The Artistry of Mike Kavanaugh



Michael C. (Charles) Kavanaugh was born in 1953 and was raised in the small town of North Easton, Massachusetts - about 45 miles south of Boston.  His parents still live in the same house he grew up in.

1960's & 70's

One of Mike's earliest musical memories is a Ray Charles album that his uncle left at the house while in the service.  "It was Ray Charles' album entitled Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and had these tremendous tunes like Bye Bye, Love, It Makes No Difference Now, Born To Lose, You Don't Know Me and I Can't Stop Loving You.  I can remember singing along with those last two tunes over and over again as a young boy, feeling what Ray was passing on through the words and music.  It was powerful to hear and powerful to be a part of.  That started my passion for music."

Mike's passion for music continued throughout his school years as he grew up listening to great singer/songwriter and guitarists including James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Taj Mahal and Jackson Browne.


It wasn't until around 1980 that Mike became finally motivated to pursue guitar playing.  "I was going through a terrible divorce and happened to be listening to a couple of phenomenal acoustic guitarists, Reverend Gary Davis and Bruce Cockburn.  I just loved the drive of their acoustic fingerstyle playing and the spiritual side of their music was also reaching inside, soothing some of the wounds I had.  It was then that I decided to do two things:  read the Bible and learn to play the guitar.  It seems that when I started pursuing the spiritual side of life that the musical abilities just started to fall into place as well."  Mike started off in public music performances a very short time later - in the early 1980's.  His guitar playing involved mostly playing gospel music in churches throughout eastern New England.

Mike supplemented his self-taught guitar style with fingerstyle lessons from Patty Larkin at the Guitar Workshop in Boston.  About the same time as meeting Patty, he found himself as a regular performer at The Ark Coffeehouse in Norton, Massachusetts.

After a year at the Ark, Mike joined up with guitarist Eric Vance and formed a short lived acoustic duo named PatmosPatmos hit some coffeehouses on the southern Massachusetts circuit before disbanding when Mike moved to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, a small town on Aquidneck Island.  "It was memorable moving onto the island because it was during a bad hurricane and they were recommending evacuation to the mainland for the storm because we were only a few feet above sea level.  I decided to stay."

"I wanted to focus on writing and playing my own material and get away from a gang of friends that just wanted to hang out - so I hauled off down to Portsmouth.  I stayed there for a couple years and eventually sat in on bass with friend Sandy O'Donnell's garage band back in Massachusetts.  Finally, a difficult relationship with a woman I had fallen in love with (from Newport, RI, also on Aquidneck Island) had me packing.   I ended up in Somerville, MA near Porter Square, Tufts University and Harvard Square in Cambridge."

"After a year or so I ended up back in RI trying to salvage the old relationship and help my ex-fiancée out of drug addiction she had fallen into along with a bunch of other things.  While there, I met some people and we formed an originals band I fronted and wrote the material for called Mike Abel & the Broken Hearts.  Nothing but the writing & arranging really  worked out so I headed back close to home in Brockton, MA where I hooked up again with Eric Vance who was leading a wild power trio called Bates Motel."


"Bates Motel was a fun band that did a lot of strange B-side covers (Doors, Richard Thompson, Billy Idol, U2) - it left a lot of room for Eric to rip on the guitar and that he did.  A couple years earlier Eric had ended up in the top five in the annual Best Guitarist in Boston contest.  He had really developed his playing.  We ended up changing the direction of the band substantially, adding many of my original tunes, adding me on lead vocals & rhythm guitar and changing the name of the band to Illustrated Man.  We got some good college radio play with a couple of tunes from a taping session I had started with Mike Abel & the Broken Hearts and were doing the club circuit when my daytime job got very unstable and I started looking for other work as well as bugging the band to book us to play out more."

"The only job offer I got was out here in Jackson, Michigan and I resisted it for almost a year.  When I finally accepted the offer out here and gave my notice at the office and with the band, the band started diligently booking again.  We played the night before I had to pack up all my stuff into my pickup truck and U-Haul trailer.  It was a bummer to see that going away - a bummer that shut me down musically and emotionally for almost five years after I moved out here."

In 1996, Mike finally dragged out the guitars and started playing again at the encouragement of the pastor of a church he attended and his new wife, Barbara.

In December of 1997, he played two tunes that stretched out into nine tunes at an Open Mic at the newly opened Idyll Hour Coffeehouse.  That turned into a 2-year gig regularly performing twice per month at the Idyll Hour: one night of solo material & one night hosting the Open Mic.

In 1998,  Mike also conceived the Soundstage at Jackson Summerfest which offered free live music at the festival by local musicians.  Kavanaugh, with the help of the Idyll Hour staff, coordinated the live performances as well as played his solo stuff at Summerfest 1998 and 1999 in downtown Jackson.  Thrown in the middle of it were additional performances with friends Greg Hurley, Teresa Hurley & Todd Phipps of Renoir as well as members of the Oasis of Love Full Gospel Church Band joining him on stage.

At the end of 1999 Mike also played at the short lived Daily Grind Coffee House in downtown Jackson.  With both the Idyll Hour and Daily Grind Coffeehouses closing down, Mike has continued to play both solo and with The Mike Kavanaugh Project, with Washington DC area bass player Ed Childress, performing in local clubs and taverns including the Flight Deck, Rico's Grill, Motorheads Bar & Grill, Bella Notte Ristorante, Bailey Park Grille, Thunderbird Coffeehouse, the Ground Round, Maerlyn's, Ted's Firehouse Pub, Aggie's and the Greystone as well as occasional local radio & television appearances.  

2000 & Beyond

Mike continues to play in public and private, performing both as a solo act and with local musician friends backing him.  He also worked with Spring Arbor University, acting as Music Chairperson for their presentation of the Jackson Summerfest Soundstages in 2001 and 2002.

In 2003, Mike played the acoustic stages of two regional blues festivals:  Lansing's Old Town Blues Fest and Battle Creek's Blues, Brews & Barbeques at Arcadia Brewing Company.

Continuing his desire to promote the arts in the local community, Mike helped a local rock club, the Flight Deck, by starting up a Monday Night Acoustic Series when they asked for his help in late October 2003.  That in turn has spurred the start-up of similar acoustic programs at several other venues around the city.

As we leave 2007 and move into 2008, Mike has found himself occasionally playing out either solo or with musician friends Terry Vargo (keyboards), Greg Hurley (guitar) or Craig Owens (fiddle) sitting in for the show.

Mike plays fingerstyle and flatpick acoustic and resonator guitars using a variety tunings including Standard, Open E, Open G, Drop D, and a tuning he calls 'Open  E5' (E B E E B E).

You may have to read between the lines here to see some of the hardships and pleasures he has faced over the years, but much of it will become very obvious when you hear him sing and play.  It comes from the heart of someone who has been there.  Some of the songs are warnings about places you may not want to go.  Others are encouragements to pursue something higher.  You will be touched by all you hear, that's for sure.