by Bonnie Prestel The MuleTrain Express is a new local band that is an original blend of blues and rock with a funky jazz influence.

It’s a group of talented musicians that play with passion. Their music penetrates deep into your soul, touches your heart, and awakens your spirit. With some reggae influence, they will motivate you to get up and move to their unique groove.

Band organizer and bass player, Kevin Smith was instrumental in starting the MuleTrain Express. When asked how he came up with the name MuleTrain, Kevin says, “I’ve always loved the blues. There’s an old song called The Muleskinner Blues, originally written by Jimmie Rogers and later recorded by Federmen. The muleskinner is the guy who runs the mule train and outwits the mules, keeping them in line. That was my nickname.”

Kevin has taken on the role as the muleskinner, taking the reins and keeping the train moving forward. Now in his early 50s, this is his second childhood. As a young boy of 12, he picked up his first guitar and began to learn to play. It took him until his mid 20s before he began performing in public. He worked construction and had those big rugged fingers, which made it hard for him to hold down guitar strings, so he stuck with the bass. He played jazz in the 80s at local dinner clubs in the Springs. And then he laid down his instrument to work a full-time IT job to be a good husband and raise his four children.

One day his oldest son Colton, at the wise age of 16, asked his dad what all the music stuff was for and why he still had it. Kevin told him that he used to play in a band. Colton said, “You are a good dad. You take care of us, now you need to take care of yourself.”

Kevin heeded his son’s advice and picked up his bass and made a conscious decision to get back into the music scene, if only a casual garage band. Initially he connected with Brad Suttle, Lonnie Dillon and Burt Scott. They cut a disc and started lining up gigs. Life pulled Lonnie and Brad in other directions, but Kevin persisted in creating a band. He still had his percussion man, Burt Scott, but needed a guitarist. So he put an ad on Craigslist to attract other music- minded people who shared his passion.

That is where he met Kevin Kuonen. Kevin, a transplant from Indiana, was born an artist and played music most his life. In his words, “As an artist, some years you work on your craft, and then it’s time to get out there and perform.”

It was his time.

The ad caught his wife’s attention and Kevin made the phone call. The two Kevins talked and planned to meet to schedule a formal audition. But a few days later, Kevin got a call from Muleskinner Kevin. Muleskinner asks, “How big are your cojones?”

That night, without ever meeting the band or rehearsing, Kuonen stepped in to cover for a musician out sick. He played three sets and didn’t miss a beat. Smith wanted a telecaster player but got a clean, powerful, undistorted stratocaster. “I just loved his voice. He was laid back and played clean,” says Smith.

So the band made its debut on the rooftop of the Perk Downtown Colorado Springs during the FanFest PPIHC event in July of 2014. That first show was basically Kuonen’s audition. That night, Smith found his musical soul mate.

Kuonen says, “We just meshed. It’s like any kind of relationship. There is either chemistry or not and there was definitely chemistry that night. You can’t plan it, you can’t rehearse, it just happens.”

The chemistry continued one cold December night at Swirl wine bar in Manitou. The band was playing and in walked Jared Thompson. He had just moved from California to Manitou with his wife, Alea. They were out strolling and stopped at Swirl for some drinks.

Impressed by MuleTrain, Jared met the band during the break and swapped stories with drummer Burt. Soon, Kevin Smith joined the conversation. When Jared shared that he played the sax, Kevin asked, “So where is it?”

That was all it took for Jared to take off, running all the way home, get his saxophone and run back in time to join the group for the next set.

They jammed. And it was synchronicity. At first, some of the members were hesitant about adding a saxophone player, “The sax definitely dresses things up a bit; it’s like putting on a suit and tie,” says Smith. But the chemistry was undeniable, so they let Jared join the train.

The secret to their success is their ability to freely improvise. Jared says, “The key to good improvisation is listening to each other. Pick a key, listen to the other artists and watch.” It is like a dance and you take turns following each other. Kuonen will be playing a song and then wander off in a funky direction and bass player Smith will follow. Smith equates it to making love: it may be the same song, but it is always a little different. Maybe slow and gentle and next time a little more rough and quick. It’s always an adventure.

The MuleTrain Express is different, no radio cuts. You won’t hear a typical bar standard, here. Every show is different. Their jams are fluid and melodic. What you will here is Woman I love, by JJ Cale; Picking up the Pieces, by Widespread Panic; Fire on the Mountain, by the Grateful Dead; Looking for Somebody, by Peter Green; Nasty Letter, by Otis Taylor; The Watchtower, by Bob Dylan and a little Allman Brothers with Whipping Post.

Intermingled with these classics are some of the band’s original songs written by Kounen such as, “Lose That Worry.” And that is just what happens when the MuleTrain Express commands the stage. Loads lighten, couples kiss and the floor is full of joyful dancers. You really do lose all worries and get lost on the train. As Kuonen says, “It’s a musical journey.”

You can hear MuleTrain jamming in Manitou at The Townhouse Lounge, Ancient Mariner, and Kinfolks. They also play in OCC at Mother Muffs, 503 W and The Gold Room, in downtown Colorado Springs in the Wyndam Mining Exchange Hotel.

This July marks their one-year anniversary riding the MuleTrain Express. They plan on celebrating at Mother Muffs in Old Colorado City on July 24th, with some music, drinks, and other surprises. Check out their website: www.themuletrainexpress.net, and Facebook page for more information, including dates and times of upcoming shows.

Band Members:
Kevin Smith: bass and muleskinner Kevin Kuonen: guitar and lead vocals Jared Thompson: saxophone and guitar Burt Scott: percussion and drums (John Dane subs occasionally for Burt on the drums.)