Guitar Aficionado

Excerpt: Actor Kevin Costner Discusses His Musical Beginnings

Perhaps more than most actors, much can be deduced about Kevin Costner’s outside interests by studying the films to which he chooses to attach his name.

by Richard Bienstock | Photo by F. Scott Schaffer

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This excerpt is taken from the new Winter 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado, in which actor Kevin Costner discusses his musical roots and the surprising success of his band Modern West. For the full interview — as well as features on Jakob Dylan, Bo Diddley and more — pick up the issue on newsstands now, or in our online store right now.

Perhaps more than most actors, much can be deduced about Kevin Costner’s outside interests by studying the films to which he chooses to attach his name. He loves baseball and has assumed the role of a ballplayer many times, for the films Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For Love of the Game, among others. He has a deep fascination with American history, and in particular the American West (“It was a time when man could rely only on himself, and every decision he made could have severe and immediate consequences,” he says), and he has indulged this curiosity in multiple projects, including Wyatt Earp, Open Range, and, most notably, the 1990 critical and commercial blockbuster Dances With Wolves, which he directed, produced, and starred in.

He also loves music. As the titular character in 1992’s The Bodyguard, he was assigned the task of ensuring the safety of a pop artist (and, famously, was the one who suggested Whitney Houston cover Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” for the movie’s soundtrack). However, he has never played a musician in a film. “The right part hasn’t come along. But I would do it if it made sense,” he says, adding that he’d even be game to do a Broadway musical.

In fact, Costner has had music in his blood from an early age. Growing up in Ventura, California, he sang in church choirs and learned to play an instrument — but it wasn’t the guitar. Rather, he was trained as a pianist. “My grandmother played piano in the church, and from about age 11 to 14, I studied under a pretty strict regimen,” he says. “It was classical piano, and it was very serious. But that’s also what started to drive me crazy. My teacher and my parents were very, very conservative, and so I was never encouraged to go outside of the lines of whatever piece of music I was learning. And after four years of this very disciplined way of playing I thought, This isn’t really any fun.” He smiles. “I mean, maybe if I’d had been allowed to play a cool song I could have at least met a girl. And then I would have never given up the piano. But it became like eating vegetables or taking out the trash.”

It was clear that Costner—who says he was initially attracted to the sounds of Motown and vocal groups like the Four Seasons and the Association before being introduced to “wilder” music like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Doors—was not cut out for a life of recital work. He did, however, eventually start playing in a band, though not until he had already gained a foothold in Hollywood.

In the mid Eighties, Costner was far from a major movie star. But he had worked enough to have qualified for a SAG card, thanks to bit parts in movies like the Ron Howard–directed comedy Night Shift and the 1983 boomer hit The Big Chill, in which nearly all his scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor, leaving him to appear as nothing more than a cadaver in the final film. Between these types of gigs he continued to hone his craft, at one point enrolling in an informal acting workshop that convened in a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. One of his classmates there was a talented local guitarist named John Coinman. “I played in bands around L.A. and Kevin used to come down to my gigs,” Coinman recalls. “I was a musician who had dreams of being an actor, and I guess he was an actor who had dreams of being a musician.”

For the full story, pick up the Winter 2012 issue of Guitar Aficionado on newsstands now, or in our online store.