Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
When it comes to recognizable names on the Rock County music scene, few resonate with fans more than Kaj Anderson.
For more than 40 years, Anderson’s guitar licks have livened up local stages. This past fall, one of his former bands, Nightowl, returned to the spotlight for a reunion show that drew sold-out crowds to the Grand Avenue Pub in Beloit.
Though he considers Christiansted, St. Croix, his ancestral home, Anderson’s youth included countless moves due to his father’s military career. Anderson attended four different high schools before graduating from North Haven High in North Haven, Connecticut, in 1966. He soon came to Beloit and has called it home ever since.
Professionally, Anderson holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Beloit College and a masters degree in counseling and guidance from UW-Whitewater. That prepared him for a career as a behavioral clinician, much of which was spent assisting the mentally ill through programs at Rock County Human Services.
Personally, Kaj has been married to his wife, Mary, for 38 years. The two have five children, nine grandchildren 18 great-grandchildren, not to mention a Teddy Bear dog and a cat named Cali that “shed an incredible amount of fur.”
To learn more about Anderson, visit the Facebook page for his current band, Ruffcutz, or keep an eye out on websites for local taverns featuring music.
1. How old were you, and what was it that made you want to pick up a guitar for the first time? I was about 16 when I first became interested in playing guitar. I loved the guitar sounds from the Rolling Stones, especially “Satisfaction” and “Get Off My Cloud.” But it was the Allman Brothers who influenced me the most with those flowing melodic riffs.
2. People would be surprised to know: My first instrument was the accordion, which is a far cry from “Purple Haze.”
3. Do you collect anything? I don’t see myself as a collector (don’t ask my wife), but I’m always one guitar short of a complete collection. Over the years, I’ve gotten gear, but I seldom trade in the old stuff, so it tends to accumulate.
4. What are the two songs you would say you most/least enjoy performing? I most enjoy playing Gary Moore’s “Still Got the Blues.” I have a longish solo in that song, and I usually go off stage and serenade the dancers. If my wife is present during the gig, I’ll go to her and kiss her while playing the ending solo. She’s pretty shy, but both of us like doing it. I’m pretty burned out on “Mustang Sally.” Nonetheless, I enjoy playing it.
5. As a professional, you worked with severely mentally ill people as a behavioral clinician. Did you find performing provided a therapeutic balance for this emotionally taxing work? Most definitely. I loved the work I did, but getting a chance to move some air at a gig always cleared my mind and chased any frustrations I accumulated over the work week.
6. What was the first concert you remember attending? The very first concert I went to was Dick Clark’s Caravan Of Stars (I’m aging myself here) in Columbus, Georgia. I went with my Explorer Scout unit. We all wore nice blue suit jackets with Explorer symbols on them. Most of the rock ‘n’ roll groups in that era did the same, so some people thought we were some of the stars. It was great fun.
7. How many years have you been performing, and how many bands have you been in? Which had the most interesting name? I’ve been performing since about 1972. I don’t think I can remember all of the bands, but I’ve been in about eight regular groups throughout the years. Perhaps the strangest name was Weatherhorse, which was named after a weather vane topped with a magnificent horse ornament.
8. Aside from music, do you have any other creative outlets? I like writing, but I’m not good at it. Most of my creative writing has been in letters. As far as cooking is concerned, I’m on the consumption end of that art.
9. What was your first job? Worst job? My very first job was carrying out groceries from the Army base post exchange to shoppers’ cars. I usually got good tips. I don’t really have a worst job, but there were assignments while working for the county that I really didn’t like.
10. If you could see any act, living or dead, who would it be and why? I’d love to see the original Allman Brothers band with Duane Allman and Barry Oakley. I got to see them after Duane died, and it was good, but I really wanted the experience of seeing the original band.
11. What type of music did your parents listen to when you were a child? Did it influence your future tastes? My mother loved classical, crooners such as Frank Sinatra, and to my surprise, some of the early rock ‘n’ roll. That was the biggest parental influence. Dad liked the album “Sing Along With Mitch,” which he did at the top of his lungs completely out of key. That influenced me NOT to sing.
12. Do you have any preferences when it comes to musical instruments? A particular brand or style of guitar you like, or are you up for playing anything? I’ve tended to stay with the mainstream, mostly. I like Les Paul and Strat-style guitars, but I have Carvin and Jackson guitars, as well.
13. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Vanilla with Reese’s Pieces is my favorite. I’ll also happily lap up chocolate and pistachio.
14. Many people don’t believe Elvis Presley died in 1977, claiming instead that he went into hiding. Assuming the latter were true, what do you think he has he been doing all these years? Buying Cadillacs, watching the popular music charts and, of course, singing!
15. Today’s music comes in all forms: digital, CDs, vinyl, etc. What form do you prefer and why? I like having a physical copy of the music of some sort. I’ve finally adapted to digital music on flash drives, so I can easily take it with me across platforms. I still think vinyl sounds best.
16. You’ve been through quite an ordeal health-wise over the past couple of years. First you underwent a lung transplant in 2017 and needed follow-up surgery to try to repair a faulty valve. When that didn’t work, you had a second lung transplant. How are you feeling these days? I’m feeling quite a bit better. There have been complications, however. Because of the immunosuppressant medications, I had several viruses at the same time in fall of 2019 that took two hospitalizations to bring under control, and I collapsed my native lung at the same time. Those things resulted in a loss of muscle mass leaving me very weak. I have gotten much stronger since then through exercise at Planet Fitness, and finally, I’ve gotten strong enough to ride my Harley for the first time since before the surgeries in 2017.
17. Name the one item you own that you could not live without? Tallulah, my original Les Paul guitar I’ve had throughout my playing career. It’s the only guitar I’ve ever named.
18. Have you ever written any songs? I’ve collaborated on original songs, mostly with the Nightowl group. Since I don’t sing, I haven’t attempted to write songs by myself. The Nightowl songs were about human connections and music itself. Most of the lyrics were primarily written by Michael McKearn with music by various members of Nightowl, especially Ray Mitchell and Jerry Mahew.
19. If you could learn to do any one thing, what would it be? I’d love to learn how to fly. I’ve always been fascinated by flight and read about it to the point where I know the basic controls. I flew from Puerto Rico to St Croix with an instructor during a visit to the island. It was fabulous.
20. What song title best explains your personal philosophy on life? I can’t think of a single song that expresses my personal philosophy. The original “By To Blue” written by Nightowl and Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” both express the way that having a connection with another person is such a precious and uplifting gift.