Marion County's Most Interesting People: The Musician

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Paul Childers is making a name for himself one chord at a time

On Dec. 24, 2007, a fire destroyed many of the contents of Paul Childers' family's home, including his guitar.
"It was personally the greatest thing that ever happened to me," said Childers, 19.
About six months before the fire, Childers got his guitar, a Fender Squire Bullet, and it was damaged by the blaze. When the Kentucky Fellowship of Musicians found out, they chipped in to get him a new guitar.
"You learn how caring Lebanon is. As soon as that happened - the night of - everybody extended a hand in some fashion," Childers said.
The Fellowship presented the guitar to him during the 2008 Kentucky Bluegrass Music Kickoff. It was a Fender Stratocaster, the same guitar used by Childers' musical idols, Stevie Ray Vaughn.
"What more of a sign do you need to say this is what you need to be doing?" he said.
The fire and the gift from the Fellowship provided the push he needed to fully commit to becoming a musician.
Childers is working on his third album, and he and his band have traveled somewhere to perform every weekend so far in 2014. This past weekend he played in San Antonio, Texas, at a Pilot Gas Corporation meeting.
Before he wanted to be a musician, however, he had a different dream. He played basketball at St. Augustine Grade School, and like many kids that age, he hoped he would play in the NBA some day.
"Then I found out I sucked," Childers said, laughing.
After he'd set aside his professional basketball aspirations, Childers got some inspiration one day while listening to the radio. He doesn't recall what station he was listening to, but they were having a kind of "two for Tuesday" in which they played back-to-back songs by the same artist.
On that particular day, they played "Empty Arms" and "Crossfire" by Vaughn, and those songs were the sparks that lit a fire in Childers.
"I wanted to be able to make that sound," he said.
While he was a student at Bethlehem High School, Childers made studying music a priority. He remembers doing homework on the bus on the way home so he could practice as soon as he got home.
"You sit down at 4 and look up and it's 11, and you don't know where the time went," Childers said.
When he practiced, he would turn on a CD and put in a pair of earbuds. At the same time, he put on a pair of earphones that were plugged into his guitar. As Childers listened to Stevie Ray Vaughn and his bandmates, he could also hear his own chords as he tried to work out how to play the songs.
He's also sure his parents appreciated the headphone rather than having to listen to him playing through an amplifier.
While he was committed to learning his instrument, he didn't tell his high school classmates what he was doing at first.
"When you start off, no one is good," Childers said.
Whenever he did play for his friends, he said he wanted it to be like an epiphany when they found out what he could do.
With time, he started performing locally with a pair of older musicians. During his senior year in high school, he recorded his first album, "Wasted Space.”
"I called it that because it doesn't belong with the Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix records [in his collection]," Childers said.
He learned that many songs Vaughn played were covers of other artists' music, which led him to seek out more influences. He later started listening to trumpet music by artists like John Coltrain and Miles Davis, and he tried to figure how to adapt their songs to guitar.
"I like being pushed out of my own comfort zone into something new," Childers said.
After high school, he enrolled in Belmont University in Nashville. While Music City may be best known for its country music, he said it also has thriving jazz, rock and indie scenes. He said being there as an 18-year-old was like being a 7-year-old in a candy store. (Speaking of candy, his favorite kind is Twizzlers because he can bite off the ends and use it like a straw.)
Childers is now enrolled at Western Governors University, an online college. He said he still intends to complete a degree in accounting, but he has more flexibility to work around his band's schedule.
He also worked for a while at MagnaTone Records, which allowed him to record music and learn about engineering and producing as well. He recorded a second album, "The Swing of Things," which is mostly covers of classic American songs, including "My Favorite Things", although he said his band's interpretation was based more on Coltrain's version than Julie Andrews' take.
Childers is now living on the road quite a bit. Last year, he got to perform at the Miss New York pageant (a local competition that is part of the Miss Universe program).
"It was the most beautiful women in New York. Of course, I pretended they were there for me," Childers said. "It makes you play better."
One of Bob Marley's sons was serving as a judge at the pageant, and he got on stage to perform "Three Little Birds" with the band.
In January, Childers was even part of a viral video. He was playing with a band at a conference for young, single Mormons. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, had been a keynote speaker at the conference and he attended the concert.
At one point, Romney got on stage and danced to "Gangnam Style.” In the video (which can be seen online at http://goo.gl/nCteyL), Childers is playing guitar to the left of Romney.
When Childers performs, he said he tries to strike a balance between introducing some of his own songs and giving the crowd what it wants. One way he does this is finding popular songs that have similar chord progressions to his own. This way he can transition from something he wrote, such as a song called "Every Inch of You," to a more popular song, like "Sexyback" by Justin Timberlake or "So Fresh, So Clean" by Outkast.
In between gigs, Childers has started recording a third album at Downtown Records in Louisville. He also believes he is maturing as a writer and a musician. When he started, he said he would write songs with 40 chord changes. Now, he's writing songs with eight or nine changes.
He said he understands that writing a song doesn't require proving the limits of his abilities, that sometimes simpler works better.
"You spend your whole life learning what not to play," Childers said.
In his view, music is the perfect profession for him. He said it keeps him humble. One day he can feel like a rock star and the next he might struggle while working on something new.
"Music makes me a better person because it constantly reminds me that I'm a student," Childers said.
As he's grown as a musician, he's also expanded his instrument collection. When he's on the road, he said he normally brings a Charles Whitfill custom guitar with him. (To hear Childers playing one of these guitars, go to http://goo.gl/V4T8ph.)
He also owns four different Fender Stratocasters, an acoustic guitar and a 12-string guitar.
The Squire Bullet that Childers started "noodling on" -- the guitar damaged in the fire -- was donated to a music store. He said someone else turned it into a clock.
But the Stratocaster he received from the Fellowship still hangs on the wall of his bedroom at his parents' house. Whenever he's there, he said he always gets it down and plays it for a little bit.
"I couldn't be more thankful," Childers said. "That's the guitar that made the decision for me to do this."