The Soothing, Soulful Guitar of Jeff Kloetzel
Jeff Kloetzel has been in music for a long time, which is apparent by his polished, sublime performances. Being a self-taught guitar player from a musical family, he has graced thousands of stages, opening for musicians such as Jack Johnson, Natalie Merchant, and Jackson Browne. Locally, Kloetzel plays in wineries, restaurants and fairs. On occasion, he plays with his band Jeff K & Overtones or in the guitar duo State of JEFF, reminding Southern Oregon that he is not just a solo acoustic guitar performer.
He’s a singer-songwriter who mixes his originals with a lot of classic covers, and on a recent performance on a late April afternoon at Naumes Suncrest was no exception. As I walked the gravel path up to the winery’s tasting room, I was taken by the peacefulness. The socially-distanced audience was polite and the tasting room atmosphere calm and friendly. I entered as Jeff was singing a Van Morrison tune.
Kloetzel can read his audience well. Because the people there are quieter and more relaxed than his typical audience may be, and a gentle afternoon spring rain was falling, Jeff responded by choosing material to match, strumming reflective cover ballads such as “Fire and Rain” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
I don’t want to give the wrong impression, though: This is no ballad-dependent soft-pedal coffee house churner of cliche hits. Make no mistake: If Kloetzel were faced with a rowdier ambiance, he’d respond in kind, such as growling out his rendition of “Bad Things,” which is enough to make hands quiver.
In fact, “Bad Things” is the perfect song to show off Kloetzel’s versatility. He is able to be his own back-up singer, going from higher register or even falsetto directly back down to a soulful bass or lower still to a growl, followed by, in this song’s case, a gravelly, more sinister sound.
Voice, yes, and when it comes to a skillful guitarist, Kloetzel bends notes to give them that full-bodied effect, also wagging or “airing out” the guitar at the end of a song to maximize the sustained reverb quality, which is like the guitar equivalent to patrons swirling their wine before savoring the accentuated notes of the varietal their glasses hold. During “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Kloetzel gripped the neck of the guitar so tight the tonal sound quality was stifled, ensuring his strumming had a h more percussive quality while he sang the “I know, I know, I know” (ad nauseum) part of this famous tune.
I really felt relaxed as I enjoyed the afternoon’s performance, noting with amusement how Kloetzel even tweaked a lyric of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” to be about “the vineyard behind the tasting room,” giving the audience a personalized flair to the story within a timeless classic.
Jeff Kloetzel performs at StoneRiver Vineyards 5 pm Saturday, May 22.