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In this section you will find comments from people who knew Kelly Joe Phelps before the release of his first album. They share their memories of KJP's debut as a musician.

John Standefer's memories

"Kelly was 17 when he began lessons with me. I was 27. At that time his main interest was learning Jimmy Page solos. I remember he showed up to his first lesson with an old Ventures model Mosrite electric. I'm a fingerstyle player, so along with some of the stuff he wanted to learn, I introduced him to the music of Chet Atkins, as well as to a host of other fingerstyle players. He took to the fingerstyle approach immediately. I taught him to read notes for guitar and introduced the basic principles of classical music to him. I could see immediately that he had a lot of talent and insight so I began to challenge him to learn by ear as well. Within 6 months of his first lesson with me I handed him a Chet LP and said 'Here, take this home and learn it'. He did. From there on out we never did any more formal lessons, but we played together and swapped licks for several years after that. Around that time I went on a 5 week tour with my band and left my entire teaching clientele with Kelly (around 50 students at all different levels). He proved to be a good teacher too. His methods of teaching and manner were different, but he certainly got the job done. We were good friends and went through a lot of changes together during his early years. He took up piano and banjo and sax and bass and singing all in the next 4 or 5 years. He was looking for his axe, I guess. I almost thought he was going to settle on bass for awhile. He played great fretless bass and was doing some pretty high level jazz. He nevertheless came back to guitar though. Kelly came by guitar playing easier than most. He didn't need much time to practice stuff because he was so naturally coordinated. I could just show him something and he could likely play it right back to me. Nevertheless, he was a dedicated guy and kept a rigorous practice schedule. As to musical genres, he was into a completely different style every 6 months. He and I were somewhat alike in that respect because we both had such varied tastes that it is nearly impossible to stick with any one thing. During his search for his musical identity or 'voice', Kelly went through a lot of music and wrote quite a bit of widely varied stuff. Frankly, I was amazed when he settled down to the blues and the slide guitar. I thought at the time, 'of all things for an extremely talented guy to end up doing, why would anybody pick slide guitar and the blues'? Musically, blues is so limiting both as a musical style in terms of chords and scales and in terms of the limitations of the instrument. What I wasn't taking into consideration at the time was the whole matter of soul. Kelly had found something that I hadn't yet truly discovered, which is the emotional / spiritual connection that music has to the very root of people's hearts. It's the difference between 'head' music and 'heart' music. I wasn't totally without heart in my music, but it was definitely more of a head thing with me then. But with Kelly, even though the style of music he had chosen was well beneath his technical ability, it spoke to him. I think that in life as well as in music, it's not the flowery, polished sermon that gets to people's heart. It's just the plain, simple truth that gets the job done. Kelly found that simple truth in playing (and eventually singing and writing) the blues. Having been my best student in a lifetime of teaching guitar (thousands of students), I'm not the least bit surprised at how far he has been able to elevate this style of guitar playing. I see that recently he is branching out into regular guitar playing again and is stretching the blues genre in other directions that have a bit more complexity, which makes me feel good, knowing how much more he can do than what his listeners had heard on the earlier CDs. Still, I applaud him in finding his musical identity and sticking with it. I'm 10 years older than Kelly and yet it took me a long time to figure out this 'heart' thing. It's like I taught him in the beginning and he's teaching me now. I hope that sometime we can eventually come full circle and play together again. I think it might be a whole lot more interesting then."
John Standefer, January 2002
 


Brad Barnard's memories

"I first met Kelly in 1977-78. I was selling shoes at a funky little store in the "Hi-Ho" Shopping Center in Puyallup, WA. On my lunch break's, I would go over to the "Hi-Ho" Music Center and tune & polish the poor neglected guitars in their inventory. One day I heard beautiful finger picked Chet Atkins type music lilting from one of the teaching studios. I hung around until I could find out who it was. It turned out to be John Standefer ( Kelly's teacher at the time ) who was playing so awesome. It wasn't long before the music store offered me a job, so I quit the shoe store and started working there. I met Kelly soon after. He floored me then with his playing! I could not believe someone so young ( Hell, any age for that matter ) could have such a command of the guitar. By the time I started working there, Kelly had stopped taking lessons from John and was well on his way to mastering the Atkins / Travis style. Kelly was not only very talented and proficient on the guitar, but also played a mean, mean blues / jazz style on the piano. He had a great sense of humor and very self-effacing about his talent. He was always willing to share what he knew and very excited to show you a new lick or song he learned. John Standefer's comments about finding one's soul and playing from the heart and not the head ring so true. As musicians, we all strive for that moment when our music has a deeper meaning. Some of us find it, some don't. Kelly found his at a very early age. Through the 20 some years that have passed since I last spoke with Kelly, I have always thought of him and wondered what and how he was doing. I was not surprised when I saw an article and review of his first album in Guitar Player several years ago. A talent like Kelly is bound to be noticed. Like John, I too was a bit perplexed when I found out he was playing blues with a guitar laid on his lap!! It just goes to show how powerful the blues idiom is and what someone with Kelly's talent can acomplish. His music really speaks to people. I have not had the pleasure of seeing him perform live ( except in a little music store in Puyallup!! ) yet, but I am greatly looking forward to it.'
Brad Barnard, July 2002.
 

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