Kelly Richey Always Knew of the Blues: "I Could Play Until the Day I Died"

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According to Richey, her blues trajectory began during her early childhood, steered in part by her family's involvement with the local Baptist church where her uncle preached. It was there that she first heard her mother play piano and her aunt play the organ. When the church was burned to the ground after it integrated in 1969, the congregation opted to hold its revivals in local African-American churches.

"Those musical experiences became etched in my DNA," Richey recalls. "The black gospel music I heard during my youth had a profound influence on my choice of genre when I became a musician. Later, in my teenage years, I discovered Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Led Zeppelin as I found myself drawn to blues-based rock."

Richey took piano lessons as a child, and later switched to the drums. When she turned 15, her parents got her a guitar as a Christmas present. "The guitar just seemed to fit me perfectly," she smiles. "I played piano from the time I could reach the keyboard of the old black Wurlitzer that was in my parents' living room. I didn't enjoy that experience. I'm dyslexic, and since piano lessons required me to read music it was a painful and difficult process... Actually, the first of many difficult experiences related to my dyslexia. When I started to play guitar, I discovered that the instrument allowed me to play with greater freedom and, more importantly, it allowed me to play by ear." Richey began performing shortly thereafter -- at church, at school, in senior retirement homes, shelters, parks and recreation facilities throughout her hometown. "I took my guitar with me everywhere," she declares. "I literally never set it down. I played for anyone who would listen!"

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Lee Zimmerman