Sad news: Paul Kirby, a familiar face to veterans of the Nashville rock scene for his role in two of the most popular local bands of the 1980s and ’90s — Walk the West and Cactus Brothers — died yesterday of cardiac arrest at his Middle Tennessee home. He was 48.
The son of famed country songwriter Dave Kirby ("Is Anyone Going to San Antone?"), Kirby was one of the mainstays of the Rock Block during its 1980s heyday. In 1984, with brothers and schoolmates Will and John Golemon, he founded the cowpunk act Walk the West, among several local rock bands to score a major-label deal in the wake of Jason and the Scorchers' signing to EMI. They recorded a self-titled LP for Capitol Records, featuring their signature song "Sheriff of Love," and they secured opening gigs for the Ramones and a national tour slot with the Smithereens.
The group's label deal had fallen apart by decade's end, but Kirby and the Golemons found a new outlet (and a deal with Liberty) for WTW side project The Cactus Brothers, featuring fiddler Tramp, drummer Dave Kennedy, steel player Sam Poland and the late multi-instrumentalist David Schnaufer. One of the most adventurous major-label country acts of the early ’90s, their sets featured anything from reels to a cover of the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," and their popularity arguably eclipsed the earlier band's. But after two records and a cameo in the George Strait film Pure Country, the group lost its deal.
In recent years, Kirby was still making music, including recordings with former Walk the West drummer Richard Ice. Local scene fixture and WRVU DJ Whit Hubner, who'd known Kirby and the group since their days on the Rock Block, had heard some of the tracks and found them "really strong."
Kirby had just played two weeks ago at a Walk the West reunion show organized to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Exit/In's opening. Friends say he was in high spirits and good form there, but recently had complained of chest pains.
We'll pass along any word of a memorial service, and we'd love to hear any stories or memories anyone would care to share. In the meantime, our condolences to Kirby's family and many friends. Above, you'll find a vintage clip of Kirby on MTV; below, a clip from Walk the West's triumphant 2008 reunion show at Exit/In.