Steamboat Springs Kraig Kenning is a songwriter who just happens to play a pretty mean guitar and slide guitar, or Dobro.
The latter only came about by accident literally.
In 1989, the Chicago-based guitarist was sitting at a stoplight when he was rear-ended by another car. It was a minor accident, but his left hand suffered cartilage damage from banging it against the steering wheel during the accident.
Kenning, who was making his living as a rootsy songwriter in Chicago, thought it was no big deal at first. In time though, pressing the strings to the guitar neck made his left hand hurt.
After a year or two of playing with a lot pain, he decided to have surgery to fix it. It was a failure, and Kenning was in worse shape than before.
"I couldn't play regular guitar anymore," Kenning said.
That's a bad situation to be in if all you know is music on guitar.
"That's all I've ever done. I don't really know how to do anything else," he said.
Kenning looked to the slide style of guitar playing as the solution.
He already knew how to do it, using a bottleneck-like piece of glass to slide up and down the neck of guitar, instead of pressing strings. But he was no master and couldn't do it as a solo act really the only way he'd ever performed.
But as Kenning put it, he had to get paid. He joined a cover band playing songs that sell, but ones that no musician really wants to play too often.
"I knew we would get paid by just playing those songs, no matter how bad we played them," he said.
Kenning sucked it up and adapted his slide to such bar-band classics as "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffet and Elton John's "Daniel."
People love those songs, but real musicians can mentally play them for only so long, Kenning said.
"It's too bad," he said. "Those are some great songs. They are just overplayed."
In some ways, it was a low point for Kenning. But while toughing it out, he also was developing an original style of slide playing. Transposing piano and straight guitar melodies onto the slide guitar, or Dobro, gave him a unique sound.
"That's what music is and that's the way a lot of things are in the world," Kenning said. "You have to deal with what is thrown at you."
After two years of playing covers, he improved his slide enough to break back to some of his original stuff, mixing a new bluesy, rootsy sound with his honest, passionate lyrics.
In August 1997, Kenning earned a break. He took home the honor of the best-unsigned slide guitar player at the National Slide Guitar Festival in North Carolina.
With time, and lots of rehab, Kenning was able to play straight guitar again. He now plays both styles in concert.
Today, Kenning remains without a record deal. But that's just fine right now. He still makes 70 percent of his living off CD sales. He has sold an unprecedented 30,000 albums just from his gigs.
"I do a lot of weird jobs now. I want to be in places where people will buy my stuff," he said.
Along with small venues, Kenning, who is now in his early 40s, sets up at art fairs, for example.
He plays songs, draws crowds and sells CDs. He also has a nice Web site, www.kraigkenning.com, where he conducts business.
He records most of his music at home, and then takes it to Doctor Caw, who has recorded Chicago-scene regulars such as Freddy Jones and Dave Mason.
His most recent album, "MAKTUB," is his best effort yet.
"This is a major notch up for me," Kenning said.
"MAKTUB," which is all acoustic music, focused on Kenning's songwriting, which he said is really what he wants to do with music.
Kenning plays two free shows at 8 p.m. today and Saturday at Geeks Garage.