We last caught up with Ben Kitterman ’06 in our 39 Under 39 issue of Wabash Magazine back in Spring 2009, when we learned that he’d spent much of his post-Wabash years driving buses for famous musicians on tour and playing dobro on some of their recordings. His father had introduced him to bus driving years earlier as the driver of rocker Neil Young’s tour bus.
“I feel the greatest peace driving the bus and playing dobro, so this is the best of both worlds,” he told us back then after being interviewed by the BBC’s Dermot O’Leary following a performance accompanying indie singer/songwriter Ben Kweller in London in December 2008.
For Ben Kitterman, the best keeps getting better.
He celebrated his 27th birthday this year on the road after having spent January and February driving for Motley Crue, March through April with Aaron Lewis of the band Staind, May driving for six-time Grammy-Award-winner John Legend, two weeks with business icon Ted Turner visiting several of his ranches, and the next four months driving Tom Petty.|
“I dropped Tom off in Malibu and drove cross- country to Massachusetts to pick up Aaron Lewis,” Ben says. “I just wrapped up a month long solo tour playing and driving for him in support of his upcoming country release “Town Limits.”
“Country Boy,” the music video for the first single from that CD, debuted on Country Music Television yesterday and today sits at number one on CMT.com. “Country Boy” features Aaron Lewis on guitar and vocals, Ben on dobro, Charlie Daniels on fiddle and vocals, and the legendary George Jones on vocals.
Ben’s first night playing dobro with Lewis came unexpectedly—while he was driving the bus for him on the singer/guitarist and Grammy-nominated songwriter’s solo tour last spring.
“We talked about dobro a few times on that tour, and two shows from the end at the Hard Rock Live in Biloxi, MS, he asked me to sit in with him,” Ben says. “I worked out the parts in my hotel room before sound check, and played that night.
“A video from that show that made its way to Aaron’s Web site later surfaced on YouTube and eventually into the hands of a producer in Nashville. A few weeks later he flew me (off another tour!) to record with the legendary producer James Stroud (who has produced recordings for George Strait, Tim McGraw, Merle Haggard, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, Wynonna Judd, Hank Williams, Jr.)
“All of a sudden, I was out of the driver’s seat, standing in a studio with the top session players in town (Brent Mason on guitar, Eddie Bayers on drums.) HUGE players. Players I grew up listening to… Players whose licks I learned as a kid, and here I am standing with them in the same control room!”
Ben says the tour he and Lewis just wrapped up had many highlights.
“We played some great venues—historic Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, home of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys; The Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul—home of Prairie Home Companion; and a sold out a show at the Murat in Indianapolis.
“I was in Nashville Tuesday and Wednesday of this week finishing the last track [for the "Town Limits" CD], which includes a duet with my pedal steel hero (and arguably the finest pedal steel player in the world) Paul Franklin. I can’t wait to hear the whole album.”
In that BBC interview back in 2008, Dermot O’Leary told Ben he should give up driving, “or at least play guitar full time.” But Kitterman likes the balance that doing both brings to his life and finances.
“As a driver, I always know where my next gig is going to be. As a full-time musician, I know that would not always be the case.”
Watch a video of a recent performance of Aaron Lewis and Ben at the Chicago House of Blues here.
Read “Alchemist,” our short piece about Ben published in WM Spring 09.