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Blues Fest 2007: Capturing Magic - Kelly Richey: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Bandshell Stage PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 27 June 2007 03:02

Kelly Richey "I'm not sure there's an owner's manual to this business that can truly enlighten one," says blues musician Kelly Richey, "but I did know that I was the type of artist that wasn't gonna be happy if I couldn't do it my own way."

The guitarist and singer/songwriter is explaining her decision to form her own label - Sweet Lucy Records - and build what she calls "a very high-end studio" in her Cincinnati home. But she may as well be describing her career as a whole, as Richey has insisted on doing things her way ever since she picked up her first guitar - an electric one, no less - as a teenager.

"I just wanted an electric guitar," she says, with a good-natured laugh, during a recent phone interview. "I was a little bit of a rowdy teenager, so having a little bit of volume behind me was something that was very appealing at the time."

Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, the musician says she "grew up in the church, playin' music and singin'." As her mother was a classically-trained pianist, the piano was the first instrument Richey attempted in her youth, which was followed, in her early teens, by the drums.

But the 44-year-old Richey admits that those instruments took an immediate backseat when, as a teenager, she first heard Jimi Hendrix play.

"My parents weren't these strict, religious people that didn't like rock music," she says, "It just wasn't their kind of music. So I didn't grow up with the Beatles and Hendrix and the '60s music that a lot of my friends did. So when I discovered Hendrix, he'd been dead for a number of years.

"I'd never heard those sounds before," she continues. "The first Hendrix tune I ever heard was ‘... And the Gods Made Love' - I didn't know the guitar could make those kinds of noises! So that kind of opened the can of worms. It was like, ‘Oh, Led Zeppelin! The Rolling Stones! The Beatles!' When I discovered this music ... I mean it was life-changing. I couldn't get enough of it."

Securing a guitar of her own proved surprisingly easy. "Actually, my dad told me if I got rid of the drums, he'd get me anything I wanted," Richey recalls with a laugh. "He bought me the smallest amp he could find, thinking, ‘Oh, she'll outgrow it.' Boy, I loved it." And she loved it so much she admits to practicing some 12 hours a day, and carrying her guitar with her nearly everywhere she went. ("They disconnected a lot of the outlets at school," Richey jokes. "I would play and so many people would gather around they couldn't get to class.")

Richey's professional career began as a member of Lexington's acoustic folk ensemble Stealin' Horses, which the musician toured with for roughly four years. Yet realizing, as she says, that "there were things that I needed in that band that they couldn't provide," Richey opted to pursue a solo career, and with the blessing of Stealin' Horses' co-founder, singer/songwriter Kiya Heartwood.

"She was like, ‘Kelly, you really need to put together your own band,'" recalls Richey. "‘You need to go do that, because you're not being fair to yourself if you don't.'"

Her solo career began to take off through another collaboration - one with legendary blues artists Albert King, whom Richey met in Nashville in 1988.

"We had a long talk," says Richey, " and I was just young enough, and just dumb enough, to ask if I could sit in [on his set]. And he said, ‘Well ... yeah ... I guess if you show up with your guitar you could play.' And so I showed up with a guitar and an amp.

Kelly Richey "It was just one of those things that you look back on and say, ‘Man, I'm glad I didn't know any better,' 'cause I'd have been scared to death."

Yet play at King's sold-out concert she did. "He sent me out before he started, he kept me up the entire night, and he left me up when he was done. And he gave me a lead in every song. That was like my kindergarten through master's program - bam! - all in one night," she says with a laugh. "That really began my blues journey."

It's a journey that, nearly two decades later, hasn't ended yet.

"I'm more excited about my career now than I think I've ever been," the musician says of working with her collaborators in the Kelly Richey Band. "I'm working with some great writers - I have more material to pick from now than I've ever had - and the rhythm section I have now ... it's really cool. We're all kind of at that point where we're just really excited to be playing with each other."

And Richey reserves special praise for bass player Jimmy Valdez and percussionist Shane Frye, with whom the musician says she is currently "the happiest I've ever been. And I've been doin' this a while. We really like each other, and we have fun - it can really be hell out on the road if you don't like who you're with, but you know, everybody has a good sense of humor.

"And, man, you need one," she adds, laughing.

Considering the musician's contentment with both her band and their recent output, the time seemed right for Richey to finally fulfill her dream of a home studio, which the musician says has been an invaluable addition to her home - and her career.

"I was just so frustrated of going in the studio [elsewhere]," she admits. "You know, the clock's tickin', we've got this many days to do this ... . So I really wanted to create an environment where, whenever I felt inspired, not only could I write and record, but I could take time with my tracks and really, you know, capture magic.

"Sometimes it just takes the stars being in alignment," she says of the present state of her career, "where you actually have the right people you're playing with, you have the right material, and you have the right environment to work in. I have a nice team of people around me now, all the pieces and parts are there - I think the sky's the limit.

"Sure, I think everybody'd love to be rich and famous. If anybody says they wouldn't, well ... okay," Richey adds with a laugh. "But the most important thing to me is to be happy and to play great music, you know? We have great gigs, I have a great band, we're doing what we love, and I've done music exclusively for years. What more could I ask for?"


For more information on Richey, visit (

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