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Kelly Joe Phelps

Vancouver, Washington-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps continues to expand the parameters of modern blues through his strong commitment to literary songs and his expressive yet simple guitar stylings. While casual listeners may call Phelps a bluesman, his playing is so fluid, dexterous, and improvised he obviously has the soul of a jazz musician. Phelps was raised in a music-loving household in Sumner, Washington, near Tacoma. The son of Seventh Day Adventist parents, Phelps' father was an air conditioning and refrigeration specialist and his mother worked as a housewife and Tupperware salesperson. "They didn't have a large record collection," he recalled in a 2000 interview, "but the influence from them musically was the fact that they played music, at home, almost daily." Phelps' parents didn't play music for religious reasons, but merely for emotional ones. Phelps' father played guitar, fiddle, piano, and harmonica while his mother played guitar and some banjo. His father liked country & western music, but also developed an ear for blues, and brought home albums by Meade "Lux" Lewis, Pete Johnson, and other boogie-woogie piano players. "I can remember being five or six and hearing him beat out these boogie-woogie tunes on piano," Phelps recalled.

Phelps got interested in jazz guitar when he was in his teens, so he ended up paying equally close attention to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Led Zeppelin. Phelps switched from jazz to blues while he was still living in Portland, Oregon, because he saw the blues as a way to continue expanding his parameters and challenging himself. He moved from Seattle down to Portland, Oregon in 1980, and there he found equally vibrant jazz and blues scenes. He began to hit the jazz clubs and heard live jazz in clubs four and five nights a week. He spent the better part of the next 10 years playing bass in small jazz groups, but at home and in private, he would continue to play guitar, occasionally experimenting with a slide, to coax bluesier tunes from his instrument. In the late '80s, Phelps heard an album by classic acoustic bluesman Mississippi Fred MacDowell that turned his career around. "Once I heard the country blues players, I wanted to figure out a way to improvise like a jazz musician would, but at the same time play a style of music that was more closely linked to folk forms," he recalled. Like a jazz musician, he reads his audiences carefully and works without the aid of a song list at his live shows. Phelps' debut for Burnside Records led him to American Records, but after that company folded, he got picked up by Rykodisc. That company in turn was acquired in part by Palm Pictures, an interactive music/film company run by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.

