Joey Kitson is one of Atlantic Canada’s favorite singers. No wonder really. The versatile vocalist is equally at home singing Celtic ballads, soulful rhythm and blues, big band jazz or mannered musical theatre.
The Charlottetown native credits his father’s wide-ranging record collection for giving him an early appreciation for many styles of music. That early exposure to the breadth of great music has led Kitson on an enriching exploration of his own musical voice.
Kitson sang around home, in school choirs and even blew the tuba in his high school band. But he never sought the spotlight until some friends put together a Blues Brothers tribute for a variety show. When the Jake and Elwood characters bailed out at the last minute, Kitson found himself volunteered to front the band.
“It was a big ordeal,” chuckles Kitson. “I was just trying to get through high school unscathed, without too many embarrassments.” That one-night stand turned out to be the genesis of the Rock Island Blues Band, an eight-piece group that would ignite his lifelong passion for singing in front of audiences.
Kitson and the Rock Island Blues Band worked up a couple of rocking blues sets and hit the PEI bar circuit that summer. He’s never stopped performing music since.
Music was still a hobby when Kitson enrolled in university in Toronto, with an eye toward medical school. On weekends, though, he’d find time to hang out at Albert’s Hall on the corner of Brunswick and Bloor. He often sat in with the featured blues bands, including fellow Maritimer Dutch Mason.
“It was great fun but definitely detracting from my original plan to be a doctor,” recalls Kitson. “So I began to rethink my idea of what I wanted to do.”
To his mother’s dismay, he realigned his priorities, and enrolled in the music program at St. F.X. University in Antigonish, N.S. A year later, he was back home in Charlottetown, fronting a rock-blues outfit called Black Cat Bone, which featured hotshot guitarist Chris Corrigan.
A brief recording session in Halifax led to a meeting with local music producer Bob Quinn. At the time, the four Atlantic Provinces were capitalizing on the region’s music as a tourism marketing tool, and Quinn wisely booked the young Kitson on Sea Sell, a rollicking road trip that brought together several top Atlantic Canadian musicians to help market the region. Among them was Ian McKinnon of Rawlins Cross.
The pair hit it off immediately. In the spring of 1993, Rawlins Cross was at a pivotal career point. The band had already released a pair of well-received CDs, and was looking to take its Celtic rock sound to the next level. Kitson was the perfect fit. His soulful brawny vocals helped ignite Reel ‘n’ Roll
into the band’s best-selling recording, a high water mark for Atlantic Canadian Celtic-rock.
As the charismatic frontman for Rawlins Cross, Kitson has toured through North America, Chile and Europe, collected numerous music industry awards and helped sell truckloads of albums. He also has sung with the great Doug “Dr. Music” Riley, finding yet another outlet for his impressive musical sensibility.
Over the past decade, Kitson has also maintained another career, performing musical theatre at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. He has appeared many times on the storied stage, beginning with a production of Bye, Bye Birdie while still a high school student. His other stage credits include Jesus Christ Superstar, British Invasion, the blockbuster Canada Rocks and the timeless Anne Of Green Gables.