Kelly Joe Phelps (born 5 October 1959, Sumner, Washington) is an American musician and songwriter. His music has been characterized as a mixture of delta blues and jazz.
Kelly Joe Phelps grew up in Sumner, Washington, a blue-collar and farming town. He learned country and folk songs, as well as drums and piano, from his father. He began playing guitar at 12.
Phelps concentrated on free jazz and took his cues from musicians like Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. He spent 10 years playing jazz, mostly as a bass player. He refers to his "conversion" to a blues musician when he began listening to acoustic blues masters like Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.
Initally gaining notice for his solo lapstyle slide guitar playing, which he played by laying the instrument flat and fretting it with a heavy steel bar, he has incorporated more ensemble work in his later albums. Inspired by the birth of his daughter Rachel in 1990, Phelps began writing songs. He began singing and released his critically praised debut, Lead Me On, in 1995. This album showcased Phelps' craft, and as well as his own songs, he tackled traditional numbers such as "Motherless Children" and "Fare Thee Well."
He released his second album, Roll Away the Stone (1997) and followed it up with 1999's, Shine Eyed Mister Zen.
His fourth record, Sky Like a Broken Clock, appeared in 2001. This time he was joined by a bassist and a drummer - its companion piece, "Beggar's Oil" EP, was a critic's favourite in 2002.
His sound was further added to on his fifth album in late 2002. In order to achieve a richer, orchestrated sound, he collected guitarist Bill Frisell and bassists Keith Lowe, Steve Dawson, Jesse Zubot, and Andrew Downing for the recording of Slingshot Professionals (2003).
In 2005, Phelps released a live album, Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind, which was followed a year later by the studio album Tunesmith Retrofit.
Lead Me On, 1994 (Burnside Records)
Roll Away the Stone, 1997 (Rykodisc Records)
Shine Eyed Mister Zen, 1999 (Rykodisc Records)
Sky Like a Broken Clock, 2001 (Rykodisc Records)
Beggar's Oil (EP), 2002 (Rykodisc Records)
Slingshot Professionals, 2003 (Rykodisc Records)
Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind, 2005 (Rykodisc / True North Records)
Tunesmith Retrofit, August 1, 2006 (Rounder)