After logging 800,000 miles touring (that’s 1,287,480 km), releasing 13 albums and garnering countless comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin, Cincinnati-based Kelly Richey has very little left to prove. She’s opened for Edgar Winter, George Thorogood, Warren Zevon and James Brown, teaches guitar, began her own non-profit company and has been included on multiple best guitarist lists. So, why the heck isn’t her name appearing on marquees worldwide?
The biggest reason is that Richey has been fiercely DIY since her teens after performing with Stealin’ Horses for a year on Arista Records and realizing the importance of artistic control. She developed a signature sound that features commanding, squealing notes inspired by her more muscular guitar-slinging heroes, and throaty, husky vocals channeled through a driving power trio. Given her blues rock leanings, it’s almost surprising her business model came from anti-folk hero, Ani DiFranco.
“It was like, here is a woman with an acoustic guitar that’s going to make her own record, sell her own records, and take control of her destiny. I liked that,” recalls Richey. Take control she did: her company, Sweet Lucy Records, released Carry the Light in 2008 and Finding My Way Back Home in early 2012. The latter was inspired by a break from music in 2010 after she had “outgrown that dream” of pursuing music due to the associated tasks of being DIY.
“You know, it was like, this was just too much driving, too much work and the last thing I got to do on my list was play music,” recalls Richey. Eventually she returned to solo work, realizing she could do music and still be happy.
“I was definitely a lot more healthy, I had rejuvenated my soul, I regained my health, I was very strong,” she reveals.
Her talented style has always sounded insatiable and raw, so it seemed inevitable she would return, while the logistic work that goes into it comes through in the huge force she projects from those six strings.
“It was really the driving force behind my guitar style. When I get onstage, I gotta play. I didn’t drive 7,000 miles to get here! No way. So, there is a certain veracity in my playing that is kind of hard to find that is fuelled by those elements.”
It also comes from her exposure to gospel music in church; she understood its transformative power. Just as impactful was a drum kit she received in her early teens from a neighbour and gigged for a few years before switching.
“When I look at a guitar, I look at it in a simple way, more like a set of drums, a percussive instrument,” describes Richey. “That’s why you don’t hear deep jazz or all these wild scales, I take simple scales and make them sound wild and sound deep.”
She continues, “When I write, I typically turn to the blues format and put it on steroids.” She says the music is “all about the feel and the groove and the syncopation. When it syncs and locks together. That’s why I like a three-piece band.”
When Richey putters into Calgary, she will be joined by bassist Jimmy V. and drummer Danne Sheets Jr. to perform a mix of her songs and a couple favourite covers. An introspective break has left her more focused on making sure elements of her style “come to life” and maintaining a happy balance, even if it means having to break down her daily 600-item to do list to “a reasonable 450.”
Watch The Kelly Richey Band in Calgary at the Blues Can on Friday, September 7 and Saturday, September 8.
By Sarah Kitteringham
Photo: Michael Wilson