Dave Kelly – The Blues Band

Dave Kelly
(13 March 1947)

Dave’s musical influences go back to the early fifties when as a child he was fascinated by his parents’ radio gram. The top lid opened to reveal the 78 player and Dave spent many happy hours, standing on a chair whilst ploughing through his parent ‘s eclectic collection of records. Then came the middle fifties and kids were hit by skiffle and rock n roll. Dave had two older sisters, one being the hugely talented and sadly missed Jo-Ann. Jo came home with these exciting new sounds by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent The Everly Brothers and the wildest of them all Little Richard.
Dave was hooked and aged ten went to the local second hand shop in Streatham to swap his electric train set for a guitar. At his local ‘rec’ there was an older guy who had a skiffle group, he showed Dave the first three vital chords. Dave in turn showed these magic shapes to Jo Ann who also learned to play. Kelly holidays were always spent at various holiday camps around the south. Dave and Jo always went in for the talent contests with a wide repertoire, but they usually won the show when performing together – Everly Brothers harmonies.

The folk boom struck in 1960 and of course the first Bob Dylan album with a couple of blues songs on it. Dave and Jo Ann were already ploughing through the obscure and rare blues recordings available in the UK at that time. Growing up in Streatham they had the advantage of ‘The Swing Shop’ a jazz specialist record shop run by collector and one-time Humphrey Lyttleton drummer – Dave Carey. This shop became a magnet for Dave, Jo Ann, Groundhogs leader Tony McPhee, boogie pianist Bob Hall, Steve Rye and Simon Praeger, all of whom went on to a musical career of some standing. The Wandle Delta was born. It was McPhee who showed Dave how to re-tune the guitar to play slide. Dave picked up the technique in a day – of course not to the standard he is these days, but enough to fire his imagination and determination.
In 1962 Jo came home to announce to their parents “I’ve given in my notice at work – I’m going to become a folk singer !” She got a residency at Bunjie’s coffee house, off Charing Cross Road on a Sunday night and kept that going for many years – it became an institution – with various guests just dropping down – among them Van Morrison, San Francisco’s Jesse Fuller etc. Dave would take the money on the door and occasionally the annoying little brother was allowed to play too.

Dave recalls his first floor spot was in about 1964 at the Half Moon Putney at a session run by Gerry Lockran, Cliff Aungier and Royd Rivers. Various other floor spots at various folk clubs followed and in 1966 Dave spent the summer in New York. He played a floor spot at the famous Gerde’s Folk City. The host was a bit loath to get him on, as a raw 19 year old, but Dave had paid his two dollars and was eventually introduced with the rather sarcastic announcement “Now we have and Englishman who’s going to play you some blues ? “. Gerde’s had a strict rule – floor singers are allowed two songs only and no encores. The crowd’s reception was ecstatic and they would not let Dave off, he played six songs in all, including what had then become his signature piece ‘Write Me A Few Short Lines’. After coming off stage Dave was asked to join three different bands. He now wonder’s who they were or became. On his return to England after the success of New York he determined not to get a job but to concentrate on becoming a professional musician.
Bob Hall who still plays piano with The Blues Band on occasions, was then piano player for Savoy Brown and when time allowed The John Dummer Blues Band. Dummer’s guitarist was leaving and Bob recommended Dave be his replacement. This was 1967 and Dave then only had his acoustic Harmony Sovereign guitar which he’d bought from McPhee. This was the same guitar which was later trodden on by Howlin Wolf. Dave had no pick-up for it, so Tony McPhee once again obliged by giving Dave a pick-up which fitted under the fingerboard – he now had an electric guitar !

The Dummer band played a few gigs with the line-up of Dave guitar & vocals, Dummer drums & vocals, Steve Rye harmonica & vocals, Bob Hall piano then the bass player had to leave and Iain ‘Thump’ Thomson was drafted in. Thump and Dummer went on years later to form the hit group ‘Darts’ Jo Ann’s then boyfriend suggested that they see about resurrecting the Sunday afternoon sessions at Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 Jazz Club. Dave and Jo had watched The Stones play there every Sunday afternoon in 1962, later to be followed by The Yardbirds and then The Downliners Sect. Pat and Vi the two ladies who ran the club were very pleased to open the Sunday afternoon sessions again. It became the habit of afternoon Colyer’s then around the corner for the evening session with Jo Ann at Bunjies.
Having this regular central London showcase was instrumental in the Dummer Band getting signed to Mercury (Phillips) Records. The young Mercury A&R; man Brian Shepherd signed them after a couple of visits to check them out. Years later when Brian was head of EMI and Dave was seeing if he’d be interested in signing The Blues Band ( he declined –in 1979 said they were ‘too old !’) they were reminiscing about the Dummer Band. Brian told Dave that he was told by Mercury to go out and find a blues band. Fleetwood Mac, Chickenshack, John Mayall can’t fail etc were all happening just then. Brian said the Colyer’s gig was convenient, being central London and although he knew nothing about blues, he could see that they could all play and he liked Dave’s voice and persona as a front man.

The Dummer Band had reasonable success on the club circuit in the UK, and Europe, mostly in Scandinavia. They recorded two albums with dave and he recorded his first two solo albums with Mercury Records. During the late sixties blues boom, many American blues artists were brought over to tour the UK. The Dummer Band were the perfect backing group being knowledgeable about the music, competent and not expensive. In 1968 they toured as backing group for the great Howlin Wolf and two tours in ’68 and ’69 with John Lee Hooker. Later in ’69 they made a three week trip to Scandinavia, on returning it turned out that the managers had booked another tour with no break. Dave was going on holiday with his girlfriend and decided to quit the group if the tour wasn’t postponed. It wasn’t and he quit.
Going back to solo work as an acoustic artist, in 1970 he was asked to be support on tour for the legendary Son House. This ended up with him playing a few numbers with Son on most nights including recording with him for a live album at the 100 Club in London. As he was still under contract to Mercury Records, he used the old blues trick of a pseudonym – ‘Little Brother Dave’

Now married with a couple of kids and the blues scene fading a bit in the early 70’s Dave became a sometime van driver and sometime house-husband. He kept performing to some extent in the folk clubs and pub scene. Then in 1979 Tom McGuinness told a mutual friend – American banjo specialist and guitar/banjo/mandolin builder Keith Nelson, that he and Paul Jones were starting a blues band for fun. They had Hughie Flint lined up on drums, and possibly wanted a piano player and second singer. Keith said to Tom “Well you know who’s not doing much right now – Dave Kelly”. Tom mentioned it to Paul and they agreed slide guitar and an extra singer could work well. The rest as they say is history. 2018 will see The Blues Band entering it’s 40th year. They are currently (October 2017) completing their 18th album for release later this year on Repertoire Records Of Hamburg..

Dave continues to work with his own Dave Kelly Band when time permits. Also for about the last 20 years he and Paul Jones have made acoustic duo tours. He does similar tours with Scottish soul queen Maggie Bell. Next year he will work again with his old friend Christine Collister, they toured together with a six piece band in the early 2000’s. Dave’s professional career has scanned over 50 years and he has worked with many of his heros, as well as Hooker, House and Wolf he has played with Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Freddie King, Lowell Fulson, The Allman Brothers Band, , Bill Payne and James Burton. Now 70 years old he shows now sign of slowing down nor any intention of retiring – he says “Why should I retire? – I get paid for my hobby !”