Kelly Joe Phelps

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Kelly Joe Phelps
Kelly Joe Phelps.jpg
Background information
Born (1959-10-05) October 5, 1959 (age 57)
Sumner, Washington, United States
Origin Portland, Oregon
Genres Blues, folk, Americana, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, guitarist
Instruments Acoustic guitar, slide guitar
Labels Burnside Records, Rykodisc, Rounder, Black Hen Music
Associated acts Corinne West

Kelly Joe Phelps (born October 5, 1959, Sumner, Washington, United States)[1] is an American musician and songwriter. His music has been characterized as a mixture of delta blues and jazz.[2]


Kelly Joe Phelps grew up in Sumner, Washington, a blue-collar farming town. He learned country and folk songs, as well as drums and piano, from his father. He began playing guitar at age twelve.[3]

Phelps concentrated on free jazz and took his cues from musicians like Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. He spent 10 years playing jazz, mostly as a bass player.[4] He refers to his "conversion" to a blues musician when he began listening to acoustic blues masters like Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.[3][5]

Initially gaining notice for his solo lapstyle slide guitar playing,[6] which he played by laying the instrument flat and fretting it with a heavy steel bar, he has incorporated more ensemble work in his later albums. Inspired by the birth of his daughter Rachel in 1990, Phelps began writing songs. He began singing and released his critically praised debut, Lead Me On, in 1995.[5] This album showcased Phelps' craft, and as well as his own songs, he tackled traditional numbers such as "Motherless Children" and "Fare Thee Well."

He released his second album, the gospel influenced Roll Away the Stone (1997) and followed it up with 1999's, Shine Eyed Mister Zen.

His fourth record, Sky Like a Broken Clock, appeared in 2001. This time he was joined by a bassist and a drummer - its companion piece, Beggar's Oil EP, was a critic's favourite in 2002.[citation needed] In order to achieve a richer, orchestrated sound on Slingshot Professionals, released in 2003, he collected a wider collection of musicians to play guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, violin, and accordion.

In 2005, Phelps released a live album, Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind, which was followed a year later by the studio album Tunesmith Retrofit. In 2009 he released an album of instrumentals titled Western Bell. Following the release of that CD, he began recording and touring with the American singer-songwriter Corinne West. In January 2013, he announced that he was taking a hiatus from touring due to ulnar neuropathy in his right hand and arm.[7]

Phelps is featured in the book I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt.


With other artists[edit]

  • Paul Curreri: Songs for Devon Sproule (City Salvage Records) – producer, slide guitar on "Crozet Trestle Bridge"
  • Zubot and Dawson: Chicken Scratch (True North Records) – vocals, acoustic guitar on "Hellhound on My Trail" and "May You Never"
  • Jay Farrar: Sebastopol (Artemis Records) – slide guitar on "Outside The Door"
  • Rory Block: I'm Every Woman (Rounder Records) – slide guitar and lead vocals on "Pretty Polly"
  • Linda Tillery and The Cultural Heritage Choir: Say Yo' Business (a live recording) (Earthbeat Records R2 76762) – slide guitar on "Spirituals Medley" and slide guitar, lead vocals on "Ain't No Mo' Cane On Dis Brazos"
  • Tim O'Brien: The Crossing (Alula Records ALU-1014) – lap slide guitar on "John Riley"
  • Greg Brown: Slant 6 Mind (Red House Records RHR CD 98) – lap steel guitar on "Speaking in Tongues", lap slide on "Vivid"
  • Greg Brown: Further In (Red House Records RHR CD 88) – lap slide guitar on "Small Dark Movie", "Think About You", "China" and "Someday When We're Both Alone"
  • Tony Furtado: Roll My Blues Away (Rounder Records CD 0343) – lead vocals and lap slide guitar on "Willow Tree" and "Boat's up the River", lap slide guitar on "The Stark Raven" and "Bolinas"
  • Tony Furtado Band (Cojema Music CM-CD2001) – vocals to "False Hearted Lover", "Raleigh and Spencer" and "Mollie and Tenbrooks"
  • Martin Simpson: Cool & Unusual (Red House Records RHR CD110)
  • Louise Taylor: Ride (Signature Sounds SIG 1241) – lap slide guitar on "Roll Away Car" and "Islamorada"
  • Bo Ramsey: In the Weeds (Trailer Records trailer 10) – lap steel guitar on "Precious" and "King of Clubs"
  • Townes Van Zandt: The Highway Kind (Normal Records (France) 201 CD) – dobro on "Banks of the Ohio" and "Ira Hayes"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Skelly, Richard. Biography for Kelly Joe Phelps at AllMusic. Retrieved January 2008.
  2. ^ Ann Powers, The New York Times, February 9, 2000.
  3. ^ a b "kjppt1". Retrieved 2014-06-14. 
  4. ^ "Towne Crier Interview". Retrieved 2014-06-14. 
  5. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues - From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. pp. 154–155. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  6. ^ "Obama To Mark Anniversary Of Sept. 11 | New Hampshire Public Radio". 2012-09-11. Retrieved 2014-06-14. 
  7. ^ "News". KellyJoePhelps. Retrieved 2014-06-14. 

External links[edit]