The Final 20 Years Of Blues Phenom Jo Ann Kelly
Jo Ann Kelly post 1970
By Peter Moody - Oct 1988
During 1970, following the CBS Album release, Jo began to see more of 'Life' in the States. She traveled from New York to Memphis—staying at the Peabody Hotel, journeyed to Brownsville, then went into Mississippi to Clarksdale. The trip was a real eye-opener—showing how blacks lived in the South... with deprivation went the added hardship of combatting the heat and humidity—with neither refrigeration nor air conditioning. Homes were simple timber shacks down on the 'Other Side of Town'. Jo's interest in all this roused the suspicion of the local whites—a sad fact that becomes reality for visitors to the Country.
Peter Moody contends that "when she declined to work with Johnny Winter, Jo Ann lost the opportunity for a second CBS Album, because the company supported Johnny Winter's ideas for a 'rock' album." Jo parted company with CBS, in Moody's long distance view, due to her disappointment with Winter.
Lawrence Cohn, however---the record executive who signed Jo to CBS/Epic, released her LP, brought her to the Annual International CBS Convention in Los Angeles, where she was the absolute hit of the event, and set her up to go out on tour with Winter---remembers a quite different series of events altogether.
"She started rehearsals with him," Cohn informs, "the plan being that she and Johnny would open up the show as a duo and thereafter Johnny would go electric with his mountain of Marshalls...and then as I had feared, she opted to leave abruptly and return home to UK." Jo never really wanted to be a huge rock star and perform in stadiums to capacity crowds, Cohn explains. "She...was quite content to do pubs and small concerts in Europe."
Her departure from CBS/Epic, moreover, "had absolutely nothing to do with Winter." Cohn released Jo from the label, quite simply, because he recognized that "it was the right thing to do."
Record collectors did not have to wait for too long for Jo to release another album. In December 1972, Nick Perls arranged and produced an album on the US label, Blue Goose. Jo Ann, accompanied by various combinations of musicians — Woody Man, John Fahey and John Miller on guitars and Alan Seider on piano — recorded a fresh and varied selection of Blues from the 1920's and 1930's, using classic Charley Patton, Lemon Jefferson and Memphis Minnie songs.
The Kelly diary around this period was filled with engagements for folk club gigs, college and university concerts. 1972 saw the formation of Jo's first band, Spare Rib with a line-up which consisted of Adrian Pietryga, Roger Brown, Peter Watkins, Nick Judd and Bruce Rowlands. It was a band full of talent and musical variation with Country, Rock and Blues influences, but with members of the band pulling in different directions, Spare Rib folded in 1973. In its day, to quote Time Out magazine, "Spare Rib was one of the finest pub rock bands."
Jo Ann returned to solo gigs in the UK and then in September, toured the USA, performing in Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. The tour also featured Taj Mahal and Larry Coryell.
|Jo and Fred McDowell|
In 1974 she joined Dave Kelly, Bob Hall, Bob Brunning, Danny Kirwan, Dave Brooks and Mick Fleetwood (later replaced by Keef Hartley), to record as Tramp again. Both an LP and a single —`Put a Record On' — were issued. There were two live radio shows, one on Capital Radio and the other a BBC "In Concert" broadcast, during May 1974. She left Tramp for more solo gigs, before joining 'Chilli Willie and the Red Hot Peppers', a versatile band which included guitarist Martin Stone. Their LP `Bongos Over Balham' received good reviews.
Around this time, duo work with guitar player Pete Emery began. Emery had started out with Bristol's blues band `The Deep', playing guitar, but he soon moved to London and joined John Dummer and his band. Pete's ability to play many blues styles suited Jo's versatility and they soon picked up a reputation with their act, featuring guitar duets akin to the work of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe.
1975 started with a tour of Germany, then in February, another band venture was initiated — 'The Blue Diamonds' — a Soul/Rhythm and Blues band, which featured songs of Esther Phillips and Little Milton. Steve York, Dave Brooks, and Charlie Charles made up the band. The Blue Diamonds lasted around twelve months but disbanded without recording.
As well as a solo spot on Paris Television in June and a duo gig with Peter on HTV Bristol in September, work in Hamburg during October made up a busy year. There was talk of an album under the guidance of Guy Stevens — but nothing came of it.
From the Vienna concert came an Austrian long-player on Columbia entitled 'It's Whoopie — Boogie and Blues Live in Vienna', with Jo Ann Kelly (vcl), Martin Pyrker (piano) and Torsten Zwingenburger (drums). Twelve numbers were issued, seven featured Jo and five were piano instrumentals.
