Musician, Theologian John Kilzer Remembered

Mar 13, 2019

In 1988, Memphis musician John Kilzer had his biggest hit, "Red Blue Jeans," a punchy, guitar rocker that got some radio airplay and burnished his reputation as a bad boy. 

But it was his reputation as a very good man remembered this week as Memphis musicians and faith leaders mourn his passing. Kilzer died Tuesday while recovering in an out-of-state rehab facility. He was 62.

Struggles with alcohol addiction punctuated his life, but in 2010, he completed a PhD in Theology and created his own ministry to help people recovering from substance abuse.

"I think you have to go through what you go through to get through what you get through," Kilzer said in a 2014 interview with WKNO's Checking on the Arts. "And I think that's why I have a real peace in my spirit about the real hard work I'm doing now because the Lord allowed me to live three or four lifetimes, and I'm trying to through grace to pay it back, but there's no such thing as paying anything back when you're doing the Lord's work."

Kilzer was born in Jackson, Tenn. and was an all-American high school basketball player. This talent on the court brought him to Memphis where he spent four years playing for Memphis State University. He took up music with the encouragement of Hi Records legend Teenie Hodges. His first two albums came out on the Geffen label. A spiritual crisis in the early '90s led him to give up the music business for almost a decade. 

Since 2010, Kilzer was associate pastor for recovery ministries at St. John's United Methodist Church, using his music as a way to help people heal. He also taught at Memphis Theological Seminary. 

Kilzer just released a new album, called Scars and was slated to play at the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival. 

Below, Kilzer speaks with WKNO's Kacky Walton in November of 2014 after the release of his album "Hide Away."