampex mono and stereo recorders,and a collection of great AK Gand Neumann microphones. He could also cut acetates,and I fell in love with the studio the moment I walked in the door.The smell of tape, oh man!
“The summer before I went to college I told my dad that I wanted to learn how to be a recording engineer.Then ext thing I knew I had microphones, mixers, and tape machines.I was off recording bands.”
Lehning eventually found himself in Nashville playing his band’s tapes for Ray Butts, an inventor who played an important role in the development of the electric guitar. “Back in Cairo, Ray owned a hi-fi store.His daughter Katha played piano for meat band concerts,so I got to know him. He invented the Echo Sonic guitar amp and also had something to do with inventing the humbucking pickup.”
One thing led to another, and Lehning moved to Nashville, where he started engineering and became friendly with song writer Parker McGee, whose “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,”as recorded by England Dan and John Ford Coley,was produced by Lehning, and became theproducer’s first Number One hit.
Lehning’s career took another bump skyward when he took an interest in an upandcoming country singer namedRandy Travis. “Randy’s like a member of my family. We met in 1985 and are in touch on an almost daily basis to this day,” Lehningsays.
Lehning produced Storms of Life, Travis’ debut album (two of the songs album were co-produced with Keith Stegall). Released in 1986,Storms sold more than3 million copies. It included the Number One hit singles, “On the Other Hand,” and “Diggin’ Up Bones,” as well as “No Place Like Home,” which reached the Number Two slot on the Hot Country Songs chart. “Everything began and ended with Randy,” Lehning says. “The most beautiful thing about Randy is that he’s not terribly complicated. He’s clear about who he is asa person and as an artist. The sands never shift with Randy, and the songs we chose were the ones that felt most natural for him.”
Decades into Lehning’s career, he’s ina position to choose projects based on what inspires him, without being overly concerned about chart numbers. Lehning’s recent projects includea new Ronnie Milsap record, and an album by the young singer Dawn Landes. One of his long-term friends Lynda Carter, of “Wonder Woman” fame also cut some tracks in his studio.
Life is good for Kyle Lehning, and he has paid the debt he owes his father forward. His youngest son Jordan isbusy producing a number of projects and wrote a string chart for one of the Lynda Carter tracks, and another son, Jason, is a successful producer/engineer in his ownright.
“There isn’t much in the commercial world that appeals to me these days,”says Lehning. “I’ve won Grammys, run a record label, and accomplished more than I ever thought I would. At this point it’s about spending time musically and professionally with people I care about.”