In The Feast

Ryan Van Over '98 makes a name for himself, as Ty Stone, in the world of rock

Here's a Kenyon political-science major with a national gig, but it's not in Washington and it has nothing to do with politics. Meet Ryan Van Over '98. His job description: rock star in training.

Van Over works with his fellow Detroit native Bob Ritchie, better known by his raunchy, multi-platinum rocker/rapper name, Kid Rock. Van Over, a twenty-nine-year-old singer, guitarist, and bandleader, scored a record deal with Kid Rock a year ago and has been opening arena concerts for him since January. You may know him--and if you don't, perhaps someday soon you will--by his own stage name, Ty Stone.

"We say a prayer as a band," Van Over says, sketching how the scene plays out at a performance. "You hear the crowd. You see the crowd. All the lights are on. They say, 'Thirty seconds!' Bam! The place goes pitch black. The next thing you know, you're playin'. The next thing you know, you're sittin' in your dressing room and it's over. You wonder, did that really happen?"

Van Over pegs his sound as "Motown soul meets rock 'n' roll, if Otis Redding was opening for the Rolling Stones."

Despite the association with Kid Rock's over-the-top spectacle, Van Over still crams into a van with the rest of his band to drive to the next city, checks into cheap hotels, and handles his own publicity. The perks will come when and if a CD starts flying off the shelves and his songs are gobbled up on iTunes.

It wasn't long ago that Van Over was just another dreamer in Los Angeles, flipping hamburgers for six dollars an hour while trying to make it in the music world. He moved to L.A. in May 2002 after working--and getting laid off from--a string of steel mill and auto manufacturing jobs in Detroit. "I had this music in my blood," he says, "and I couldn't get rid of it."

The initial plan was to spend about a month on the coast to find out whether he had what it took. He suspected that the Hollywood types would have little use for a rootsy Midwestern singer with a hefty frame. The month turned into three years.

"In L.A., the land of pretty people, I was never as good-looking as the model cats that would get up there and sing," says Van Over. "But I would smoke every one of them." His perseverance paid off when, through a friend, he was able to pass along his demo to Kid Rock at an L.A. Lakers basketball game.

"His voice was incredible, and he was a great songwriter," Kid Rock says, explaining why he promptly phoned Van Over, set up a small showcase, and signed him to his Top Dog Records label. "Artists are usually just train wrecks. He's very focused."

Van Over began honing his skills at Kenyon, strumming guitar as a first-year in Mather Residence. "When we met as freshmen he was a staunch Republican who was very interested in politics," says Nate McDonald '98, Van Over's Kenyon roommate and currently a law student in Cleveland. "When we were learning to play he was just kind of singing karaoke style; he was real good at imitating different singers."

By his junior year, as he was becoming more dedicated to music while floating along on a B average, Van Over also befriended Jack Pratt '98, the eventual lead guitarist in his college band, Fly Ry and the Blues Child.

"I was trying to play all sorts of Bob Dylan, and [Van Over] kept busting out all these original songs, and they were good," says Pratt, who now works as chief of staff for U.S. Representative Steve Israel, a New York Democrat.

Fly Ry and the Blues Child won a battle of the bands in the spring of Van Over's senior year--by playing Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally" and the Elvis staple, "Suspicious Minds"--and thereby got to open at the biggest gig on campus, the Summer Sendoff concert.

Today Van Over is finalizing a deal with Atlantic Records, also home to Kid Rock's string of multiplatinum albums. He has thirty-five songs already recorded from which to choose a debut album that should be released by the end of the year.

That should give him the confidence to make a return to Kenyon for his tenth reunion. He skipped his fifth because he was embarrassed. "I was flipping hamburgers," he says. "It was hard to be in a business where success is so feast or famine. To be in the famine is very difficult. But when you're in the feast, it's awesome."

Van Over whimsically envisions a rock-star entrance at his ten-year reunion. "I'm gonna helicopter right in," he laughs. "I'm gonna land right in front of Peirce."

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