with ESPN’s, Kenny Mayne

Over the course of Kenny Mayne’s 23-years at ESPN, the Seattle-native has explored the art of sport in almost every corner of the earth. From Mayne Street, to Wider Word of Sports to SportsCenter, Mayne has consistently both entertained and informed dedicated fans with his creative approach.

Mayne credits an early introduction to some of the greatest to ever hold an instrument as a driving force behind his passion for the arts. The early influence at home combined with being embedded within a dynamic scene like Seattle, good music has been a constant innervison within Mayne’s world.

With that, it is with great please that we have Kenny Mayne here in our next “How Music Has Influenced My Life”.

Kenny and Gretchen Mayne at Pearl Jam

Music of My Mind:

Music is extremely important to me, it’s my getaway. When you feel good, you have it as a sanctuary or an inspiration. When your happy, music makes you happier. Sometimes you play music to be sadder, and that’s OK too. We’ve done the Jimmy V Foundation for years at ESPN. His speech has always gotten to me — about how men can be too ashamed of crying. It’s a healthy thing to have every emotion. There are times where sad music gets you through the sadness. Or it can remind you of a certain period in your life, just the way the artist says something.

In this day and age, I get enough of the stuff that can bring you down just through the news or twitter, and I’m not talking about sports. So, music is a great escape and an inspiration. I am in no way comparing myself to Stevie Wonder, but sometimes I will write something, and I’ll recognize it was inspired by Talking Book. Stevie Wonder writes in the inverse almost. He often puts the subject in a spot where you would not expect it. Words are turned upside down. It’s so beautifully crafted, like a poem.

You can probably tell, I am rather enthusiastic about music. I am not a trivia expert, nor can I really talk about the way certain chords are constructed, but I know what I like. I am also really inspired by the younger generation. My daughters turn me on to a lot of new music. It’s not me trying to stay young and be cool, it’s simply the music is good. I like Chance the Rapper, for example. I interviewed him before he hit it big, and found him to be a very sincere and humble artist. It sounds like a cop-out to say I like all kinds of music, but it’s true.

Where I’m Coming From:

I feel very fortunate that my family had great musical taste. My sisters and my mom were always playing music. We had all the blueprints — The Beatles, Jackson 5, James Taylor and Stevie Wonder. It was an incredible baseline for learning music. My mom would then throw in her old favorites — Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra. We had one TV, one phone, and one stereo device. We had a console stereo that was purchased in the early 60’s when The Beatles had come out. It had a turntable with a ‘45 for the small records, a ’33 for the big ones and even some old school ‘78’s. You lifted the needle and played whatever you wanted to play, and then you’d play it over and over again. You’d open the album and it was like a book that told you the story of the music. You had the liner notes, the lyrics, the fun pictures and the thank you’s. You’d get pissed when you had a book that had no lyrics. There was no internet so you’d have to figure it all out on your own.

I come from a very musical family. My youngest sister still sings. My niece sings as does my daughter. I have all these great voices around me. My sister and her daughters used to always sing the anthems at the Seahawks games. My nieces were five or six years-old at the time, and they were doing it well. There’s a ton of musical talent in my family. I was never really blessed with any. I will sing in my car, to my daughters, and to my wife, but that’s about it. It sounds more like yelling. But I know that words, so that counts for something.

Having this great musical introduction really helped me and it still does. I’ve been listening to nothing but Stevie and Tom Petty the past few months, with some Pearl Jam live stuff sprinkled in. I realize how much I appreciate Tom Petty. It was such a sense of sadness that he died so young.

My First Concert:

I was late to the concert scene. My daughters started going when they were 10. We would take them to Justin Bieber and stand in the back. I was 16 and it was to see Ronnie Laws, the jazz band. The opening act was Seawind. I remember it perfectly. It was at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, which is funny because all these years later, I’ve essentially played the Paramount to some degree, hosting sports awards here in Seattle.

