Kelly Joe Phelps
Kelly Joe Phelps
Kelly Joe Phelps changed my life three times.
I was at guitar making school, and was only into hard rock. I didn’t know you could play guitar without a pick until I read about him in a magazine, a review for Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind. I listened. I fell in love. I dropped electric guitars and spent time building guitars at Huss and Dalton, the foundation of my life to come.
I ended up in Chicago, and lost my job in 2009. I spent a lot of time being tired, feeling purposeless and stuck. I had nothing. Then I saw Kelly play in Traverse City.
I had seen him play a few other times. They were peeks behind the curtain at something intrinsic and formative that only he understood. You were seeing the inner workings of a person and of living at the same time. This time he had a resonator. People yelled questions up to him about the guitar inbetween songs. He joked about the chrome blinding people. The guitar could stand toe to toe with him, he could take it anywhere he wanted and it had more to give. What he played was very different from what I had written off resonators as capable of doing. I left wondering if I could make resonators, and make them that look more raw, and for people who had written off resonators like I had.
I made Kelly Joe Mule #008. His email me after he received it changed my life for the third time. I had it printed off and taped to my wall in my tiny basement shop for years. It pushed me. Our conversations formed how I should approach resonators in a new way. It taught me the connection possible with the people who play these guitars, and that it was the most important thing about building them.
Stories aren’t perfect. He got that guitar and on the way to see him play it I got a message the show had been canceled. He had nerve issues with his right hand and it had flared up again and he couldn’t play.
I never got to see him play it. It was a hope of mine forever and always will be. I’m glad I told him he changed my life. I shared my successes along the way with him and I hope he felt that, because I know he struggled. I never cried over a person passing I didn’t know, and here I am crying on a plane.