Posted January 1, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

Blues-rocker Kelly Richey: A brand new everything for 2013

Kelly Richey
Kelly Richey

After taking a break from the road in 2010, singer-guitarist Kelly Richey regrouped and put together a new band. She debuts that new lineup in January. After a short tour in early January, Richey will spend most of February in Louisville as part of the band in a play featuring music from Matthew Sweet’s power pop album Girlfriend. Richey recently phoned in from Cincinnati to talk about her new ensemble.

Talk about the new band?
I have a brand new everything. I just finished a new CD that’s coming out in March. We’re in the process of mixing it this week and next. I have a brand new line-up. I hired funkmaster Freekbass who has played on his own band and is in an electronica duo. He’s from Cincinnati and I’ve been in Cincinnati for about 15 years now. He heard I had a new CD and wanted to make some changes and contacted me and said we should talk. We both jumped on it and I asked him. He said he’d like to support and enhance what I’m doing. I said, “Let’s go.” We looked for a drummer and hired a female drummer out of Louisville. She’s a character full of attitude and power. We auditioned a lot of people and everyone was trying to impress Freekbass. She didn’t know who he was. She just came up and played the drums and we loved her and we sounded like a band from the first note. I used a different drummer on the record and we hired Jyn [Yates] the week we went into the studio so it was too late to get her involved in that. I recorded the CD with Duane Lundy at Shangri-La in Lexington. He’s worked with My Morning Jacket and he does great work. I’ll do my old stuff that people like. It’s not like I’m a different person but we have a whole new album’s worth of material.

What made you want to switch things up?
In 2010, after 20 years of non-stop touring, I took a year off and got really healthy and refreshed and decided to step back on stage 18 months ago. I’ve been touring for the past year and a half with the bass player from I’ve worked with from 2005. It was a repackaged version of what I had always done. Sometimes you just need to step into something fresh and new. I knew I had to make a move and Freekbass called and I realized that this is it. What a treat. Anything I can do, he can do better. It really challenges me to do anything I can think of.

 The 5th of January is our first show. Six months from now, we’ll know what it really sounds like. And a year from now, we’ll have an even better idea.

Does your sound have more funk to it now?
I initially asked Freekbass — and this may sound like a ridiculous question — but I asked him if he could play blues. I’m very funky but I’m not a funk player. He said, “I will sound like Freekbass playing the blues.” I thought, “Fair enough.” He is really coming into the sound and evolving with the sound and honoring the recordings I have. It opens new doors with the older material. For me, this is a fresh approach. It’s opening new doors for him. He has so much musical sensibility. Jyn is a rock drummer but she’s played country and blues and everything. It’s a real nice mix. We don’t have an agenda. We just want top play great music. They’re committed to making me comfortable so the show isn’t changing drastically. It’s just fresh and new and we’re all waiting to see what happens next. We can play and have fun. I’m not sure what this is gonna be. We’re just giving birth do it. The 5th of January is our first show. Six months from now, we’ll know what it really sounds like. And a year from now, we’ll have an even better idea. I’ve been for 20-minute guitar solos and the show still has that but the new record, these are all 3-minute songs. I’m so excited about it. I’ve done a lot of records and this is the first one that I’ve done that really has commercial appeal and I’m thrilled. [Keyboardist] Bernie Worrell played on one of the tracks. It’s the record I always wanted to make. It allows me to be a guitar slinger and singer and songwriter.

Tell me about the play you’ll be in?
I’m playing guitar in a play called Girlfriend, based on the music from Matthew Sweet’s record that came out in the early ’90s. It’s in Louisville and runs three weeks from the last part of January to the middle part of February and Julie Wolf is the music director. She played with Ani DiFranco and Indigo Girls. She’s a multi-instrumentalist. I play lead and my drummer Jyn is the drummer in this. They wanted female players and I auditioned it for it and I got it. I’ve never done anything like this. I’m really excited about it.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lexington. I moved to Nashville in late ‘80s and early ‘90s and played with the band Stealing Horses. We toured all over. I put together my own band in the early ‘90s and have been doing that ever since. I grew up playing the piano and took piano lessons. I’m dyslexic so my ears have worked better than formal training. I had a good ear so despite the formal training I kept playing. I got a set of drums by default. I used to play them at my neighbor’s house and he finally said, “Why don’t you take them home?” That was in junior high and in tenth grade, I got an electric guitar and that was it. By that point in high school, I wasn’t a great student, mainly because I was dyslexic. Guitar was something that I could really do. I never set it down. I slept with it and played 12-16 hours a day. They disconnected outlets at school so I couldn’t plug in. I played it 24-7. The second I got out of high school, I got in my pickup truck and started going anywhere I could and playing with anybody that would let me play. I grew up in a musical family and I grew up in church playing and singing. My church was burned to the ground in 1969 when I was a little kid. It was the first church to integrate and we had a lot of interaction with the African-American community. I learned the difference between black gospel and white gospel. Later, all of the bands I liked were blues-based rock and I got to play with Albert King in the late ‘80s before he died. My path always has been intertwined with the blues; I just didn’t realize it was the foundation of everything that I loved until I got a little bit older.