Seattle to Bristol:

Being from Seattle, I came to bands like Pearl Jam late. I knew of them and worked with Jeff Ament on the Shawn Kemp story. At that time, I was too consumed in what I now call my “blue period.” I was at a Seattle station doing sports and news stories, interviewed with ESPN and didn’t get hired. Six months later I quit my news job with the station in Seattle. Sort of an impetuous move, but I guess it all worked out. For four years I was freelancing, trying to get hired only by ESPN. I tried for ESPN or nothing. I just kind of got by with random sales jobs to pay the bills. It was pretty defeating at times thinking — is this ever going to happen?

Eventually, I started doing pieces for ESPN from time to time. I was basically a Seattle correspondent, but without a title. I would call them much more than they would call me. I just wore them down to the point where, when ESPN2 came around, I was in the conversation about new hires. Keith Olbermann had gone back to regular ESPN and Stuart Scott moved up to be the main anchor. They needed one more person to backfill his role. They call it the smash — you come on at the bottom of the hour and give two-minute updates. I distinctly remember them telling me to not have any aspirations of being on SportsCenter or doing the 11, I was only to do the ESPN2 show and they were not promising anything more. About a year later they killed that show. We all went into different parts of the company, SportsCenter was one of the things I ended up doing. A couple of years later I was doing it with Dan Patrick. I guess I exceeded their expectations.

Kenny Mayne/Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam. Photos by: Jose Mandojana

I think people today have a better chance than I had. We had four channels in Seattle and there was no such thing as the internet. Now, you can just start your own thing. Anyone can do that, if you have any talent and get a little momentum, then you are on your way. In my day, you had the channels in your town to impress and if they didn’t like you, then you had no shot. I always tell people — be doing something. Go find your local high school, go be the guy to do a weekly internet piece on the football team. Just give them ideas. Next thing you know, you build a name for yourself, get noticed and then maybe you move up. It’s lazy to say there’s no opportunity. It’s endless compared to what it once was. You meet the right person, you bump into them having coffee and you find out they’re marketing a company, and then you find yourself ways to get into their conversation.

Music Before Going Live On Set:

I don’t use earbuds. If I’m going in to get makeup before a show, I will bring in my iPhone and have music playing. I don’t do that a ton in Connecticut, it was my usual routine in Los Angeles, oddly enough. We have a green room next to the makeup room by the studio. Usually I go up there an hour before the show just to get away from the noise of the screening room where we do the preparation. You usually have this hour period where you are waiting for the games to end, it’s your time to get your head right to go do what you do. I like to be alone or with one other person. We’ll have a small conversation while watching a game. If I’m by myself, I often play a song I like or have music on in the background. I’ve even played music out on the set. If there is something old or new that I am hyped about, I will make everybody listen to it.

Stevie Wonder:

If you told me I can only listen to a station that plays classic rock or old Motown, I would be listening to the Motown station. That’s what I grew up with and what remains the most important. That’s what first inspired me in music, with The Beatles on the edge of that. Stevie in particular, I’d read his music and liner notes like it was of biblical and spiritual origin. There are so many songs that he wrote from the 1970’s that still apply today. “Big Brother” from Talking Book, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”, “Jesus Children of America” from Innvervisions, “You Haven’t Done Nothin” from Fulfillingness’ First Finale, they could have all been written today. “Higher Ground” is then inspiration to it all. Everything is messed up, but there’s always hope. There’s no way you can let despair win. It’s a hard balance, but Stevie could always capture it.

Stevie Wonder has so many classic numbers and he gets the whole crowd involved, like many classic bands. When you are in his presence, there is something about it, it’s hard to describe, there’s this aura like he is a prophet. There is something truly special about him. Then you get to talking and you see he is a kid from Saginaw, Michigan who happens to have an amazing musical talent. I’ve been around him a few times. I interviewed him before the Detroit Super Bowl and said, “Your message is always about love or hope.” He was really into it and described that’s his mission. It’s what he does. We can never give up on each other. His music is both a metaphor and literal. You can apply what he’s writing about to specific people or just in general. I’ve probably repeated the lyrics to “You Haven’t Done Nothin” 40 times on twitter.

