Kelly Richey - Bio
Kelly Richey has been described as “Stevie Ray Vaughan trapped in a woman’s body with Janis Joplin screaming to get out.” From Lexington, Kentucky, Kelly Richey is a master Blues guitarist who has been compared to such legends as Jimi Hendrix, Walter Trout, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Richey’s powerful guitar chops capture an audience with muscular, aggressive guitar leads that will amaze even the most seasoned blues enthusiast. Richey has been touring as a pro since her teens; for over 30 years, Richey has been burning up the fret board on her Strat with hard-hitting, riff driven, gritty blues-based rock. Kelly Richey fronts her power trio The Kelly Richey Band, with a gutsy authority and fret board prowess that leave stunned audiences in her wake. Simply put, her live shows have to be seen to be believed. The heady combination of Richey’s powerful alto and the sheer intensity in her playing solidify Kelly Richey’s standing among the best blues guitarists known today.
Based in Cincinnati, Kelly Richey is one of the hardest working independent musicians out there, to date logging an extraordinary 800,000 miles touring, and at one point in her 25- year professional career, gigging a grueling 275 days out of the year. Richey started playing guitar at the age of 15. Today, at age 48 and a staggering 3,500 gigs later, she more than earns the title of Master guitarist. She has been described as “Stevie Ray Vaughan trapped in a woman’s body with Janis Joplin screaming to get out”. She has been listed as among the top 100 gifted guitarists by the Truefire Commuity (2011), and draws comparisons to blues icons Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Richey has shared the stage with such legends as Lonnie Mack and Albert King, and has opened for Joe Cocker, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Walter Trout, Little Feat, Foghat, REO Speedwagon, George Thorogood, Average White Band, Warren Zevon, and James Brown.
Richey is a serious, no-holds-barred axe grinder. Setting up her band as a power trio (drums, bass, and guitar), showcases her muscular, incendiary leads and masterful guitar chops. Playing live is where Richey shines, literally bringing down the house at every show she plays. Cognizant of the emotionality of the music in her live shows, Richey steamrolls; she hits the audience hard and fast, grabs on and doesn't let go. Hard rocking, blues-based and guitar driven, she blasts her audiences with jaw-dropping, lightening fast riffs and a muscularity of playing that even many of the best male guitarists don't possess. Her soulful voice, a big, powerful alto, provides the arc that completes the circle for a total sonic experience that is not to be forgotten. Richey’s stage presence is powerful. The first few notes from her guitar and you know you are in very competent hands; in particular, her effect on the audience is not to be missed--- those who have never seen her play are stopped in their tracks, stunned and speechless.
Although starting out on electric guitar, Richey also mastered the acoustic guitar, and for many years played in folk/rock duos, co-writing and singing with other musicians. She is a seasoned songsmith as well, weaving together gritty blues, rock, funk and roots-based music that is filled with introspection and cutting emotion; the brilliant song crafting very evident, in particular, on Richey’s last three studio releases which contain all original material. Richey and her band were named Best Rock Band (1999 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards), Best Blues/R&B Band (2002 CAMMY Awards), City Beat’s (Best of Cincinnati) Best Local musician in 2000, and she was honored to be the winner of the Arts Award for the 2011 Hot Mommas Project.
Born in 1962, Richey was adopted as an infant, and raised in Lexington, Kentucky. A rebellious, troubled teenager who suffered greatly in school because of undiagnosed severe dyslexia and ADHD, she began playing guitar (after growing up playing piano and then learning to play the drums) to release frustration, acquire an identity for herself, and gain social acceptance. She instantly took to the guitar, and practiced non-stop, bringing it with her wherever she went. She became proficient very quickly-- Richey auditioned for her first band after 4 months, and formed her first band after 18 months and began touring right out of high school. Shortly after joining Stealin' Horses in 1986, the band was signed to Arista records. She toured on and off with Stealin' Horses between 1986 and 1990, but came to realize that it wasn't her destiny to be a sideman. In 1994, feeling that it was time to branch out on her own, she took a cue from independent artists such as Ani De Franco, and founded her own independent record label, Sweet Lucy Records. Richey ultimately released a total of 14 CD's and 1 DVD over the next fourteen years, and gained national distribution with her third CD, Live At Tommy’s On Main.
Inspired by the Black gospel music she heard in church as a youth, and later on by artists like Roy Buchanan, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, Richey found her roots in blues-based rock music. Blues had the raw soul that she deeply connected with and that gave her a musical platform for her emotional intensity to let loose, unfettered. Asked what she feels when she plays, Richey responds with a broad smile, “When everything is working, I get to go away, like floating in a cloud”, and indeed it shows; watching her play is a joy in itself. Of her playing style, Richey says, “I'm aggressive, percussive, and emotive -- lots of passion.” The phrase, “You play like a guy” has been heard often throughout her career. When asked if this bothers her, she says, “Not at all. It's a compliment. I never wanted to play like a ‘girl’. I wanted to be good as a guitar player, not just good for a girl”. Emphasizing the physical strength that it takes to play guitar “like a guy”, she stays strong by lifting weights and utilizing hand and arm strengthening exercises in her daily workouts.
