Jasmine Franks Staff
Somewhere between Grundy, Virginia, Bristol, Tennessee and Whitesburg, Kentucky, Cody Kennedy’s rich voice fills the air.
The Grundy singer, songwriter and guitarist has been serenading small audiences in the area for about three years and is set to release his five-track debut album for streaming later this month.
On October 8, Kennedy released her first video for her original song “When it Comes to You.”
The video was produced by a small Pikeville, Ky., company called Dead Street Productions, which aims to highlight area artists with its “Dead Street Sessions,” Kennedy said.
The company is also preparing the album for release.
Released on YouTube on October 8, Kennedy said her video saw more than a thousand views on its first day and hit 2,000 on its second.
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This came as a shock to the 24-year-old and his bandmates, who use their songs to only be heard by people at the small gigs they play.
“We knew the song was pretty good, but we didn’t know it would appeal to audiences so much,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, who describes himself as “Ye Olde Songsmith of the deep, dark Appalachians (or Grundy, whoever sounds best)” on his Facebook page, became hypnotized by music around the age of 8 or 9. His family included several musicians, he recalls, but he was most enamored with his older cousin, Ethan Kennedy, who played drums while jamming with his friends.
Kennedy’s older cousin had also played percussion in the marching band and was able to apply the skills he learned there to the more modern music he played for pleasure. So when Kennedy started his high school years at Grundy High School, he also enrolled in a band.
“When I was a kid at the time, I didn’t really know what a marching band was . . . I chose this thinking it would teach me the styles of music my cousin played,” Kennedy said. , who ended up playing saxophone. “As you can imagine, it was quite a surprise. I stuck with it for three years and loved every hour. There were some really cool people there.
At the time, Kennedy had already picked up the guitar – an electric given to him by an uncle.
Kennedy said he had the “Guitar Hero” mindset typical of teenage musicians of the time.
“I was really into a lot of alternative music, a lot of rock like Black Sabbath and Nirvana and all that,” Kennedy recalled.
He said people started recognizing his guitar abilities and eventually wanted to know if he could sing too.
“And I had never tried to sing a note,” Kennedy said. “And that’s where the dive got into country music and a lot of things like that. Basically it went from being played on an electric guitar to an acoustic guitar and that kind of changed its whole dynamic and that led me to a lot of country influences that my grand[parents] had placed on me.
Later, Kennedy took the stage at the Buchanan County Fair under the encouragement of his cousin. There he sang a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Four Walls of Raiford”.
“At the time, I was really, really trying to sound like somebody thought it sounded good,” he said, recalling being influenced by Jamey Johnson.
“It went pretty well with people,” Kennedy said, “But it’s really not where my heart wanted to be when I started singing.”
Today, Kennedy’s style falls more into the alt-country category. The singer started taking solo gigs about three years ago, around the time he also started writing original songs. He had wanted to start a band at the time, but had trouble finding the right people.
Then, last year, he met Brandon Lyall, a multi-instrumentalist whose bass-playing abilities paired well with Kennedy’s vibrant guitar and sweet vocals.
The two began collaborating, hitting local stages together the following year and set out to find a drummer to help complete the act.
“In the area where we live, it’s hard to find drummers,” Kennedy said, explaining that in addition to being few in number, schedules and distance often make collaboration nearly impossible.
Luckily, however, Lyall knew a drummer. It turned out that Kennedy knew him too; he just didn’t know he was a drummer. And, with the addition of Zack Belcher, the duo became a trio, performing under the improvised name Cody Kennedy “and Them,” a piece about the region’s Appalachian dialect.
“I love playing with the band more than I do the solo gigs,” Kennedy said.
Now known as Mountain Valley, named after an old cemetery in Big Rock, the trio hope to expand their reach.
“We’ve noticed that people who come to our shows, they go pretty far into the music,” Kennedy said. “Really, we’re trying to improve engagement rates in order to increase our reach, because we’re confident in what we’re doing and really trying to break through with reach, basically.”
Although Kennedy loves the acting life and hopes Mountain Valley succeeds, he said he’s not looking for fame. He wishes he could support himself through his music, but he can’t imagine living a life with too much notoriety. He just wants to do what he loves, he said, and earning a few dollars doing it doesn’t hurt.
Following the positive reception to Kennedy’s video, which now includes a song about author, poet and songwriter Shel Silverstein, Kennedy said Mountain Valley would likely begin work on its own album.
Kennedy said he was pleased with the positive response to the post. He said the release led to a ton of local support, with some people even stopping him at the Wal-Mart where he currently works to offer words of encouragement.
Kennedy said Mountain Valley books its shows as they happen, which sometimes means short notice. He encouraged anyone interested in watching a live broadcast to follow him or follow Mountain Valley on Facebook.