there is such a thing as a British 'blues pedigree', then Dave Kelly's
sets the standard. Dave is a blues craftsman - a journeyman who has
served his time with the best.
In New York he jammed with Muddy Waters. He
became a friend to Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker. It was Dave's big
sister, the late Jo-Ann Kelly, who first opened his ears to the blues,
although his passion for rock and roll - and especially the work of
Buddy Holly - remains intact. In 1967 he joined The John Dummer Blues
Band and he has continued to polish his style and technique throughout
an adventurous career with some of Britain's finest players. When The
Blues Band was formed in 1979, the post of slide guitarist and joint
vocalist was a foregone conclusion - and bringing his friend, the
bassist Gary Fletcher, along to that first rehearsal, was a bonus. Dave
Kelly's guitar and vocals form the very backbone of The Blues Band's
The Blues Band Website.
I met up with Dave after
his acoustic gig with Maggie Bell at the Skegness Rock & Blues Festival,
Alan: What are your first musical memories growing up in
Dave: Gramophone records really. My parents had a
collection of 78s, Western Swing, Woodman Spare that Tree – you know,
things that parents of that generation had on 78s. But I was always
fascinated by the whole thing of this music coming out of this box.
Alan: Did you always want to become a musician?
Dave: It never occurred to me really that you could do that
sort of thing. With the skiffle boom I traded my electric train set for
a 4 string guitar at a second hand shop. The 4 string was good! F was
just two strings and so it was much easier to learn all the chords and
then when I got a six string it wasn’t too hard to learn the barring.
I’m teaching my 11 year old daughter at the moment and the barring is
the difficult thing just from the point of view of strings. My parents
bought me a book but it wasn’t what I wanted. It was single note stuff
and I just wanted to play skiffle so I went down the local and they had
a skiffle group and the guy showed me chords and I went from there.
Alan: So how did you get started in music?
Dave: I was playing in about ‘64 when I was about 17 and
still at school, just doing floor spots and clubs like the Half Moon at
Putney. Jo-Ann, my sister, is 3 years older than me so I’d go around
with her. At the end of the school year, the Head called me in and said
“There’s not much point in you coming back next year is there?” so I
said, “I suppose not”. “ You’re not doing any work are you?” he said
and I had to say, “No”.
seemed to go down okay when I played but around that time Jo and I met
Tony McPhee. She was doing folky stuff originally but McPhee turned us
onto Robert Johnson and showed us how to tune a guitar to play slide.
In ’66 I went to the States for the summer and I played some floor spots
there and got invited to join three bands in one night. I haven’t a clue
who they were but I wasn’t interested in staying in the States. I
decided not to get a job when I got home and made myself do music.
Alan: So what first attracted you to the blues?
Dave: I always liked music and I always thought that 'Woodman
Spare That Tree' thing was different to Doris Day and Vera Lynn and all
that stuff, and then I found skiffle and it made me look at Leadbelly,
Bill Bill Broonzy, Leroy Carr, Donegan. I was aware that skiffle was
different to rock and roll even though it was the same three chords. So, it
was a slow dawning really – I liked rock and roll and Buddy Holly,
Hayley and Elvis. Then Jo bought a Little Richard album and I was, just
“What the hell is that? What is this music??” I liked the edgy stuff,
and still do.
Alan: So which blues artists do you admire?
Dave: Most of them. The one who’ve had the biggest
influences on me were Johnson, obviously; Son House because he always
goes for it; Muddy Waters, Elmore, the wonderful Howlin' Wolf, Hubert and Buddy
Guy. I can’t play like Buddy Guy but I play with his attitude. He’s
got the most beautiful skills as does Hubert. Everyone has a nickname
and it should be Hubert
Here is a YouTube clip of Jo-Ann Kelly playing
'Louisiana Blues' with Son House
Alan: I read somewhere that you quite admire Fred McDowell.
Dave: Oh yeah, I should have mentioned him. By the time he came
over it was a link back to the early stuff we were listening to. You
know the story of Booker White playing his first album to Memphis
Minnie? And Minnie saying, “I stopped playing like that in the 20s!”.
