|   |  3 min read

Kelly Joe Phelps: Sometimes a Drifter

Although The Edge from U2 is on record saying, "Kelly Joe Phelps is a great example of what the modern blues is all about" there's a lot more to the man than that, as his answers below illustrate.

From Washington state, Phelps started out in jazz as a bassist for 10 years but then worked his way into various kinds of roots music when picking up slide guitar. He must be one the very few -- perhaps even alone in this -- who can claim to have recorded with Townes Van Zandt, the singer-poet Greg Brown and avant-guitarist Bill Frisell. And have a love of classical music.

He's toured with Lucinda Williams and Madeline Peyroux, but mostly takes his own path . . . which is leading him to New Zealand for a tour with the country-bluegrass duo Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms (dates below).

With 10 albums behind him and guesting on albums by the likes of Rory Block, Jay Farrar and Bo Ramsey, KJP is a one-of-a-kind performer, and on his most recent album Brother Sinner and the Whale he takes his bluegrass blues towards spirituals in places.

A singular singer-songwriter, he here answers our Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire. 

The first piece of music which really affected you was . . .
Burl Ives singing “Would You Like To Swing On A Star.”

Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .
Buck Owens

Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana, Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?
All of this is the same to me. No reason to choose between them. I don’t pay much--if any--attention to pop music anyway, so I’m the wrong person to ask.

If music was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .
Working for the Forest Service

The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear are . . .
The hymn, “Just As I Am,” Keith Jarrett’s “My Song,” and Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13.”

Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home?
I still have my Dad’s guitar, a ‘50s Gibson ES 125, beat to heck, holes everywhere, barely alive, the best neck ever put on a guitar. Every guitar should feel so awesome in someone’s hands!

The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
“How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life,” by John Fahey.

If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . . (And you would play?)
Bill Evans. And I would play bass exactly like Scott LaFaro did.

The three films you'd insist anybody watch because they might understand you better are . . .
The Sound Of Music, The Night Of The Hunter, The Lost Weekend.

The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
Horowitz playing Chopin, and The Brothers of the Valaam Monastery

One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .
Let It Be

The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
The cover of Miles Davis’ record “Seven Steps To Heaven.”

kellyjoeYou are allowed just one tattoo, and it is of . . .
A tattoo I already have, which is the skull of a pirate chanting “be kind.”

David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?
Deep in the woods, growing vegetables, playing banjo, staying very quiet, moving very slowly, trying to notice how softly the seasons change.

And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best album ever?”
Can’t say it’s my best album! How could one say that? It’s the most representative of who I am as an artist at the moment, though, being the most recent. The best? Hmmm, time will tell.

Kelly Joe Phelps and Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms New Zealand Tour 2013

AUCKLAND – Wednesday 20 November The Kings Arms

TAURANGA – Thursday 21 November, Tauranga Art Gallery

NEW PLYMOUTH – Friday 22 November – 4th Wall Theatre

MASTERTON – Saturday 23 November – King Street Live

WELLINGTON – Sunday 24 November – San Francisco Bath House

NELSON – Thursday 28 November – Nelson School of Music

CHRISTCHURCH – Friday 29 November – Naval Point Yacht Club, Lyttelton

DUNEDIN Saturday 30 November – North East Valley Baptist Church(*Kelly Joe Phelps Solo*)

WANAKA – Sunday 1 December – Rippon Hall (Kelly Joe Phelps with Warren Maxwell & Gerry Paul)

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   The Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire articles index



New Zealand band Clap Clap Riot have had -- for two terrific albums now -- a mainline into edgy pop which works around those core values of energy, economy and indivduality. Their debut album... > Read more

THE ELSEWHERE SONGWRITER QUESTIONNAIRE: University of Auckland songwriter finalist Stevii Hill

THE ELSEWHERE SONGWRITER QUESTIONNAIRE: University of Auckland songwriter finalist Stevii Hill

Every year many of the students in Auckland University's popular music course enter a Songwriter of the Year competition in which they perform their original songs backed by a professional band... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Bob Marley and the Wailers: Kaya

Bob Marley and the Wailers: Kaya

Coming between the mighty Exodus of '77 and the subsequent studio album Survival (also equally political and righteous), Kaya was a breathing space where Marley mostly engaged with the One Love... > Read more



In his subject-shifting epic Brownsville Girl of 1986, Bob Dylan sang, “I'm standin' in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck, Yeah, but you know it's not the one that I had... > Read more