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There aren’t many musicians who end up at acoustic blues- based guitar after a decade immersed in ‘free jazz’... mostly playing bass.
It’s just part of the enigma that is Kelly Joe Phelps, supremely talented slide and fingerstyle player, gifted vocalist and assured songwriter who marks his 20th year as
a solo recording artist in 2014.
Born in Portland, Oregon and raised in Sumner, Washington, Phelps’ music listening always took in “rural music” as he describes it – blues, country and gospel – a mix of genres that have come to underpin his own unique approach to playing and writing. We took the chance to catch up with him, to talk specifically about his approach to slide guitar.
You had to stop playing last year because of a nerve affliction in your right arm. How are you now?
“Everything’s fine – I still don’t know exactly what happened, or why it happened, but I’ve been touring again since this past September, and everything’s been completely fine. No issues, no problems whatsoever, so I don’t know what that was all about, other than maybe it was time for my body to take a break. I was off for about seven months, I think.
“It certainly did give me time for reflection in terms of music because there was some point in there where I didn’t know what was happening with my arm and having to wonder if maybe my playing days were over. I’ve been playing guitar for 40-odd years, so I’d never not played the guitar for so long. But September rolled around, and I jumped back out on tour with my fingers crossed, and everything was fine. So that was very strange, and I came out of it extremely grateful for the gift of music.”