Stevie Wonder. Photo by: Kenny Mayne

Pearl Jam:

Musically, Pearl Jam is somehow both classic and modern rock. Fans go to their shows to sing the songs. It’s fun and you have that freedom. Sometimes the band is probably like, “Why don’t we just lay down the music, you guys sing, and then we will go home.” It must be quite a feeling. I was just listening to Pearl Jam’s “Love Boat Captain.” I think it’s one of their best songs ever. It’s under-appreciated. The song has everything, it’s so meaningful, Eddie’s voice is amazing and musically, they go after it. The song represents everything that they do as a band. Jeff Ament is a friend of mine and it’s crazy to think, he’s from a small town in Montana, and he’s in one of the most important bands in the world. You can say that about anybody. They were once five and in Kindergarten just like everybody else. They are still human. That’s the beauty of Pearl Jam in particular. They are just a bunch of guys who play music. They don’t think they are gods.

Favorite Concert Experience:

Live 8 in 2005. It was a worldwide concert that was aimed at getting the western nations to forgive some African debt. The American show was in Philadelphia. The MLB All-Star baseball game was going to be in Detroit shortly after. I told my boss I wanted to go to Philadelphia to try and get Stevie Wonder to do one line for a bit to run during the All-Star game. My boss thought I would pull it, so they let me go. Nowadays, there is no way I would be able to do it. It was essentially a wild goose chase. I ended up getting an ESPN press pass that I secured myself. It only allowed me access to this tent three blocks away to do interviews. This wasn’t going to cut it. My goal was to be next to Stevie Wonder. I was relentless, I never stopped appropriately going after getting the chance with Stevie. Suddenly, I met a guy who recognized me from ESPN and he got me backstage. I went from not going at all to suddenly standing backstage next to Sarah McLachlan, with Stevie Wonder coming on stage later, all from hard work. But I was only half done because I needed to get with Stevie. I figured out who was running his camp. There was a moment where this guy was waiving famous people like Will Smith and Natalie Portman, into his trailer. The guy then looks directly at me and waives me over. I walk up, and Don Cheadle walks right by. The waive was for him. I still didn’t quit. I had it made this far, there was no way I was going to stop. Eventually, I get the right guy and told him I needed just one minute with Stevie Wonder for a comedy bit to be a part of the baseball game, where I wanted Stevie to say, “I can’t be at the All-Star game, I have a high ankle sprain.” They laughed at me and said when he was done with BET I can explain my bit to him. It’s up to him whether he wants to do it. I said, “That’s fair. If I get Stevie in person, I know he will do it.”

It turns out BET’s camera was broken. They asked to borrow mine to get their interview done. I helped them out and by doing this BET basically slowed down Stevie Wonder so I could get in his range. I finally got the chance to ask Stevie, he laughed and said “Of course.” He literally nailed it in one take. I thanked him, and he starts walking away. I then asked, “When’s that album coming out?” He turns around and simply says, “Soon” and then kept walking. It was a great moment.

Songs in the Key of Life:

I’m more about the meaning — the lyrics and what the song is about as opposed to just the music. Sometimes music just makes you feel good. You may hear a song and then say, “I’m in a better mood now.” For example, some people I recently met are doing a documentary on a friend of mine who was a comedian that passed away a few years back. I spent an hour talking about the different ways we would go about approaching the documentary. We ended up telling funny stories about my friend. When I got done with the meeting, I had a writing assignment that I had to do. I completed it in eleven minutes and I really like what came out, and I think the people I wrote it for will to. I am almost certain it’s because I was just talking about my friend, who was one of the funniest people I had ever met, and I just felt good. Something goes off in your brain.

I also love how music allows me to drift back into the world of memories. Like when I was 12, playing wiffle ball with my friends. I had a great family. I lived on a lake, uncle Gordy came and we’d go to the racetrack. I then started playing football. Those are my great memories. That’s how I was built. My safe spot is thinking about those things and remembering music like Stevie Wonder, playing accompanying those times.

What’s interesting though, is that I don’t always need music. I can sit in a room alone or with the news on and do my writing. I don’t listen to a ton of music at home. I have a Sonos system, but most of my listening is done in the car.

Top Five Favorite Artists:

Stevie Wonder is at the top, and then in no order — Pearl Jam, The Beatles, James Taylor, Radiohead.

~Kenny Mayne

Kenny Mayne and Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam at CCFA flag football

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