In 1978, Jo added another dimension to her life by enrolling at Hillcroft College, Surbiton for further education to gain a diploma in Social Sciences. The academic life was not allowed to stop the music! She went back to the Orkneys, as well as doing other UK work and fitted in a trip to Saltzburg. Leaving college in Summer 1979, Jo worked with Martin Stone again, joining Chris Youlden and Paul Riley in the O.T.'s, though this was a short-lived affair. In April the same year there was a gig at the Bridge House, with Paul Jones, Tom McGuinness, Dave Kelly, Pete Emery and Hughie Flint — the embryonic Blues Band!
A tour of Austria and the annual Ghent Festival filled up the summer. In September Jo travelled with Paul Jones and Dave Kelly to Italy — to discuss the record possibilities for the Blues Band. Terms with Franko Ratti in Milan weren't agreed!
Her road through music during the 'eighties has been continuously varied. Whilst Jo Ann/Peter Emery duets continued, band work still attracted Jo. In 1980 her first 'Second Line Band' was formed with Geraint Watkins and Roger Brown. The band started with a residency at the White Lion in Putney. UK and European tours and concerts continued with solo and duo performances. One solo engagement was a radio show for Wally Whyton's British Forces Overseas Radio Show, B.F.P.O. Germany.
Motion Lotion appeared on the scene in 1982. This was another fine band, playing mainly blues but with some Country influence and had Jo on vocals, with Les Morgan, Steve Donnelly, Keith Nelson, Mike Deacon, Pino Palladino and Mike Paice. Around this time a studio session at The Pye and Eden Studios laid down three sides for a proposed maxi 45, "Wants Good Loving", Jo's "Come See About Me" and "Sweet Nuthin's". Planned for release in September, the line-up included Albert Lee (gtr), Mike Deacon (piano), Mike Paice (sax), Gerry Conway (drums) and Dave Pegg (bass). The sessions were promoted by Kool King Boss Roy King, who in changing from music to sports management, sadly left these tapes lying in the vaults.
Towards the end of 1982, The Blues Band era was ending. A farewell concert album "Bye Bye Blues", issued in 1983, features Jo with Chuck Berry's "Don't You Lie To Me". It was a fitting inclusion in this concert, as Jo had been in at the start of this band's road to fame. Jo's line-up changed again for the sessions for her Appaloosa long-player entitled "Just Restless". The tracks recorded in the Summer of 1983, with Les Morgan, Geraint Watkins, Mike Paice, Peter Emery and Tex Comer on bass, gave Appaloosa a very credible album.
In 1984, there came a special occasion. Jo Ann and Pete Emery had a baby daughter — Ellie (Eleanor Grace) — on November 26th. Engagements at this time were the "occasional gig", sometimes with the Terry Smith Band, with whom she had recently worked. The act "Ladies and The Blues" had evolved before Ellie's arrival. With Pete Emery and Mike Deacon, Jo gave a fresh approach to performing. Covering the Blues styles of the 1920's through to the 1980's, "Ladies and The Blues" gave the visuals, the theatricals and the atmosphere an act only three such professionals could carry off. Classic Blues, Jump, Country Blues, Gospel, Boogie Woogie, Jazz tinged T. Bone Walker, even rock and soul! One sentence in a review said it all. "This trio is perfect and balanced for this showcase of adult music". This act continued well after the new addition, latterly with John Cleary on piano, after Mike Deacon had an accident which stopped him playing.
In July 1985 the BBC was formed out of the then defunct Blues Band. This "British Blues Corporation" was virtually The Blues Band including Jo Ann, but minus Paul Jones. As each member of the band had other musical commitments, this was another short-lived venture.
In January 1986, Jo, reunited with piano man Martin Pyrker, toured with the "Blues and Boogie All Stars", through Austria, Switzerland and Germany. More UK and European work, both solo and duo, was followed by the emergence of a new Jo Ann Kelly Band, with a new record deal, which has resulted in the release of a brand new album simply titled "Jo Ann Kelly". The Album, reviewed in this edition of British Blues Review, will tell you all. Ably supported by Geraint and Steve Donnelly, the band is now out on the circuit, with the addition of Dave Suttle on bass. It is fitting to close our three-part article at this point in Jo's career. This new line-up recently presented by Paul Jones on his R & B show gives Jo Ann Kelly's approach to the music further challenge. Mixing Country Blues, Cajun, Mountain Music and various styles of Blues, this album fuses American musical traditions.
This year will be bringing radio and club work. Promotion of the album, both home and abroad, should take the Kelly career on a fresh step into the future. Jo is still doing solo spots. These will always be part of her career. Since 1963, she has paved the way for many things that have happened for Blues in Britain.
[She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1988, and passed away due to complications during surgery on October 21, 1990. The light was gone…]