In January 2010, Richey took a yearlong hiatus from touring to regroup, take a break from the road and complete her dream of becoming a certified Life Coach. Richey is back now, stronger than ever, and once again excited to be immersing herself in new material and exploring new avenues of sound. “As an artist, my goal is to allow myself to be vulnerable...that's a challenge”, she says introspectively. “I want to tell my story. I want the audience to feel it. I want the audience to go there with me”.
A self-described “gearhead” and “techie”, Richey takes great pride in her guitar rig and her sound. She owns several vintage amps, including two Black-face Fender super reverbs, and a 1965 Princeton reverb. She tours with a Fender Deluxe Re-Issue amplifier, bringing in a Mesa Boogie closed-backed single 12 cabinet when she needs to. To get her huge tone, Richey uses two tube screamers, turned on at the same time-- sets her bass level at 10, treble at 5, and volume at 3 with a touch of reverb at 2 ¼. Also in her arsenal are delay, vibe and wah pedals. She uses Seymour Duncan Classic Stack Humbucker pickups because, as she explains, “They sound as close to the original pickups as I can remember...beefy, yet Strat-y sounding.” Which brings us to Richey's exquisite vintage 1965 sunburst Fender Stratocaster that sports a 63’ body, and a 65’ neck. Acquired when she was only 18 years old, it has been her main guitar for over 30 years, and came to her without a scratch on it. All of the battle scars acquired since are hers and hers alone. Forget the new (made to look old) “Fender Relic” Stratocasters. Richey’s guitar is the real deal. After 25 years of hard touring and relentless playing, the rosewood neck is seriously worn down and has been re-fretted at least twelve times. Aged, battered and heavily road worn from decades of use, the guitar's wear is a genuine testament to Richey’s extreme dedication, hard work, and passion for playing. The guitar has become part of Richey's soul and has been her one loyal and constant companion over the years-- it has seen her through hardship and struggle; it has been her life, her relationship, means of an income, her identity and her best friend. Still playable, but semi-retired due to the extreme amount of wear, it is, as it has always been, lovingly taken care of.
In 2006, Richey had RS Guitars make an exact duplicate of the guitar’s neck and had them mount it to a 62’ sunburst fender Strat Re-issue. Per Richey’s request, the new guitar was painted black, and sported a pearl pick guard along with the same electronics as the 65’. Although she loves her black Strat, the vintage sunburst 65’ will always remain her favorite guitar. Richey says that “they” are so bonded and in tune with each other after all of the blood, sweat and tears of the last 30 years, that the guitar practically “plays itself.”
Richey’s involvement with music goes beyond recording and performing. She has been a longtime private guitar instructor, and in 2003 she developed a Guitar Workshop and a Blues History program to take into school classrooms. In 2004, she became an “Artist on Tour” with the Cincinnati Arts Association, and in 2005, was added to the Kentucky Center’s artist roster. Also, that same year, Richey taught an adult education program that included a six-week Guitar Instruction class at Butler Technology and Career Development Schools. In 2006, Richey created Music for Change, a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to bringing music education into public schools; a variety of programs offering live performances, lectures, and interactive participation serve to facilitate learning opportunities for students while keeping the history of American music alive and prospering. Through standards-based instruction and academic enrichment, Richey’s Music for Change programs support and strengthen existing school curricula. Recognizing that music is a universal language and the gift of music can be used to build learning skills and to strengthen each student’s imagination, Richey is dedicated to enhancing the musical experiences of students and audiences alike.
Socially and politically aware, Richey is perceptive and bright. Her hard traveling years on the road have honed a street-smart sense of the world, evidenced by one of her favorite sayings, “I've seen everything. Twice”. Intelligent, self-confident and articulate, she exudes an easy Mid-western charm that belies her past struggles with drugs and drinking, and the subsequent depression that living an unhealthy life on the road can bring. Today, Richey's hard drinking days are long over and she is committed to personal growth, complete sobriety, and total health in mind, body, and spirit. After all the years of struggle and pain, she is stepping into her own and finding happiness and peace within herself. The road has been long and hard, but she is grateful for the wonderful teachers she's had along the way. In her never-ending quest to understand and make sense of the world, Richey says that she will never stop learning; true connection and honest, unapologetic sharing with her audience is her ultimate goal.
Written by: Sonya Ziegler