Jesse Keith Whitley, ‘Kentucky Thunder’ – Song Review
With his debut single, Jesse Keith Whitley is sure to cause some controversy. ‘Kentucky Thunder’ mixes fact and fiction while telling the story of three generations of men raised in the hills of Kentucky. Normally, taking an artist’s brush to a true story or completely fabricating a tale isn’t a big deal, but when your father is Keith Whitley and part of the song is about booze, the rules are a little different.
The first verse is Granddaddy’s verse. Whitley sings about a man who ran a moonshine still and sold “Kentucky thunder” from the back of his car: “Kentucky thunder / Let it rain / Kentucky thunder / It’s a powerful thing.”
It’s difficult to know if the youngest Whitley’s grandfather bootlegged whiskey. Some sources say he was an electrician, but it’s possible he had a hobby. It’s the second verse that really leaves one wondering if 23-year-old realizes that when he sings a song about a father, people are going to assume he’s singing about his own dad, the brilliant 1980s hitmaker who died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 33.
“Daddy was a hellfire preacher man / Sins of his father kind of forced his hands / And all the words that the prophets wrote / Turned to thunder coming out of his throat,” he sings. And later: “Sunday morning when the spirit called / He packed that little church wall-to-wall / We trembled from the spell he had us under.”
An optimist could argue that perhaps young Whitley was using the words “preacher” and “church” as metaphors for “country singer” and “honky-tonk.” If that’s the case, then his debut single could certainly earn points for trying. More likely, however, the singer wanted to sing a redemption song, one that ends with a little truth: “I sing a song about a preacher man / The moonshine still Granddaddy had / The storms of life and the sky I was born under.”
If listeners can get over this tall hurdle, they’ll find a decent song from a very capable singer, but Whitley would have been wise to choose a different song as a way of introducing himself to the country audience.
Listen to Jesse Keith Whitley, ‘Kentucky Thunder’