x woman KELLY RICHEY has led a charmed life as an independent music maker, living her creative life on her own terms. After launching her own record label SWEET LUCY RECORDS, she has cut over 16 albums and has made a name for herself as a one of kind live performer with a sound rooted in the blues. Now, she is shaking things up a bit with her latest musical project THE SPEAR SHAKERS, where she has taken notes from JACK WHITE of THE WHITE STRIPES and has teamed up with a drummer and eschewed the role of a bass player. Said drummer is percussionist SHERRI McGEE and she and RICHEY are one hell of a spirited rock duo, bringing some-much needed revelry and recklessness to what we call blues rock. 2019 is shaping up to be a big year for THE SPEAR SHAKERS. This month, the duo is releasing three new singles - I WENT DOWN EASY, LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND and SOMETHINGS GOING ON. ROCKWIRED had a chance to speak with KELLY RICHEY of THE SPEAR SHAKERS regarding their new music. Here is how the interview went.
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You're kicking off this new year with a three new singles as a part of your new band THE SPEAR SHAKERS. After having been a solo act for years, how does it feel getting this nw music out there with a new band?
It really feels great! I love working with SHERRI! This project has been such a pleasant surprise. I've been doing music for a long time and I've had magical moments before, but this was kind of effortless. It was like "Wow!" She and I have been having a great time. She is such a treat to work with. She really is.
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After having gone solo all of these years, what inspired you to form this duo with SHERRI McGEE?
I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky and I was in a band on ARISTA RECORDS called STEALING HORSES. That was my first real touring experience, but prior to that band, I had been in bands all throughout high school and beyond. In the late eighties I toured for two and half out of four years with this band which ended up being based out of Nashville. In the early eighties, SHERRI moved to Lexington and prior to that she was going to the University of Kentucky. She was playing in a band called VELVET ELVIS and they were signed to ENIGMA RECORDS. We started touring and they started touring. I didn't grow up with SHERRI because she was from Glasgow, Kentucky, so we didn't go to high school or anything like that. Because of touring, our paths crossed. We'd be doing an event in Lexington and her band and my band would be on the same bill. Later on, she ended up in LA and I ended up in Nashville. We always knew who each other was. We never got to play together. As a musician, I have three cardinal rules: No cover bands, no all-girl bands and don't play on New Years Eve. That is it. I haven't played in a cover band since high school. STEALING HORSES was an all-girl band and after 275 shows in the front seat of a S-10 pickup in one year was enough for me. Anyway, I got a call last year asking me if I would be interested in doing a New Years Eve show with an all -girl band doing covers of songs by female rock artists for this Females in Rock thing. It was this benefit for a really cool organization for young girls in music. This was everything I said I don't do as a musician but I told then that if you get SHERRI McGEE to play drums, I'll do it. So they called SHERRI and thankfully she agreed. We did the show, which was a blast. I worked my ass off on all of those cover tunes. It was an interesting experience. SHERRI and I really hit it off. After the show I told her that I had always wanted to do a WHITE STRIPES or BLACK KEYS type thing, so I asked her if she would be interested in working with me. I went to Lexington and we did two rehearsals and we have been playing ever since. If I've got a song idea and I send it to her, she gives it back to me fully realized as if it's been rehearsed hundreds of times. We just play fresh everything that we do. Every night we're on stage it's magic. It's really working. That was how we started working together and she is as happy to be working with me as I am to be working with her. We're two pieces of the puzzle that fit together really well.
It sounds to me like you were the catalyst in getting this this going. Does songwriting within this duo come from you as well?
SHERRI is a great songwriter. She has this alter-ego LITTLE MISS TAMMY where she sings and performs and dresses up. She does way more than just play drums. She has fronted her own bands as well. She is a little more on the country side of things, but as far as her writing goes, she can do anything. In moving forward right now, the songwriting is largely coming from me because I've got sixteen CDs and a ton of songs that I can pull from. That is what we're doing right now. I'm going through my whole catalog and mining the songs that I really enjoy playing that would work best in a two-piece. We're building this thing from the ground up and right now that is where the ground is. I would love for her to start doing harmonies. That will probably come with phase two of our development. If there is anything that she wants to bring to the project, I am totally open to it, but right now, I'm playing guitar and singing like I always have and she's playing drums and following me off the cliff. This is who we are right now.
How did music get started for you? What inspired you to pik up the guitar and chase the blues?
