Kelly Joe Phelps

Genres: Blues
Decades: 1990s 2000s


5 October 1959, Sumner, Washington, USA. Spending his youth moving across genres, travelling from blues to rock to folk to be-bop to ‘free’ music, Phelps underwent a Damascene conversion at the age of 30 when he heard a record by Mississippi Fred McDowell. What began as an exploration of lap-style slide guitar techniques led to a spiritual and musical breakthrough. Phelps applied himself to mastering ‘picking’ with his bare fingers until the callouses were tough enough for him to play at full volume. He applied the same dedication to honing his singing technique, treating his voice as just another instrument in his repertoire. Paradoxically, it is this commitment to technical perfection which is the base for his personal expressiveness.

Phelps’ first album, Lead Me On, released on the Portland, Oregon independent Burnside Records in 1994, demonstrated his deep empathy with diverse heroes such as Blind Willie Johnson,...

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by Kelly Joe Phelps