Since making a name for herself as a powerhouse rock guitarist in the ’80s, Kelly Richey has continued to dominate.
Richey’s skillful playing is hallmarked by her transcendent blues/rock melodies. Indeed, hearing her masterful fingers slide over the guitar strings will make your ears melt and leave you breathless.
And this guitar legend is still going strong. Not only has she paired up with legendary drummer Sherri McGee to create The Spear Shakers, Richey has also chosen to share her talents and help others learn the guitar as well. Whether through TrueFire or Skype, Richey is excited to be teaching others all that she has learned.
Recently, we caught up with Richey to ask her about The Spear Shakers, becoming a teacher, and how the guitar has become an integral piece of herself.
So your new duo is The Spear Shakers. Where does that name come from?
Well, I was on the Internet one night, on YouTube, and I just had a fascination that I wanted to follow on Shakespeare, and I stumbled across a Sir Francis Bacon mini-documentary. They were telling the story about him, that Shakespeare was a pen name and it was taken from the Greek goddess Athena who was a spear shaker, and so spear shaker was turned into Shakespeare. It sounded good to me, and I love the name, and the idea that the Greek goddess Athena being someone that shook her spear for justice. That all sounded really cool, so … The Spear Shakers.
I love that. That said, I came across articles and social media posts of people saying that you have this reputation as being the guitar goddess. What do you think of that?
Well, I’ve definitely played the guitar my entire life and poured everything that I have into it, without fail since I was 15 years old. A lot of times as an artist it’s not like you’re going to have a whole lot of monetary wealth, you know billions of dollars, so when somebody graces me with such kind words, I’ll say thank you.
What is it about the guitar that you love in particular?
Well, I grew up playing piano, and I was very dyslexic, so traditional piano lessons for me were painful — not just for me but everyone involved. My mother was classically trained, and so she attempted to teach me and then thought, “Well, that’s not working.” So we went through a number of teachers. By the time I was in my early teens, I had a next-door neighbor with a set of drums, and I’d go over and play the drums all the time. Finally, he gave them to me as a present. Then, my father finally said, “Look if you’ll get rid of those drums, I’ll buy you anything you want.”
So for Christmas, I asked for a guitar, and my dad was a manager at Sears. So I got a little Sears guitar and a little three-watt amp. When I hit my first power chord, the amp bounced across the floor and I just I knew that that was it. There was a certain connection that I felt with it. It was mobile. I could take it around. I would be able to play it.
You know, I was a troubled teen with learning disabilities, and school was something that I really struggled with because I had a good mind, but I didn’t fit the learning system. So when I got a guitar, there was a certain empowerment that came with that. And that’s what I needed. I don’t think I really had much of an identity before that. My guitar became my identity, and as I got older I would have to re-examine that, add yet another layer to that because you can’t really just be a guitar player as your only identity in life. I guess you can, but it’s broadened over the years.
Was there any music at the time that I guess particularly inspired you along with that?
Well, as a result of getting a guitar, a whole new world opened up to me. I had grown up listening to the Osmonds and Barry Manilow and all kinds of music like that, and I had a long haired boyfriend who I just adored. He encouraged me to play the guitar and all of a sudden I got turned onto Led Zeppelin and Rush.
One of the very first songs my teacher gave me was “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix. That was my first introduction to that side of reality when it came to music. I then heard Jimi Hendrix’s version of “And the Gods Made Love,” and that literally changed my life. I didn’t know guitars made that sound. I was fascinated. And so from that point forward, I was in front of my guitar and amp. I’d practice 12 to 16 hours every day. I mean there wasn’t a single day that I took off ever. It was part of my body.
So would you say in that way music is very much entwined with your everyday life?
You know, it is because as a wounded student I became a passionate guitar teacher. Having some kind of a career track, as far as professionally, was gonna be music. So what could I do to support myself and play music? Because it’s a real Tetris game when you’re an artist, and I learned early. So I figured I’d teach. I had a great teacher who had a great message. I asked him, “Hey, do you mind if I teach the same way you taught me?” He said, “No, it will be good for you.”
Then about ten years ago, I started getting coach certifications to become a life coach because the road was brutal, and music was often the last thing that I got to do. It was all about putting a band together, putting a tour together, promoting on Facebook …. So I started looking at adding to my one on one with people because a lot of people want to play the guitar, and they start taking lessons, and they discover it’s hard. It’s not going to be something that everyone has the stamina or the time to put into it. A lot of adults say, “Am I too old to learn?” But if your hands are in good physical shape, you’re not too old to learn, but do you have the time to learn?
