Albany’s Kenny Bilbrey, dies at 52

Posted September 20, 2023 at 11:53 am

[Editor’s note: One of Albany’s most recognizable figures, Kenny Bilbrey, passed away last week at the age of 52.
A staple on the streets of Albany for decades, and especially at the Foothills Festival Lip Sync contest, Bilbrey had been ill for several months.
Three local writers, Clinton County News Publisher Al Gibson, local attorney and historian David Cross, and area radio personality, historian and blogger Randy Speck, have combined with the following remembrances of Kenny for this week’s Clinton County News.
A complete death notice for Kenny Bilbrey appears elsewhere in this week’s NEWS]
The Traveling Bilbreys

by David M. Cross
Kenny Bilbrey passed away last Wednesday of liver failure at age 52.
Absolutely everyone in the county knew Kenny, and his brother Kelly, who survives.  They might not have known his first name, and most people were prone to get he and his brother Kelly mixed up on occasion.
Before Kelly obtained a driver’s license, and a car, you would nearly always see them together, walking somewhere between Desda (where their roots were) and Chanute (where they usually lived).  That’s when I began calling them “The Traveling Bilbreys”, derived  from the musical group The Traveling Wilburys.
If you knew Kenny, you were aware that he was a simple fellow. However, you also learned that he was honest, and that he viewed the world in a certain way, which perhaps we  didn’t understand, but at times we might have been envious of.
Kenny could see people for who they really were. He knew who was real, and who wasn’t.
Kenny said he was always broke. If you achieved elevated status with him, he would ask you for money—which was never paid back monetarily. However, Kenny would pay you  back in friendship, or occasionally by bringing in something of value to him.
If you were his friend, he would tell the world what a good person you were, and if you ever ran for office, he would proudly wear a T-shirt, or cap, to promote your cause.  Unlike a lot of folks, he  would tell you who he was for—and you could depend on him.
The Bilbrey boys were Hall McWhorter’s helpers for years at the Variety Store, and would also help out others on occasion, notably Freddie Burchett.  Yes, they generally  needed a bit of extra supervision.
Kenny idolized The Monkees, a television-created musical group from the Sixties.  The Monkees may have been a television creation, but they were actually a very good band.
When they reunited and toured, Kenny would make every effort possible to go to their  concerts, which he and his brother were able to do on several occasions. He wore a lot of  Monkees T-shirts. Mickey Dolenz is the last surviving Monkee. We hope someone can let  him know that the band has undoubtedly lost one of their two biggest fans.
Kenny and Kelly were Foothills Lip Sync Legends. Whatever song they decided to do, they were a hit with the crowd. Kenny would also go solo at times. Wish Davey Jones could have seen him perform.
Kenny was one of God’s children, as we all are. He had limitations, and there were some aggravations. He would not be managed. He didn’t make good decisions regarding his personal affairs, but that sounds like a lot of us.
Perhaps one of the reasons Kenny was put here on earth was to test us all—to see whether or not we would treat Kenny with kindness, or patience, or compassion. All of us  should look back now and wonder what grade each of us would have received on that test.

A road race
for the ages

by Al Gibson
Always a fan of rock music, and in particular of the 60s group The Monkees and its lead singer, Davy Jones, Kenny for many years would be seen walking around town carrying a huge boom box on his shoulders, blaring out Monkee tunes for him and anyone in his general vicinity to enjoy.
Kenny was a frequent visitor to the Clinton County News office, often asking for a small handout, but also just as often, bringing gifts for the staff members here on their birthdays.
Coffee mugs, UK memoribilia, vegetables, etc., we never knew what to expect when he would walk through our front door carrying a plastic bag.
Without fail, each fall, Kenny, as well as his brother Kelly, would begin asking when they could get their yearly Clinton County News wall calendar, and each November, at different times, they would happily leave with a new rolled calendar for their wall at home, or at least that’s where he always said it was going.
Birthday pictures of himself, his brother Kelly, friends and, of course, each of the four members of the Monkees band were  brought in each year to be published honoring the subjects.
On one occasion, Kenny came into the office holding a dead juvenile groundhog by the nape of the neck, hoping for a picture in the NEWS of his kill that day.
Several years ago, when the news came out that Davy Jones had passed away, Kenny came to the office in tears – broken hearted at the loss of one of his heroes.
Randy Speck told me last week that his first encounter with Kenny was while he was behind the control board at WANY one day several years ago and Kenny came in carrying the aforementioned boom box on one shoulder, while wearing a football helmet.
Randy also remembered sending Kenny to the CCNews office after he had shown a photo of himself, and brother Kelly at a meet and greet with Monkee’s lead singer Davy Jones after a concert the brothers had attended.
The look on Jones’ face in that photo can best be described as “not knowing what might come next.”
One of my favorite memories of Kenny came on the road one afternoon as I drove past the high school and met Kenny walking alongside the highway, carrying that huge boom box.
Coming up behind Kenny was a semi-tractor/trailor, and Kenny began running as fast as he could, obviously in a road race with the transport vehicle.
Of course Kenny had already pre-determined where the finish line to that race would be, and crossing that pre-determined spot first meant he had out-run the truck.
Kenny sat his boom box down in the ditch and began performing a victory dance similar to the one Rocky Balboa had made after completing his run up the steps in the first Rocky movie.
Kenny had obviously won the road race and a celebration was called for.
Every small town has its town character . . . Albany may have lost its last one with the passing of Kenny Bilbrey.

Kenny Bilbrey and
The Monkees

by Randy Speck

Everyone knows how much Kenny Bilbrey loved The Monkees (as does his brother). Kenny had told me recently that “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was his favorite Monkees song. “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was recorded on June 10, 1967, with Michael Nesmith on electric guitar, Peter Tork on piano, Micky Dolenz sang the lead part and played acoustic guitar, and Nesmith and Kenny’s favorite Monkee, Davy Jones, sang the harmony parts. The song, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, is about dissatisfaction with living in the suburbs.

“Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burnin’ everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care”

Davy Jones, they say, was a very warm and caring person, just like his character on the show. Kenny and Kelly met him after a show in Indiana. Standing at the edge of the stage, the brothers yelled out “I love you!” and Davy replied that he loved them. It was a great moment in their lives.
I know, because when they returned home, one of their first stops was at the radio station. Both of them had tears in their eyes as they described what they had experienced at the front of the stage. I interviewed them on the air and they kept the recording of it in Kelly’s vehicle. More than once I could hear it blasting from the car if they saw me pass by or pull in to a restaurant or gas station where they were. Surely, their passion for The Monkees was unequaled.
Twenty-five years after the TV series finished its first run, Davy Jones recorded “Free (The Greatest Story Ever Told).” Kelly called me this morning (Thursday) and said this was Kenny’s favorite Davy Jones song as a solo artist.

“All my life is just a stage I’m going through
The director has written lines for me and you
And we must act accordingly
All I know is this is the greatest story ever told
And we’ll never grow old
We just pan away, fade to light”

Kelly said Kenny would always tell him when he had seen or spoken to Randy “Specktacular,” with strong emphasis on that last part. When I was running for city council, I gave him a campaign card. I reckon, from all accounts, he showed it all over town. It was one of the favorite things I did as a candidate.
Kenny left out Wednesday aboard that last train to Clarksville. Until we see you again, we will always remember you, singing… “Hey, hey, we’re The Monkees!”