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The Guitar Hero Series: Red Kelly
Written by Ava

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The Guitar Hero series on Jemsite features interviews with guitarists and musicians who may not have star status YET, but their current situations have shaped them to be who they are--determined, fond of their craft, and heroes in their own right. Perhaps you'll see in these upcoming entries the next Jimi Hendrix, Melissa Etheridge, or Duane Allman. Or perhaps they'll become household names by doing what they do best--ripping a mean riff!

Red Kelly oozes personality and you can feel it through his words. And you have many opportunities to do so as the New York-based runs four music-influenced blogs and sponsors two websites through his blog Soul Detective. And if you can't feel it on the page, you can most certainly hear it. The music buff has been trying some innovative new things with The Red Kelly Channel, a space on YouTube he created this past year. Talk about taking music to the next level!

Did we mention he's also played the guitar since he was 12 years old? He owns a Martin D-18 and a Fender Telecaster.

And Red Kelly's not even his real name!

But that's exactly why he's our latest Guitar Hero.

So Red Kelly's not your real name, huh?

Nope. I got that name from a homeless guy who used to hang around Penn Station in New York. His name was 'Pop', and he was a real character. Even though I told him my name every time he asked me, Pop could never remember it. When he'd come looking for me, he'd ask the guys I worked with, 'Where's that guy, you know, ummm... Red Kelly?' - and the name stuck.

What is your music background?

I've been playing guitar since I was about 12, and was the rhythm guitarist in an experimental electro-garage band named Dark Carpet back in the day...

Do you have any background in guitars?

I own a 1969 Martin D-18, and a 1973 Fender Telecaster that I have played to death for years (sorry, no Ibanez...).

Any guitarists local or famous that have influenced you in any way?

Well, I spent a lot of time listening to the Grateful Dead, so Jerry Garcia was always a big influence, as was Robbie Robertson on the early Band albums and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac stuff. I loved that stripped down Tele sound... always dug Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter's work with Steely Dan - like that. I was also a big Jorma fan, and I guess I picked up my finger picking acoustic style from him.

Who are some of your general music influences?

Like most everybody else my age, I cut my teeth on the first wave of 'British Invasion' bands like The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Animals, Kinks, etc. I pored over those album covers like they were the Rosetta Stone, and I saw these names that would show up again and again - names like W. Dixon, E. McDaniel, McKinley Morganfield, C. Burnett, R.W. Penniman. C. Berry, Naomi Neville... it wasn't until years later that I realized that the British music I was listening to was a pale imitation of the real thing... a recycled, watered-down version of the powerful postwar American Blues and R&B explosion that they had been listening to over in England for years. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Allen Toussaint, these were the people behind those names on the back of those Lps, and as I began listening to the originals of songs like "Spoonful" and "Who Do You Love?" my eyes were opened, and there was no turning back.

Tell me about some of your blogs.

Well, it all started after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities on the planet, in 2005. I started up The B Side to try and showcase some of the more obscure sides I had been collecting down there over the years, and give as much background information on them as I could. As time went on, the focus grew to include other cities as well and, since I didn't want to mess with the original concept of 45 rpm B Sides only, I branched out a little, creating the mirror-image blog, The A Side, Soul Detective (a place where we could pool our resources and find out more about some truly unknown artists), and Holy Ghost (where we celebrate the profound power that is Black American Gospel Music). The response to all of this has been overwhelming, and has enabled me to get involved with a variety of worthwhile projects, like helping to erect a headstone on O.V. Wright's grave down in Memphis, and my ongoing involvement with first generation R&B pioneer Sir Lattimore Brown, both of whom now have their own Soul Detective sponsored websites, ovwright.org and sirlattimorebrown.com. It's kept me busy, to say the least!

Why focus on soul, R&B, funk?

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the West-African influenced music that rose up out of the Mississippi Delta is the source of most of the stuff we listen to today. As that music made its way into the cities, it evolved into the R&B and Soul that is the main focus of my 'blogs'. To my ears, it just seems to be more authentic and 'closer to the bone' than a lot of the other music that's out there. The genuine emotion conveyed in a three minute soul song by a true master like O.V. Wright moves me more than a whole podcast of 'classic rock'.

Tell me about the guitar influence in some of these music genres?

Well, I don't think you can overstate the importance of the guitar in the development of Black American music. When Muddy Waters went electric in the early fifties, that sound traveled back down the Mississippi from Chicago, influencing young players like Chuck Berry and Ike Turner as they created Rock & Roll. As the Blues evolved, it was people like Bobby Bland's long time guitarist Wayne Bennett that brought it into the R&B top ten. Later on, it was the discipline of rhythm guitar players like the Godfather of Soul's Jimmy 'Chank' Nolen that made Funk a household word, and Skip Pitts' brilliant work on records like The Isleys' "It's Your Thing' and Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" just changed everything. Listen to Teenie Hodges' guitar on any Al Green record and be amazed.

Why focus on vinyl rather than more technologically advanced sounds?

I think it's the authenticity issue once again. Digital technology may seem more advanced, but it simply cannot touch the warmth and punch of an original analog 45 cranked through a vintage amplifier. The mp3 was definitely a sonic step backward, in my opinion.

You're based in NY, but you say you have Memphis guitar heroes?

Hey, I have New York guitar heroes too, like Little Buster and J. Hines, but allow me to explain. Much of the great music of the 'Soul Era' was recorded in a handful of studios down South. Much like the Funk Brothers at Motown, these studio musicians created a body of work that, as far as I'm concerned, will never be equaled. Duane Allman started out as a session guitarist in Muscle Shoals, toiling alongside unsung heroes like Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson. Chips Moman, the guitar player turned producer that was one of the founders of Stax Records, went on to play on some of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett's best records down there in Alabama before he started up his own American Sound Studio back in Memphis.

After Chips left Stax, Steve Cropper, as the guitarist with Stax studio band Booker T & the MG's, added his stinging guitar work to dozens of top ten hits by everyone from Otis Redding to Johnnie Taylor. If you get a chance, check him out sometime, he is the real deal!

Perhaps the most versatile and talented of all of them, however, is Reggie Young. Reggie was the guitar player with Bill Black's Combo, and was so idolized by George Harrison that the Beatles drafted the Combo as the opening act on their first U.S. Tour in 1964. He went on to become the session guitarist at Royal Studio in Memphis before Chips Moman brought him over to American. Along with the rest of 'The Memphis Boys', Young's shimmering guitar was featured on over 120 chart hits recorded at the studio between 1967 and 1972. You can hear him behind Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond and B.J. Thomas, but his best work remains the stuff he did at American on gloriously unknown 45s by folks like Sam Baker, my man Sir Lattimore Brown, and scores of others. Reggie moved on to Nashville after American closed down, and became one of the most sought after session men in a town full of session men. That's him on Dobie Gray's "Drift Away", for instance… unreal.

What are your plans for the future with your blog, in music?

You know, I'm not sure! With the advent of things like Facebook and YouTube, it seems like the whole 'blog' concept has kind of gone by the boards. I mean, who has time to assimilate all of that content? I started up The Red Kelly Channel on YouTube this past year, and have been doing some innovative things on there, like live video updates from the road. I hope to expand that, as a way of adding a new dimension to the audioblog thing. We also hope to secure 501c3 non-profit status for Soul Detective in the near future, so we can continue the work we've been doing, like promoting historic events and producing documentary films about the very real people that made this phenomenal music that will live on forever.
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