We got to know Fred and myself and Jo recorded with him, and we loved
all that sort of right-hand rhythm stuff.
Alan: The North Mississippi blues style in a way.
Dave: Yes, he’s another one that’s played my old
Harvey that I must get back.
It’s been played by Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Fred McDowell, Big
Joe Williams. In fact, Howlin' Wolf broke it!
Alan: Tell me about the time you played with Howlin' Wolf, John Lee
Hooker and the others.
Dave: I toured with Wolf at the end of the 60s in the Dummer Band.
It was fantastic. We set up in the pub and Wolf came in with his tour
manager and said, “Hi, I’m the Wolf”. We thought we were going to
rehearse with him but he said, “Play me something”. So we played a
shuffle, and he went “Mmm, mmm. Play me a blues” and he said “Mmm, mmm.
That’s fine. See you tomorrow”. It was like that the rest of the tour.
He never told us what he was going to play, what key it was in and you
just had to pick it up quickly. He was fantastic and we did some great
gigs on that tour.
did two tours with Hooker. I’d known him for a couple of years through
McPhee and Jo. Paul [Jones] tells the story of the Manfreds backing Sonny Boy
Williamson and only lasting one gig because Manfred and Vickers were
trained musicians and thought there were 12 bars in a 12 bar blues.
With John, you just had to listen and then you’d just know when he was
going to change, even if it was 13 and a half bars, there’d be some
nuance in the voice or a little guitar lick.
didn’t actually play with Muddy but I played for him in ’66 in New York.
We went to see him at the Village Gates. Muddy was top of the bill, then Herbie Mann and then New Rules. They did 45 minutes then 15 minute
change over, then 45 minutes...and they went from 9 o’clock to 4 in the
morning. It was fantastic and it cost pennies. In Muddy’s second set
he said, “We’ve got a man from out of town going to come up and sing
with us”, and in came John Lee Hooker. I already knew John so I sent
word with the waiter that Dave Kelly’s here from London and the waiter
came back and said, “Your table is invited to go back and meet everyone
during the next break.” So we went back and it was lovely with Muddy
handing round beers and wine for the ladies. Being a brash 19 year old
there was an acoustic guitar in there so I picked it up and retuned it
Muddy said “what are you doing” and John said, “He’s retuning it to
Spanish”. So I got my slide out and played Walking Blues and he
laughed and said, “No, you’re doing that wrong” and he showed me a
little two-finger chord that I still use now. So then I started playing
one of John’s songs and he found that funny as well.
Alan: What’s your favourite guitar?
Dave: I’ve had my Gibson SG since ’67 or ’68. My girlfriend
was a student teacher and I had to go and collect her grant. You
got it in cash in those days
- and I said I'm really into music and there's this Gibson here - she
said you'd better get it. I paid her back of course. Other than that, I love my
Gibson acoustic and I’ve recently dug out my Gibson
Kalamazoo acoustic which I’ve had
for a while but my son started playing at home and I’ve remembered again
how nice it is. For years I had a Guild D28 which was fantastic but it
was stolen and I thought I’d never replace it. The Gibson acoustic I
got in an auction for £800 and it’s lovely.
Alan: Are there any particular songs you play which have special
meaning to you?
Death Letter at
too many funerals for friends and relations. I still love doing
[Fred McDowell's] 'Write Me A Few Short Lines'.
Here is a YouTube clip of Dave playing 'Write Me A
Few Short Lines'
Alan: Tell me about your time with the John Dummer Blues Band.
Dave: I joined them in ’67. Paul rang me and asked if I’d like to
do it to replace Roger Pearce who was leaving. I had this Harmony
Sovereign guitar and I knew he had a pick-up for it and I was asking for
the pick-up so I started playing acoustic guitar with the band. That
was for two or two and a half years with a lot of schlepping up and down motorways
and going to Scandinavia. It was a good band, one of those that when
it’s good it was very very good but when it’s bad it was horrid. I
don’t think we had the experience to know how to control the sound.