Like any good bluesman, Phelps averages more than 200 nights a year on the road, and always carries a notebook with him, jotting down song ideas as they pop up. But, like so many others, he does the vast majority of his songwriting at home. Fortunately, Phelps' parents have come out to see him at gigs around Washington state and witnessed some of his success in packing theaters, festivals, and large coffee houses. His recordings include Lead Me On, his 1994 debut for the Portland-based Burnside Records label, followed in 1997 by Roll Away the Stone for Rykodisc. His other releases for Rykodisc include Shine Eyed Mister Zen, in 1999 and Sky Like a Broken Clock, in 2001. Since 2001, other releases include the Beggar's Oil EP, Slingshot Professionals, Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind, Tunesmith Retrofit, the last a 2006 release for Rounder Records, and 2009's Western Bell, his first for the Black Hen label. By blues standards, Phelps is young, so there's much more to come from this free-thinking, innovative, groundbreaking songwriter, singer, and guitarist. In 2010, Phelps took a left turn with Magnetic Skyline, a collaborative project with singer and songwriter Corinne West. Phelps released Brother Sinner & the Whale, in 2012; the set was a collection of mostly original blues and folk tunes tunes about spiritual themes; it was produced by Steve Dawson. ~ Richard Skelly, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Can't say enough good things about his live shows. For songs that are often pretty deep and sometimes sad, you really don't expect him to be absolutely hilarious in between songs, but he is.
good... I mean not bad!
yet, one more one-of-a-kin d . . . p u r e and glad he shares his wares.
Absolute perfection. Discovered him on a William Elliott Whitmore station. Consider me obsessed.
I've seen KJP and talked with him...helluv a guy, very talented! Love his music!
damn thats good thanks
steve has one of the deepest throats i have ever known,i miss it terribly
yo steve,r u a merchant banker?
Anybody seen this cat live? Sounds great, just curious what Mr Phelps is all about!?
I meant KJP...
My wife, kids and I saw KJF in Telluride about 10 years ago. We were there to see Greg Brown and KellyJoe stole the show!
That sounded like I was stoned.... oh I am!!!!!
I just like his stuff!!! I don't know anything else!
s.thomas733
He is one of the deepest slide players I've ever heard. I play lapsteel, and his fluidity and alternate bass/melody is extremely difficult to master. He needs to revisit this style as he is one of the best. His slide playing helped me through a bad break up in 2002. Currently he's doing only fingerstyle playing. Kelly... Please slide again. I miss it terribly.... .
omg i'm freaking in love
drrhill6
I stumbled across KJP while perusing the blues section at one of those big headphone station music stores in 2002. He has greatly influenced my back porch guitar crooning. We recently moved to WA and caught his show at the Green Frog Acoustic Tavern in Bellingham a few weeks ago. A great spinner of soulful stories and a delightfully humble and approachable personality.
thanks, Pandora! Never would have met Kelly Joe Phelps without you!
So good to hear a local boy play like this
Really Nice.
ddiersen1
Found KJP while listening to Chris Whitley on Pandora. Within the month I had bought every disc. I am completely trashed on his art. THANK YOU PANDORA!!
Truly gifted
tinamcdermot t
I think I'm in love.
love voice, guitar would like to see him !
In the same spirit as Taj Mahal. Kelly Joe Phelps is a great find.
letskeepinto u c h 1
smooth easy listening
homeloft
Delicious. He obviously has the soul of a Bluesman...
Ive been listening to Kellly joe since 96 and Ive seen him in DesMoines Iowa, Manhatten Kansas, and Decatur Georgia. What a great time at all of them.
Never heard of him before today, but his lyrics and guitar style sucked me right in. I am a fan now!
bontruk
Never heard of this guy until today on "Bert Jansch Radio". I love his style of blues and love that it's influenced by other styles of music while being very personal.
alfredcordow a y
Modern but stickin to the roots blues man. Awesome!
paulh014
saw him play the wedding march at a good freinds wedding and was blown away
Man, Pandora is great. I discovered Kelly Joe Phelps on Robert Johnson radio
tingtingmill e r
wow - pulls me in!
ameo52
An incrediblly talented man...Total package!!!
coutin.dan
Great talent - so many great artists, so little time!
cdavisross
a favorite of mine and an old friend of my husband, can't wait to see him LIVE in The Dalles Civic Auditorium October 27th!
chiefalasia
Here stands a true professional ; a master of his craft: Kelly Phelps.
Few can transport like Kelly Joe Phelps...Chr i s Whitley comes to mind.
The White Keb-Mo... LOL
there aren't many musicians who have influenced me more than KJP. Truly one of the most enjoyable people to watch preform, and one who's lines circulate through the back of my mind where ever I do wander
Beautiful.
mkfs1956
Reminds me a little of David Crosby
Great song, the real deal, reminds me of Keb, as a player/groov e r I love an artist thats in my vocal range, sweet sounding guitar. I want to hear alot mo.
Good Music! Love blues & acoustic.
lucas.wilkin s o n
Thank you Pandora for introducing me to KJP!
lauralbernel l
Fantastic voice! Sounds like Ray Charles mixed with some older time delta blues singers. Love it! First Time I've heard it, too. DOES HE EVER PLAY IN THE BAY AREA???
annieykc
First time I've heard him - love it!
I saw/heard him open for BB King several years ago. Kelly Joe Phelps is awesome! Can't believe music so good came out of Vancouver, WA.
Simply the best guitarist and lyricist I've heard. Fell in love with the music immediately. Definitely need to play the NE. PLEASE!!!
Simply the BEST singer/songw r i t e r I've discovered since Chris Whitley!
PLEASE come tour the northeast!!
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