Kelly Richey has been described as “Stevie Ray Vaughan trapped in a woman’s body with Janis Joplin screaming to get out.” Kelly matches her gifted technique with a passion for music that borders on being possessed. Her powerful guitar chops capture audiences with blisteringly precise guitar leads. Kelly has shared the stage with such legends as Albert King, Lonnie Mack, Julie Wolf, and Sara... more
Kelly Richey has been described as “Stevie Ray Vaughan trapped in a woman’s body with Janis Joplin screaming to get out.” Kelly matches her gifted technique with a passion for music that borders on being possessed. Her powerful guitar chops capture audiences with blisteringly precise guitar leads. Kelly has shared the stage with such legends as Albert King, Lonnie Mack, Julie Wolf, and Sara Lee (from the B-52′s). She has opened for Robben Ford, Joe Cocker, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Walter Trout, Little Feat, Foghat, REO Speedwagon, George Thorogood, Average White Band, Warren Zevon, and James Brown. Kelly has perfected her unique style over years of touring and on 15 albums. She fronts her power trio, The Kelly Richey Band, with a gutsy authority. The heady combination of Kelly’s stadium-worthy alto and the intensity of her playing has made her an award-winning musician’s musician–and one of the best blues guitarists making music today.
Based in Cincinnati, Kelly Richey has dedicated her life to music. She has logged well over one million miles touring! Demand for her energetic shows have resulted in back-to-back bookings at festivals and venues. Hitting the stage up to 275 times in a single year, she has perfected her electrifying live concert, connecting on a deep level with loyal audiences. When she is not playing, she devotes her time to teaching guitar and recording new pieces.
Kelly was adopted, and grew up in a household in Lexington, Kentucky that listened to Englebert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. “The first time I heard Jimi Hendrix, I was transfixed,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘Thank you, universe! There’s a reason for staying!” She started playing guitar at the age of 15. A teenage fascination with Led Zeppelin led to interest in that band’s own influences: blues, first and foremost, but also rock, folk and roots. Showing exceptional talent in high school and church talent shows, Kelly played in Stealin’ Horses, an “acid bluegrass” folk rock band that was signed to the Arista label. Once Kelly developed her signature style, in 1990, however, she knew she had to blaze her own trail. She has been fronting her own band ever since.
Though it seems almost laughable today, the music industry was heavily prejudiced against a female blues-rock guitarist in the ’80s and even ’90s. Role models were few. “Nancy Wilson, from Heart was a major influence,” Kelly says, “I admired Joan Jett and Lita Ford, too, but they scared me!” she laughs. She had to work the proverbial “twice as hard for half the credit.” Bands holding auditions would shut the door in her face. Booking agents would hang up on her. Fellow musicians would refuse to let her sit in on jam sessions. The bias faded once Kelly got the chance to play. Word got out. This woman was no novelty. She was a serious musician who could hold her own with the most venerated players.
Kelly considers it as a badge of honor to be told she plays “like a guy.” “I take it as a compliment,” she says, adding that she lifts weights in order to wield her axe with such command.
Settling in Cincinnati in the late ’90s, Kelly began touring nationally. Since her live show is at the core of her artistry, the fans’ appetite for that experience has sustained six live albums. Remaining faithful to blues rock in her shows, she has nonetheless offered a variety of musical experiences on her recordings. Her 2006 album, Speechless, is completely instrumental. Dig a Little Deeper touches on the folk rock sounds of her early days. Almost all of her albums have been issued by Sweet Lucy, a record label Kelly started herself (after being inspired by Ani DeFranco doing the same). National distribution by the company Select-O-Hits gives her the level of control she demands. Her independent vision and self-starter attitude has inspired myriad fellow musicians to embrace rather than bemoan the changes in the music industry. Kelly’s first original composition–”The Blues Don’t Lie”–was featured in a 2014 episode of the ABC drama series The Fosters. Kelly’s album Sweet Spirit was named #3 on the 2013 Top 100 Blues Chart at Colby College radio station WMHB.
Though she has a reputation for making cover songs wholly her own, Kelly is a seasoned songsmith as well, weaving together gritty blues, rock, funk and roots music that is shot through with introspection and cutting emotion. Her insightful song crafting is evident on her last three studio releases, which contain all original material.
Kelly’s award shelves burst with gold. Among her many trophies: Best Rock Band, 1999 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards; Best Blues/R&B Band, 2002 Cincinnati Enquirer CAMMY Awards; Best Local Musician, 2000 City Beat Best of Cincinnati issue; and the Arts Award, 2011 from the Hot Mommas Project, a national organization of role models for women.
A self-proclaimed gearhead, Kelly tours with two Fender Deluxe Reverb re-issue amplifiers, a massive pedal board, and a couple of Fender Strats. In her home studio, she uses Fender vintage tube amps and a carefully selected collection of electric and acoustic guitars. Her main guitar is a 1965 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster that she got when she was 18 years old. In pristine condition at the time, it has since acquired “battle scars” for a beautifully worn look that Fender and other guitar makers now attempt to achieve through faux weathering!
Richey’s love of music extends to teaching and mentoring a new generation of players. She has been a longtime private guitar instructor, recently added to the elite roster of instructors at TrueFire, the nation’s top site for online guitar instruction.
Remembering her own struggles in school (as a child, she lived with undiagnosed ADHD), Kelly has a special talent for working with people who find self-expression difficult. With a level of patience as deep as her love for music, Kelly developed a Guitar Workshop and a Blues History program that has been popular in junior high and high school assembly programs.
Working with adults, she teaches an 8-week Guitar Instruction class at Butler Technology and Career Development, one of Ohio’s largest career-tech institutions. She has been an Artist on Tour with the Cincinnati Arts Association, and a part of the roster of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
In addition, Kelly teaches workshops at many of the festivals she plays, and at music stores while on tour. In 2006, Kelly created Music for Change, a non-profit committed to bolstering music education in public schools. “Everyone has a story to tell,” Kelly says. “It’s as rewarding to help someone else do that as it was for me to find my own voice.”less