Saturday, October 5, 2013

13 Questions Kelly Joe Phelps

A brilliant improviser, Kelly Joe Phelps is known for his ability to put a new spin on a song every time he plays. "For me, the direction is always forward. I learn, experiment, experience, apply. Everything I'm doing now is deeply rooted in what I've done before, coupled with whatever sense of vision I've been fortunate enough to receive. I no more want to play, sing or write the way I did five years ago than want to live the life I had then. I change, the music changes, but it's a very straight line. It may appear to be a circle, but each individual recording exemplifies my current musical passions and explorations added to past influences and experience.”

1. Which was the first record you bought with your own money?
Stevie Wonder – Talking Book.

2. Which was the last record you bought with your own money?

The Musicians of the Nile – Charcoal Gypsies.

3. What was the first solo you learned from a record — and can you still play it?
I think it must have been something from the James Gang, although at this point I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. “Funk #49,” I think. I remember learning the guitar riffs in BTO’s “Taking Care of Business” and I remember working desperately hard on the solos in “Stairway To Heaven” Not the guitar part — although I did learn that as well — but the cool, lyrical stuff Page played in between Robert Plant’s wail, and gone. I can’t remember much about that anymore, either.

4. Which recording of your own (or as a sideman) are you most proud of, and why?
My record Shine Eyed Mister Zen holds a special place for me, in that it represents pretty clearly where I had been as well as where I was going and maintains good balance between guitar work, vocal work, and writing. I still think it blows chunks, but it does have a nice voice.

5. What's the difference between playing live and playing in a studio?
Playing live has a particular advantage, in my thinking, in that it presents an audience — which applies pressure to stretch and reach which has the potential to push the music higher than it could ever be without this odd kind of teamwork. Playing in a studio is very, very demanding and can seem non-musical, clinical, forced. Making records is akin to building houses, while playing gigs is more like living in them.

6. What's the difference between a good gig and a bad gig?
A good gig makes me look forward to the next one; a bad gig makes me want to drive home, even if it’s three thousand miles away. A good gig is shoes that fit; a bad gig is needing a walking cane. A good gig is a birthday; a bad gig is the waiting room at Oil Can Henry’s.

7. What's the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?
A bad guitar is proud of it’s badness and forces this attitude on anyone who tries to tame it. A good guitar is modest and timid, sings beautifully, carries the grocery bags.

8. You play electric and acoustic. Do you approach the two differently?
The primary difference between acoustic and electric, I find, is in the sustain level. An electric guitar allows me to hold notes far longer than I could otherwise, which greatly affects the way I will phrase something. On an acoustic guitar the sustain is far, far less — which demands more continual physical motion.

9. Do you sound more like yourself on acoustic or electric?

Acoustic, surely. Playing electric is like wearing a wig.

10. Do you sound like yourself on other people's guitars?
Yeah, I’d think so. What ends up under my fingers gets there through my head and it’s the same ol’ bastard whether it’s my guitar or yours.

11. Which living artist (music, or other arts) would you like to collaborate with?
Russell Banks.

12. What dead artist (music, or other arts) would you like to have collaborated with?
John Fahey.

13. What's your latest project about?
Trying to move creatively forward, understanding where to go and why based on past fulfillment and future hunger, good songs and good singing and good playing, hopefully.


 BROTHER SINNER & THE WHALE (2012 / Black Hen)
WESTERN BELL (2009 / Black Hen)
TUNESMITH RETROFIT (August 2006 / Rounder Records)
TAP THE RED CANE WHIRLWIND (January 2005 / Rykodisc / True North)
SLINGSHOT PROFESSIONALS (March 2003 / Rykodisc Records)
BEGGAR'S OIL EP (January 2002 / Rykodisc Records)
SKY LIKE A BROKEN CLOCK (July 2001 / Rykodisc Records)
SHINE EYED MISTER ZEN (July 1999 / Rykodisc Records)
ROLL AWAY THE STONE (August 1997 / Rykodisc Records)
LEAD ME ON (May 1994 / Burnside Records)
13 Questions INDEX

Adam Levy