I had a lot of life experience. In 2009, I started my track on getting certifications as a life coach, and I got sober in 2010 as a result of that, and I realized it was really something that I wanted to do. Last week I graduated from a three-year program, and I’m officially now a spiritual director.
So I do coaching, spiritual direction, play and teach music, and I’m also a writing facilitator. In 2016, I became a writing facilitator for Women Writing for (a) Change. They’re an organization that’s been around 27 years in Cincinnati. It’s a really great organization, and I became a writing facilitator, which for me as someone who is dyslexic, that was really my greatest accomplishment, to be able to overcome those stigmas with myself.
So, that’s been my path.
That’s fantastic! Getting back to The Spear Shakers, how do you know Sherri McGee?
She moved to Lexington in the early ’80s. But in the late ’80s, I was in my first band that was on a major label. It was called Stealin’ Horses, and we were on Arista Records. At the same time, there was another band in Lexington that got signed on Enigma Records. They were called Velvet Elvis, and Sherri McGee was the drummer for that band. We were in two totally different clicks musically, and so we didn’t know each other, but we definitely knew who the other was. We played the same clubs and everything, but she ended up in L.A. after touring, and I ended up in Nashville so we never really knew each other at all.
Then, I had to do three things that I just don’t do.
One, I don’t play in a cover band. I never really have since high school.
And an all-girl band. I traveled in an F10 pickup truck with Stealin’ Horses that were all females, and we did like 275 shows in one year. I’ve done the all-girl band.
Then playing on New Year’s Eve. I haven’t played on New Year’s Eve in years.
And somebody called and asked me if I would do an all-girl cover band at a New Year’s Eve show in Lexington, my hometown. I said, “You know what, if you can get Sherri McGee to do that, I would actually do it.” Then Sherri’s like, “Wow! If Kelly’s going to do, it yeah I’ll do it.”
And I had so much fun.
After the show was over, I asked Sherri, “Would you be interested in doing something? I’ve always wanted to do like a White Stripes kind of thing.” Sherri is a wicked drummer. She’s way more versatile than I’ll ever be. I mean you name it, she can play it and sing it. And so she said, “I’d love to.”
We did two rehearsals, and it was like well we don’t need to do any more of those as long as I show up and know what I’m doing. She just follows me right off. She listens to it and plays it. We’ll do a soundcheck, and it is so zero maintenance. It’s just fun.
I almost feel like she’s given me my music back because I was really burned out a few years ago. I sold my house, downsized, and decided to step back and see what was next. I didn’t know if touring any longer would be in my future because I wasn’t going to do it the same way I’d done it. And then we’re playing quite a bit and really starting to write. At first, I wanted to go back through all of my CDs. There’s a lot, and I’ll pick the songs that were my favorites, and see which one of those songs work as a duo.
And so we’ve been recording singles. We recorded three singles, and we shot three music videos and wove together a promotional reel to launch things, and quite frankly, I think I’m just going to keep doing that because it keeps things fresh and new.
So your EP is out now. How’s the response been?
It’s been great. We do a lot of radio, and we go in and we do the songs on acoustic. That’s been fun.
We’re getting a great reception. We play Cincinnati once a month, and people keep coming back. There’s a club called The Greenwich, and it’s the oldest jazz club in Cincinnati. That’s pretty much exclusively where I play in Cincinnati because I really like that place. It’s got a great vibe. I record a lot of our shows from there. That’s a great thing to really be able to put our show together. So that’s what we’re doing, and then branching out and starting to play festivals.
I’m taking it easy and taking gigs that we want to play. We do what we want to do. We’re doing this because we really love it. And it’s really nice to be able to make smart decisions based on what would be the smart thing to do, instead of just survival as an artist. I just want to play music and not be burned out.
One last question, kind of a fun question, what’s your favorite guitar to play?
Oh, there’s only one, I’ve got an old ’63 Strat. I’ve had it since I was since I graduated high school. There’s a mom and pop store in Lexington, Fred More Music, and it was one of the two places where you would take lessons. It was a small store, and Freddy, the guy that owned it, found this guitar for me.
In the early ’80s, it didn’t have a scratch on it. Now there’s hardly any paint on it.