Kelly Joe Phelps


October 2, 1999

Kelly Joe Phelps



Kelly Joe Phelps plays acoustic country blues, and he does so with an achingly beautiful melancholy that is the emotional core of the music and the definitive trait of so many of the genre's legends: Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Pete Williams. He has always made his home in the state of Washington, about as far away from the Missisippi delta as you can get, but to hear him you'd never know it.

He comes from a musical family residing in the small town of Sumner, where Kelly Joe's earliest musical influences came from local radio and his family's country and gospel music. In his teens he took up guitar, drums and bass, and at 17 he began playing with local jazz musicians. He was attracted by the sounds of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis. "Jazz was the first musical style presented to me that was so involved in creativity but also expressed emotions in a very direct sense" he noted.

A little later and for the next 15 years, Kelly Joe became a private instructor in guitar, banjo and mandolin. He continued to evolve as a jazz performer, but somewhere along the line he began to feel unfulfilled. When he listened to a record called Long Way From Home by bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell, he knew he had found music which had the flow and freedom of jazz and added an emotional connection and earthy quality he had been missing. His latest CD, Roll Away the Stone, shows him to be a gifted and spiritual country blues artist whose performance you're sure to enjoy.