Was the fact that you were a woman an issue?
It was a huge issue. When I got a guitar in high school, none of the guys would let me play. I had a chip on each shoulder. I had an attitude and ax to grind. It took me awhile to grow past that. That was before Lilith Fair and even I am skeptical of female musicians. I don’t want to hear “good for a girl.” I want to hear “good for a guitar player.” That’s why working with a female drummer, I was shocked if someone told me I would be doing that. I wanted to see a female drummer I wanted to play with. I’m hard on females because people have been hard on me. Everyone will come and see the girl play . . . once. Things have changed drastically. When I started, it was Heart and Fleetwood Mac. That was it. Now it’s not so strange but it’s still not the norm. People still say they’ve never seen a girl play like that.

I am absolutely driven. I run my business like I run my guitar . . . I’ve made a market for myself and toured over 800,000 miles and played over 3700 shows.

How have you dealt with the changes in the music industry?
I am absolutely driven. I run my business like I run my guitar. I love this. When I was on Arista records, I saw a major label deal go south. This was an artist that signed its songs away. I sat front and center row in a very difficult artistic situation. I was really gun-shy. About that time, Ani DiFranco hit the scene. She was a chick putting out her own records. I wanted to do that. Business-wise, that’s what I wanted. This record that I’ve finished recorded will be my 14th CD and I’ve put out five live CDs. I was a guitar player first and then I developed my vocals and my songwriting has developed. Marketability-wise, this is my first record that shows all three strengths. I’ve been able to make this thing work and work quite well but I haven’t totally gotten into the mainstream market. I’m not just a guitar slinger and oh my god, it’s a girl. That doesn’t translate to radio, though it may to the live stage. That’s how I’ve been able to do this. CDs hold less value. You have to be out there playing. I’ve made a market for myself and toured over 800,000 miles and played over 3700 shows. I’ve really been a road warrior. Hence, my reason for taking 2010 off and I can’t get wait to get my feet on stage this year. I have the best band I’ve ever had and the best record I’ve ever had.


Tour Dates

Sat., Jan. 5

Fri., Jan. 11

Sat., Jan. 12

Fri., Jan. 18

Sat. , Jan. 19

Sun., Jan. 20

Fri., Feb. 1

Sat., Feb. 23

Fri., March 1

Sat., March 9

Fri., March 22

Sat., March 23

Sun., March 24

Fri., March 29

Wed., April 3

Thurs., April 4

Fri., April 5

Sat., April 6

Wed., April 10

Thurs, April 11

Midway Tavern, Mishawaka, IN

Legends Nightclub, Cincinnati, OH

Winchester Music Hall, Lakewood, OH

Bamboo Room, Lake Worth, FL

Ace’s Lounge, Bradenton, FL

Downtown Blues Bar & Grille, Palatka, FL

Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar, Louisville, KY

Summit City, Whitesburg, KY

Legends Nightclub, Cincinnati, OH

Moondog’s, Blawnox, PA

Muddy Waters, Bettendorf, IA

Old Skoolz Wine House & Pub, Sioux Falls, SD

Byron’s Bar, Pomeroy, IA

Brackin’s Blues Bar, Maryville, TN

Zoo Bar, Lincoln, NE

21st Saloon, Omaha, NE

Forada Liquor Bar & Grill, Forada‎, MN

Buddy Guy’s Legends, Chicago, IL

Legends, Saint Cloud, MN

The M Shop at Iowa State, Ames, IA




Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].