Born in Atlanta, GA. Education: Graduated from New York University, 2001. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, c/o Sony BMG, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Publicist--Big Hassle, 157 Chambers St., 12th Fl., New York, NY 10007. Website--Kaki King Official Website:

To Kaki King, a guitar isn't just a stringed instrument---it's also a percussion instrument. King uses her guitar in untraditional fashion, and creates a hybrid of both string and percussion sounds.

King was raised mostly in Atlanta, Georgia. Her father was a lawyer who also had a penchant for collecting guitars. When King was a four years old, her parents encouraged her to take music lessons, and King chose the guitar, but she didn't enjoy the lessons, and soon quit. By age nine, she began playing the drums and playing pop music. In the sixth grade, all her friends loved the band Nirvana, and wanted to play the guitar. "All of the sudden, it was cool to be playing, and I already knew way more than the boys did," she told Guitar Player. She began playing the guitar more often, but still loved percussion.

When King left home to attend college at New York University (NYU), she still considered herself a drummer. She played around the Village with various bands. "I thought that if I ever was going to get a break, it would be as a drummer," she insisted on her website.

However, King had many opportunities to play guitar in New York. "The first time I ever played solo guitar in public was at the end of my freshman year," she recalled on her website. "I got up onstage at this student forum thing and played three songs. I was incredibly nervous. Then there were a few little joints, like the Sidewalk Café, or Cinema Classics in the East Village. Or a party would happen in Brooklyn."

She received her degree from NYU in 2001, just days before the 9/11 tragedy. She knew she had to find a way to support herself, and began taking her guitar into the subways and playing for tips. "The subways gave me stamina," she said on her website. "It's a workout in every way---mentally, physically. To play for two hours in an ugly environment is very challenging. But soon people were coming up to me and saying, 'Do you have a record?' And I realized that if I could sell a CD for 10 bucks every time someone asks me for one, I could actually do all right for myself."

Soon she had a group of demos to sell. She also got a job as a waitress at the Mercury Lounge, an established venue known for introducing breakout musicians. She paid attention and learned about the music business while waiting tables. "Watching all these bands gave me a greater understanding of what it takes to command a stage and captivate an audience. Since the Mercury is a popular venue for showcases, it also gave me my first glimpse into the machinations of the music industry," King said on her website.

Working in the Mercury Lounge paid off. According to Guitar Player, at the Mercury she managed to get some stage time, winning over crowds "with intriguing instrumentals that feature[d] hypnotic, jazz-inflected chord progressions, lyrical melodies, and wild techniques such as two-handed tapping and percussive slaps to the guitar body." By April of 2002, the Lounge hosted a release party for her subway CD. A copy of the CD found its way to the well-known New York nightclub the Knitting Factory, and King was offered a job playing at their Tap Bar once a week. Then, one night in the middle of her set, Jeff Krasno of Velour Records came into the bar. He liked what he heard, and by April of 2003, Velour Records had released King's debut album, Everybody Loves You.

King was amazed with the music of Alex de Grassi and Michael Hedges, and worked to develop some of their same styles and tunings. Then her style underwent a pivotal change. "I went to the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina to immerse myself in guitar for a few days," she told Guitar Player, "and ... I met Preston Reed, and what he was doing was much more interesting than what was going on around him. He tapped riffs, hit his guitar, and ... was into getting far-out sounds. He even played the exact same guitar as me---an Ovation Adamas. It seemed very serendipitous." King began to employ many of the same techniques as Reed, using her guitar as a percussion instrument as well as a guitar. "Banging on the guitar just makes sense to me," she said. "You have this resonant box that sounds cool when you smack it, so why not go for it?"

King admitted to adopting Reed's style, but then taking it to her own level. She uses every angle of the guitar as an instrument. Sometimes she taps out a backbeat while plucking the melody. Other times, she plays bass and high-fret taps on the neck of the guitar. Listening to it gives the listener a new appreciation of the sounds that a guitar can make.

Her second album, Legs to Make Us Longer, was released in October of 2004 under the Epic label. "Possibly the album is about me finding my legs," King told the San Francisco Chronicle. "There's also this inside joke because I happen to be a very short person. Maybe one day I'll get to the bottom of it and find out."

King has found ways to make many different sounds with the guitar, but she is also trying to be more than a gimmick. "I'm trying to write music that people can shut their eyes and listen to and be really pleased with," she told the Fairfield County Weekly. "It has nothing to do with how many times I turn the guitar over or [where I] put my hands. That's all smoke and mirrors. I would have no respect for myself as a musician if that was all I was trying to do. I'm trying to write compositions, and thankfully there are ways I've discovered to open up the guitar and create more sound."

by Sarah Parkin

Kaki King's Career

Played guitar in the New York subways following the 9/11/2001 tragedy; played in the Mercury Lounge; signed to play in the Tap Bar in the Knitting Factory; released Everybody Loves You, 2003; released Legs to Make Us Longer, 2004.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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