Kelly Joe Phelps

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Kelly Joe Phelps
Background information
Born(1959-10-05)October 5, 1959
Sumner, Washington, U.S.
DiedMay 31, 2022(2022-05-31) (aged 62)
Iowa, U.S.
GenresBlues, folk, Americana, gospel
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter
Instrument(s)Acoustic guitar, slide guitar
LabelsBurnside, Rykodisc, Rounder, Black Hen

Kelly Joe Phelps (October 5, 1959 – May 31, 2022)[1] was 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 Mississippi Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.[3][5] He initially gained notice for his solo lapstyle slide guitar,[6] which he played by laying the instrument flat and fretting it with a heavy steel bar. 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]

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

Phelps is featured in the 2011 book I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt. In 2017, he was profiled in the UK music blog the Immortal Jukebox.[8]

Phelps died in Iowa on May 31, 2022.[9]


With others[edit]

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". Archived from the original on 2013-03-15. 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. Archived from the original on 2016-04-02. Retrieved 2019-07-18.
  8. ^ "Review". ThomHickey. 2 March 2017. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  9. ^ Kelly Joe Phelps, blues and country musician, dies aged 62. The Guardian (UK). Retrieved June 21, 2022.

External links[edit]