In a brazen act of rural-Canadian teenage rebellion, country music icon Kenny Hess and his childhood friend Johnny Guzzi stole a fishing rod from their neighbours many years ago.
The then 13-year-old Fernie residents were quickly nabbed for their crime and sentenced to community service at the local senior citizen’s home. Hess found himself working in the kitchen where he was singing to himself, as was his habit.
“One little old lady heard me singing and she said, ‘you should sing for the people,’” he said. “I said sure. I sang a few songs and ended my sentence singing twice a week at the old folks home.”
Hess would go on to become one of the biggest names in country music. He’s performed with Charlie Pride, Don Williams, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. He’s traveled the world and had a number of top 40 hits but he’ll soon be back home, singing for the benefit of the community’s senior citizens once again.
On July 15, Hess is playing a benefit concert at the Fernie Memorial Arena. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Tom Uphill Memorial Home and the Elk Valley Hospital Foundation. Hess said any local businesses who want to sponsor the event are welcome to do so.
Born in Outlook, Saskatchewan, Hess was the middle child of a large working class family of six brothers and two sisters. When he was a child, his father moved the family to the Elk Valley to work in the local mining industry and the future country-music star grew up in Fernie.
Hess said it was an idyllic upbringing, getting into trouble with his friends: the Hutchinsons, the Osbournes and the Guzzis.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I had so many great friends and we had wonderful times as kids. I miss them dearly and I look back on my childhood very fondly.”
At just four years old, Hess already knew he was going to be a singer. His father was a preacher at the local church where the whole family was taught to sing. At just 15, Hess was already on the road, performing music.
Back in those days, Hess would play country music stomps in community halls in Jaffray and Elko.
They were country affairs in every sense of the word, he said.
“There was so much fun, so much excitement and so much crazy anger,” said Hess. “It was true country fun. Lots of fighting, lots of dancing, they were country boys and girls going out to let off steam.”
“They’re my fondest memories, they really are.”
Hess began his career performing songs of country music legends but it wasn’t long before he was singing his own songs and sharing the stage with those very same great artists.
He is fortunate enough to have played with many of his musical influences. Later on this year, he’ll have played with another one when he performs with Willie Nelson.
“It’s like a cherry on top of the sundae for me,” he said. “(Nelson) is the last guy I need to check off my bucket list.
Hess has enjoyed a successful career with several national top 40 hits and 14 critically acclaimed CDs. He has been nominated for Canadian Country Music Awards, a Juno award for Country Artist of the Year and has won several BC Country Music Awards including Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year.
Hess is also the founder of Merritt’s Rockin’ River Music Festival, which takes place in August.
He’s looking forward to coming home and seeing old friends.
“To be able to come home and play a dance and watch all my old buddies, who are now in their 50s, dancing the way they did when they were teenagers will really be a thrill for me,” he said.
Tickets are by donation. Call Sharon at 250-423-3356 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.