The blues chased me, I must admit. I grew up in a Southern Baptist home. My uncle was a preacher. Our church was the first church to integrate and it was burned to the ground in the late-sixties. When that happened, the African-American community merged with us on a lot of revivals and I saw from a small child the difference between black gospel and white gospel. My mother was the piano player and my aunt was the organist. It was a music driven family and a music driven church. When I saw black gospel verses white gospel, I was like "Whoah!" That had an impact on me that I wouldn't realize until I found myself on stage with ALBERT KING a decade and a half later. My years in school were difficult. I have a learning disability and I have ADHD. I was bright, but I couldn't function within the lines when it came to learning to read. I had to learn how to get through school. I had to fake my way through it. People didn't realize the ways in which I was struggling with a learning disability. I had to find my own path. Because of that, college was not an option. I actually got a standing ovation when I got my diploma. Yah! They were all happy then! I grew up playing piano and my next door neighbor had a drum set and I would sneak over and play his drum set until he finally gave it to me. After a few months of playing them in my bedroom, my dad said if I gave up those drums that he would buy me anything I wanted. We weren't wealthy. We were very middle class. That Christmas, I got an electric guitar. My dad worked at SEARS so he got me this LES PAUL copy with a little three-watt amp with automatic distortion. That was where it started and you couldn't pry that thing out of my hands. I went through three guitars in three months. They fell apart. I had to keep sending them back to get parts so my parents got me nice little Telecaster copy. In those days I would roller skate. Guitar and rollerskating were my two favorite things. There were these kids that I would skate with and their dad was a guitar teacher. The first thing this teacher said to me when I walked in with my KISS records and my PETER FRAMPTON record, he told me girls can't play guitar. What I think he was trying to say was that the whole idea of girls playing guitars hadn't really happened. There was no example of what it was that I was getting ready to do. There were other girls out there and LITA FORD of THE RUNAWAYS was probably the closest thing, but as far a JIM HENDRIX-styled guitar slinger, there really weren't any. I don't know if I ever would've learned to play without this guy. He had my number and he was ruthless. He pushed me hard. I didn't dare show up for a lesson unprepared. I was always that girl that had a guitar in her hand. Guitar was something that I could really do. I sucked at everything else. Music helped me learn to think and it helped me to learn and helped me form my cognitive abilities, so it breaks my heart when I see music programs being cut from the schools. In the beginning I was a rock player. I didn't understand why I loved LED ZEPPELIN so much and why I loved HENDRIX so much. When I was working at a club in Nashville in between tours called THE COOKOO'S NEST, ALBERT KING was playing a show there. I was young and dumb enough to ask him if I could sit in with him and he gave me this look and said "Yeah! You can sit in." The guys who were a part of his rhythm section confirmed that I played. So I brought my guitar and my amp. The night of the show, KING had a pistol on his lap and a sheriff's badge on his suspenders. When I walked in, I showed him my guitar which was this '63 Fender Stratocaster. When the show started, KING told me to go out there and start the show. He stood up and he looked down at me and he said "Don't you make me ashamed!" At that moment in time, all of the planets lined up and it scared me to death and I wasn't that easy to scare. That night, I realized what the blues was because I saw it in action. I didn't have a clue what was getting ready to hit me. That was when I saw where my musical roots came from. They came from the black gospel that I had grown up with and how I had been driven to that music that had that backbeat. It was undefinable. It had that extra feeling to it. After STEALING HORSES folded in the early nineties, it was time for me to start my own band so I put together this power trio and never looked back. I've been playing blues based rock ever since. Blues purists would call it rock n roll and for anyone who plays metal or hard rock, they'd call it blues rock but it all comes from the same well.
The fact that you've released 16 albums on your own label is commendable. Did this entrepreneurship happen as a result of your tenure with STEALING HORSES?
When I was with STEALING HORSES, they got a production deal. We played showcases in Nashville for like seventeen labels and we went to SXSW and there was bidding war over the band. We got signed to ARISTA but when you looked behind the curtain, you realized that KAYA HART had inadvertently signed the rights to her songs away. The label owned her. It was your typical record label deal and in the eighties, any band that didn't become a hit just became a tax write off. That was just the way things were. Around that time. ANI DIFRANCO came out on the scene. Because ANI DIFRANCO had this folk rock sound, I really liked her first couple of records quite a bit but the biggest thing that I liked about her was that she was independent artist and she made her own records. It was like "Wow! I want to do that!" I didn't want to experience what I saw happened with STEALING HORSES. In hindsight, with a little bit of wisdom and maturity, I see that record labels aren't bad. You don't have to have a bad experience and being the ruler of your own world is not a piece of cake. A life in music is what it is. It's what you make of it. But at that time, I chose to do it on my own. It was when I released my third CD so that I could get national distribution. That was when I started SWEET LUCY RECORDS. I got in with SELECTIVE HITS. They had been my distributor since they are also based in Memphis. They are run by JOHNNY PHILLIPS who is the son of SAM PHILLIPS, who founded SUN RECORDS. I've been with them for a long time. I've done a lot of my own booking and I've had agencies a long the way. I've managed to play about 250 shows every single year and in 2010 I came off of the road and got 100% sober and re-approached some things. After committing to sobriety, I found that I didn't want to keep doing the same blues rock thing that I was doing and some of that led to me reconnecting with SHERRI and that was how I stumbled upon the name SPEAR SHAKERS. I was on YOUTUBE one night going down the rabbit hole and I cam across this documentary on SIR FRANCIS BACON. I'm not a SHAKESPEARE expert but this documentary was saying that the name SHAKESPEARE was "Spear shaker" backwards and that the Greek goddess Athena was a spear shaker. That was where the name SHAKESPEARE came from. I have no idea where that truth begins and ends but I thought "How cool is that?" I want to be a spear shaker for justice and that was the inspiration for the name of the duo. That is what we are and that is what we're doing.
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Is the release of these three singles a hint of a forthcoming album or do these releases standalone?
What I feel called to do is "quarterly-ish". I want to go in and record three songs. For the three songs we've released now, we've shot video footage for. We've released the video for SOMETHINGS GOING ON and we're finishing up edits on I WENT DOWN EASY and then we'll do some editing for LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND. Every three or four months, I want to go in and record three or four songs and three more videos. I want to be singles driven. I want to keep releasing songs and then there is a collection of work, I can put something out. The days of pressing an actual CD are gone. Most people don't even have CD players anymore. I've got all of this material and I can package it however it want to. So I'll be releasing singles form her on out and then when it comes time to release a collection, I can put a nice little bow on it.
What is the big takeaway of THE SPEAR SHAKERS' music. What do you want people to come away with after they hear it?
If I have done my job, the second we hit our first note, if people freeze and go "What the hell was that?" and if they feel something from head to toe that just really knocks them out. I want to make music that is going to hit somebody hard and make them feel and makes them experience. I want to make music that is going to give people an experience and take them somewhere. For me, music is like delivering a big lightning bolt. I just want to hit people with lightning. There is so much interaction between SHERRI and I onstage that sometimes people in the audience don't know who to focus on and I love that. That is when really know that the sum of this whole experience is greater than the parts.
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