It’s not like these days when you have a perfect PA and the only thing
we knew how to do was get louder. When it was good, it was really
cooking but it ran it’s time and we came back from a tour and had two
weeks off then the tour manager put all these extra gigs in but that’s
when I said “that’s enough”. I did say to them that to replace me they
should get Nick Pickett, he’s a songwriter who plays guitar and fiddle.
And they said “Right”, got him in and then they had a million seller
with Nine by Nine!
Alan: You mentioned the Jo-Ann had a musical partnership with Tony McPhee for a while. How did that come about?
Dave: We all used to hang around the Swing Shop, a jazz record
shop in Streatham and that was part of how it all developed. Within
striking distance of each other was Bob Hall, Steve Rice, Simon Prader,
Jo-Ann and me, McPhee – we all lived in that South London Wandle Delta. The
Swing Shop used to get blues records in, not because he wanted to but he
used to get a shipment of cheap second-hand stuff from the US and he
never knew what he was going to get. It could be Elmore, Hooker, the
old Crown label, and we’d hang around waiting to see what was coming
in. Lisa Turner, the folk singer, lived around there too and her
husband, Reg Turner, was into blues and he brought a National which we’d
never seen before - a tin guitar, blimey!
Alan: Jo-Ann and yourself are the nucleus of Tramp, together with
members of Fleetwood Mac. Tell me about how you got that together.
Dave: That was Bob Hall and Bob Brunning. They did this deal with
Peer Southern Publishing to do
this album and he had Bob as a temporary bass player before Green left
for Mayall. We got Mick and Danny Kenyon. Pete couldn’t do that one
but Peter did a couple of other things. He played on a couple of my
albums. Bob and Bob put it together and we just got in the studio,
worked the lyrics up in the studio and just did it. It was fun.
Alan: An obvious question but I still want to know – the Blues Band
has been together for over 30 years so what’s the secret of your
Dave: Don’t travel together! If we go to Germany or Scandinavia
we do, but otherwise we don’t. You’re not always waiting for the same
person to be the last one out of the hotel. We don’t particularly
socialise together, we turn up at the gig half an hour before, we’ve got
a great crew so generally we don’t have to set up, we don’t have a
set-list, we just turn up, never know what’s going to get thrown at
Alan: How did the Dave Kelly Band come about?
Dave: When the Blues Band split up in ’82, it just seemed the
obvious thing to do. We had a certain amount of kudos and it was good.
Then we sort of got it together again with Christine Collister three or
years ago and we did three tours and an album, and it was the basis of
The Dave Kelly Band with Pete Emery on guitar, Pete Filleul on
keyboards, Gary Fletcher on bass and Pick Withers on drums originally,
then my son Sam Kelly. It's a band where
there were five
singers. Christine and I were lead but we had enough others to do some
fantastic harmonies and we did folky stuff, country stuff, soul, blues,
anything. I loved it. I love country music so it was a great
opportunity to do Guy Clark songs, especially with Christine who is a
fantastic singer. But that’s sort of gone into abeyance at the moment.
Christine is on a round the world with Corinne Bailey Rae so good
luck to them.
Meanwhile I’m doing duos with Maggie Bell and Paul and I also do duos, and in April I’m doing shows
with Maggie and the British Blues Quintet Band. We had such fun doing our acoustic duos
and we thought it’d be nice to do something with the band . We might do
one tour a year. It’s a nice situation in that Paul, Tom and Rob do
the Manfreds as well so there’s always these nice spaces to do something
Alan: Any sign of an album coming out?
Dave: Mag and I have been talking about an acoustic album but we
still haven’t go around to it. The Blues Band started a studio album a
year and a bit ago, but, well it’s just time. We need time to move it
on a bit. It’s nearly all there but Al Cooper is going to put some
keyboards on it and we’ve got a few other guests. But no rush.
Alan: Dave, thank you very much indeed.
Here are Dave and Maggie playing 'I Just Want
To Make Love to You'
At Skegness Rock & Blues Festival 2010
Here are Dave and Maggie playing 'House of The
at The Half Moon, Putney, London December 2009
Here are Dave and Maggie playing 'Lonely Avenue'
Live at The Ram Jam Club
The Dave Kelly Band
Blues Interviews List
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