Well, I had a request for some “rare blues, the kind only found on your blog”. Well I hope this fits the bill, having both ‘rare’ and ‘blues’ in the title: Jo Ann Kelly – Blues & Gospel: Rare & Unissued Recordings. Actually, I’d been planning to post it all along, but just hadn’t gotten round to writing/illustrating the post yet. Those of you who listened to Jo Ann Kelly’s self-titled album from the last great post this year will need no introduction to her. A powerhouse of a voice, housed within the most unsuspecting body and face, and no dainty tricks in the guitar-picking either. She’s got a full-bodied tone to her voice and guitar; the kind of sound that slips past your cerebral cortex and finds a happy home in the resonance of your gut. This is bowel-music, not brain-music, and it moves you in a way that no mere mind-music ever could.
While she never accomplished the guitar-feats of Rory Block or the vocal nuances of Maria Muldaur, she could still be called the best white blueswoman, because more than anyone else, she channelled the essence of singer-guitarists like Memphis Minnie, Charley Patton and Son House, and distilled their music through her own life-experience. Like the best of the bluesmen, she shakes you to your bones and makes the plainsong of her lyrics strike the deepest chord in our body. She’ll make a believer outta you.
This album has some outstanding tracks featuring the accompaniment of Stefan Grossman and Sam Mitchell (their version of Make Me Down a Pallet is by far the best I’ve ever heard). In fact, listening to those tracks, you realize that while Grossman never really became a compelling composer, singer, or guitar-soli performer in the manner of John Fahey or the bluesmen he adored, he is one of the best folk-blues accompanyists in history. So long as he’s sitting beside someone else who is singing, the results will be brilliant.
This collection also hints at some other musical arenas in which Kelly was equally gifted (besides guitar-driven country blues). There’s some piano blues and boogie, and some bonafide Rock&Roll inclueded here which hint at the paths she would take on other recordings in her too-brief lifetime.
Allmusic Biography by Chris Nickson
The rock era saw a few white female singers, like Janis Joplin, show they could sing the blues. But one who could outshine them all — Jo Ann Kelly — seemed to slip through the cracks, mostly because she favored the acoustic, Delta style rather than rocking out with a heavy band behind her. But with a huge voice, and a strong guitar style influenced by Memphis Minnie and Charley Patton, she was the queen. Born January 5, 1944, Kelly and her older brother Dave were both taken by the blues, and born at the right time to take advantage of a young British blues scene in the early ’60s. By 1964 she was playing in clubs, including the Star in Croydon, and had made her first limited-edition record with future Groundhogs guitarist Tony McPhee. She expanded to play folk and blues clubs all over Britain, generally solo, but occasionally with other artists, bringing together artists like Bessie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe into her own music. After the first National Blues Federation Convention in 1968 her career seemed ready to take flight. She began playing the more lucrative college circuit, followed by her well-received debut album in 1969. At the second National Blues Convention, she jammed with Canned Heat, who invited her to join them on a permanent basis. She declined, not wanting to be a part of a band — and made the same decision when Johnny Winter offered to help her. Throughout the ’70s, Kelly continued to work and record solo, while also gigging for fun in bands run by friends, outfits like Tramp and Chilli Willi — essentially pub rock, as the scene was called, and in 1979 she helped found the Blues Band, along with brother Dave, and original Fleetwood Mac bassist Bob Brunning. The band backed her on an ambitious show she staged during the early ’80s, Ladies and the Blues, in which she paid tribute to her female heros. In 1988, Kelly began to suffer pain. A brain tumor was diagnosed and removed, and she seemed to have recovered, even touring again in 1990 with her brother before collapsing and dying on October 21. Posthumously, she’s become a revered blues figure, one who helped clear the path for artists like Bonnie Raitt and Rory Block. But more than a figurehead, her recorded material — and unreleased sides have appeared often since her death — show that Kelly truly was a remarkable blueswoman.
AMG Review by Jo-Ann Greene
The Jo Ann Kelly archive has been very poorly treated over the years, with only Indigo’s occasional forays during the late 1990s truly spotlighting one of Britain’s most underrated, but highly-treasured, blues vocalists. Into this sorry state of affairs weighs Blues Matters!, the label wing of the magazine of the same name, with a collection that totally lives up to its title. Sixteen tracks, recorded between 1967-1984, are bundled up within, and capture Kelly ranging across the stylistic spectrum. The set kicks off with four numbers taken from a rare Harlequin blues EP compilation, recorded with Tony McPhee in 1965. This was not Kelly’s first session, she’d done an earlier one for Mike Vernon’s Purdah label, but that remains unreleased, and thus this was the music with which Kelly was introduced to the world. Also featured are a pair of tracks from another scarce blues Harlequin compilation, this one released by the label in 1968, as well as a few more taken from other various rare collections. However, the bulk of the album boasts a stream of superb unreleased material, including no less than five songs recorded with guitarist Stefan Grossman during his U.K. tour in the summer of 1977. Kelly guested at several of his shows during that outing, and her performances — captured for posterity on-tape by Grossman’s own tape recorder, and unveiled here for the first time, are as powerful as any of her own period recordings. A wonderful album that hopefully will bring Kelly the acclaim she so justly deserves.
and here’s a slightly expanded version of her self-titled album from in the last great post.
1 Louisiana Blues
2 Fingerprints Blues
3 Driftin’ & Driftin’
4 Look Here Partner
5 Moon Going Down
6 Yellow Bee Blues
7 Whiskey Head Woman
8 Sit Down On My Knee
9 Man I’m Lovin’
10 Jinx Blues
11 Come On In My Kitchen
come on in
mp3 vbr 224+ | front & back covers included