London Free Press
U.S. guitar icon Kelly Joe Phelps once said he wasn't sure what he would be doing if he weren't making music.
It is all he's thought about, Phelps said, since he was 14. He'll turn 50 later this year.
"There are a lot of things I'm sure I would enjoying doing. I just don't know what they are because of that goofy guitar," Phelps told his hometown paper in Oregon.
Phelps returns to the London Music Club tomorrow night. Also on the bill is Canadian singer-songwriter Matthew Barber, who is nominated for a 2009 Juno in the best roots/traditional album category.
Phelps is touring to support Western Bell, his first solo instrumental album. "Every guitarist alive should own this album," says Sun Media critic David Reed.
One of Phelps' most famous fans puts it this way: "I'm talking about a feeling, a smoky, lonesome, painful, yet somehow comforting groove that lets you know that you are not alone -- even when you're blue."
After a four-record hiatus from his slide guitar, Phelps uses it on cuts such as. Blowing Dust 40 Miles, The Jenny Spin and Little Family.
Cult fans used to shout for Phelps to play that thing.
Phelps just kept playing what he was hearing. Inside and outside.
"In my teenage years, I was sitting in my room trying to figure out how to play Chet Atkins," he told The Oregonian newspaper.
"Then 10 years later, I was a bass player trying to play free jazz music, and 10 years after that, I was playing lap-slide and listening to Fred McDowell. Those are the big shifts, but it was the little tiny steps that led me there. It turned into: How do I apply those principles of improvisation in free jazz to folk music? Lyrically I was drawn to these people weaving these big old stories."
Sun Media critic Reed says the journey could have taken Phelps places that might be called "free blues." Reed says there were sounds from the Mississippi Delta blues tradition, but Phelps kept twisting and turning them harmonically and rhythmically.
That is even truer of Western Bell. Most of its 11 tracks were improvised.
Among the admirers Phelps has attracted on both sides of the border are Canadian roots instrumentalists Jesse Zubot and Steve Dawson and U.S. guitar explorer Bill Frisell.
Another is U.S. roots music star Steve Earle.
"Kelly Joe Phelps plays, sings, and writes the blues," Earle says. "Forget about songs in a 12-bar three chord progression with a two-line repeat and answer rhyme structure -- though he can certainly do that when he wants to."
Earle is the man and Phelps fan mentioned earlier for praising Phelps for finding that "somehow comforting groove."
It all means that Phelps, even if he's touring to support a solo album and continuing his lifelong affair with that "goofy guitar," has an army around him.