Walk The West, Cactus Brothers Leader Dies At Age 48

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• September 27, 2011

Paul Kirby, who co-founded the Nashville rock band Walk the West and also led the country-rocking Cactus Brothers, has died of cardiac arrest at age 48.

The native Nashvillian passed away on Sunday at his home. Paul Kirby was the son of the late country songwriter Dave Kirby (“Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Memories to Burn,” “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang,” etc.). The elder Kirby wrote several songs for Merle Haggard and later married Haggard’s ex-wife, singer-songwriter Leona Williams.

But although Haggard, Willie Nelson and other stars were frequent visitors to his father’s home, Paul Kirby was inspired by the country-punk music of Nashville’s Jason & The Scorchers. He and friends John Goleman, Will Goleman and Richard Ice formed Walk the West in 1984, eager to join the emerging Nashville rock scene of that era. The band signed with Capitol/EMI and issued its self-titled LP in 1986.

The singles from that record were “Living at Night” and “Lonely Boy,” both issued in 1986. Despite critical acclaim and a national tour with The Smithereens, the label didn’t put out the second album that Walk the West recorded.

By the early 1990s, the group had morphed into the more countrified Cactus Brothers. Multi-instrumentalist Tramp, dulcimer player David Schnaufer, steel guitarist Sam Pollard and drummer Dave Kennedy joined Kirby in The Cactus Brothers.

The group recorded two albums for the country division of Capitol/Liberty Records, as well as the well-received music videos “Crazy Heart” (1993) and “Sixteen Tons” (1994). The Cactus Brothers also appeared in the 1993 George Strait movie Pure Country.

Since The Cactus Brothers dissolution around 1995, Kirby had been working as an independent musician and songwriter. Walk the West reunited earlier this month for a show to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Exit/In nightclub.

Paul Kirby’s survivors include his companion Elizabeth Forsythe, mother Emma Lou Kirby, brother Wade Kirby and sister Janis Ross.

Read more in this LA Times article from 1993.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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