Kaufman returns to Hall of Fame

OTHO – This isn’t Kirk Kaufman’s first trip to the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Fort Dodge-area rocker has been inducted three times before for his various musical projects. Today, he will receive a lifetime achievement award from the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association at the annual Hall of Fame spectacular at Arnold’s Park.

Kaufman has been actively making and recording music since his first band, West Minist’r, toured the Midwest in the late ’60s. He has owned a recording studio at his Otho farm called Junior’s Motel since 1972.

He called it that because he wanted a “funky name,” Kaufman said.

However, the name has been known to cause some confusion.

“I’d say every week or week and a half, I’ll have somebody call for a motel room,” he said.

Kaufman has been inducted once because of the recording studio, once with West Minist’r, and once with the Hawks, his band in the 1980s which was signed with Columbia Records.

His current band is called HipKnosis, and has a sound influenced by the band that first got Kaufman interested in rock.

“It seems like a lot of what we do has a Beatles influence,” Kaufman said. “We have a lot of what you would call a retro sound, but we’re still doing pop music.”

“The real core of the band is what I would call power pop,” said keyboardist Dave Hearn. “It means that we’re looking for big guitars, we’re looking for some driving beats, but we’re also looking for melody and for very strong songs.”

Kaufman was in West Minist’r from the age of 16 to about 22.

“That band did fairly well because it was a cover band,” he said. “At some point we switched and just did original music, and our crowds really dropped off.”

The band eventually broke up, but not before building the recording studio in what was once a chicken house. This opened up many more opportunities for Kaufman.

“It’s perfect for a musician. Not only can you record your own music, but you meet the more successful musicians,” he said.

The studio has been used by Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, and SlipKnot in the late 1990s, before the band got big. Members of the band still come around sometimes, Kaufman said.

The studio got a big upgrade during the Hawks era.

“When we landed the Hawks deal, we wanted ‘the stuff.’ The equipment,” he said. “We convinced Columbia Records and our management company to let us purchase with our budget a bunch of recording equipment.

“We probably put $120,000 into equipment out of our production deal, which in the long run worked out quite well. It was something they couldn’t really take away from us, and we could continue almost as if we had gotten the major record deal.”

Kaufman has an eclectic history of music styles. The Hawks was sort of an English power pop band, he said. After that, Kaufman was in a band called Junior’s Wild, which had more of a rockabilly sound. Later he started up Junior’s Army.

“We put out ‘Cars Don’t Rust in Outer Space,’ which was a techno metal-type thing, if that makes any sense,” he said. “Our claim to fame with that band was Dr. Demento loved that album.”

He also released a single called “Space Baby” under the name Captain Kirk.

He met Heather Kelly in about 2006, and began collaborating with her. They released one CD as H and K. When they got more members to join the band, they wanted to keep those letters, and Kelly came up with the name HipKnosis.

The band is now about halfway through creating its third CD.

Hearn, an IRRMA Hall of Famer himself, said he’s proud to have been involved with Kaufman in all four projects that got Kaufman inducted.

Kaufman’s strength has always been in running the studio, Hearn said.

“His live work is always excellent too, but studio is his biggest gift. He plays it like an instrument,” Hearn said.

Between engineering for other bands in the studio and running his own band, music is Kaufman’s full-time job. He’s never given up on his dream.

“I’m still pursuing the same thing I was pursuing when I was in West Minist’r, meaning coming in, looking for that song that’s going to work for you,” he said. “One thing I’ve found out is anything good that ever happened to me was because I sat down one day and recorded some music.”