Friday, March 25, 2016

Working with the Wolf - Dave Kelly remembers

Dave Kelly is best known as a stalwart of the Blues Band, and one of Britain's leading slide guitarists.  But at the tender age of 22 he was a member of the John Dummer Blues Band when they got the gig to back Howlin’ Wolf on his May ’69 UK tour.  Before his recent gig in Edinburgh with Paul Jones he recalled the experience of that tour.
“We’d already done one tour with John Lee Hooker, and we were asked if we’d like to back Howlin’ Wolf and we said we’d absolutely love to – even though we never got paid! 
The Wolf - moaning' at midnight
“We loved his music.  You know, he had so many songs, not just 12 bars, things that needed arrangements and needed rehearsed – and we never got to rehearse with him.  The day before the first gig in Sunderland, we’d set up above the Roebuck pub in Tottenham Court Road, and Wolf came in with Roy Tempest the tour manager.  He shook hands with everyone, and told us to play some blues, which we did.  We went two or three times around, and he said “Fine.”  He said “Play me a shuffle beat.”  So we did that, and he turned to Roy Tempest and said “They’re fine,” – and that was it.
“He never told us what he was going to play, he never told us what key – he’d give us a count, and we’d start.  Over the two and half weeks, mostly things were in the same key that he’d done them the night before.  One night at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, he started the riff for 'Somebody Walking In My Home'.  So John Dummer comes in on drums, we all start playing that riff, and then the Wolf goes “Whoa-oh, Smokestack Lightnin’” – he just changed the song, it was wonderful!
“His voice was wonderful, absolutely wonderful.  The best gig was the City of London Polytechnic in the West End, where everybody turned up, there were loads of faces, an enormous crowd turned out.  That was in the first week, and he just . . . tore it up.  Crawling around the stage on all fours, lying on his back and howling – he put on such a show.  Another great one was the El Rondo in Leicester, which was quite late on, and he’d spoken to his wife on the phone and I think he was feeling homesick.  And he sang 'I Hurt Your Feelings, I Didn’t Mean To Do You No Wrong' [aka 'Tell Me What I’ve Done'].  There were a lot of young people there, a lot of students, and he had them sit down on the floor, and he went amongst them, and went down and sang on one knee, and it was so intense.  You know, missing his wife, and then he did that and just poured it all out.
Dave Kelly - British slide guru
“He was a powerful man, and a powerful singer.  I don’t know how often he wore out his harmonicas, but a hell of a lot of air went through them!  A big man, big lungs, and he used them.  Of course we didn’t have monitors in those days, it was just the PA.  So he said “Put those speakers behind me so I can hear you.”  We had to be careful with feedback, so we got them sort of in between, in front of us.  So he wasn’t as loud to us as out front, though we could hear him.
“It was a pleasure to back him.  It kept you on your toes, because you didn’t know what song he was going to do, or what key he was going to be in – it was a great learning curve, a pleasure and an honour.”

Dave Kelly’s latest album, Solo Performances: Live in Germany 1986 to 1989 is out now via Hypertension.

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