The Kelly Brothers most recent album, Let it Slide, Let it Shine, is now available for listening on this page – scroll to the bottom!
You can access the music by scrolling past the photo of Steve and the following commentary
In musical terms, if Steve were to call himself something, it would likely be “songwriter” as opposed to “musician”, even though they are not necessarily mutually exclusive endeavors. He wasn’t really comfortable with the “musician” label. It’s a fair assessment, but one has to be, by definition, a musician if one is a songwriter. It’s a self-esteem issue and a tendency a lot of artists have in wanting to reserve the title of “musician” or “artist” for those they feel are really worthy of it – “Oh, he’s a real musician…” This in spite of Steve’s feeling that music is for all the people and that “all music is folk music”.
Steve was a master songwriter, a deep-thinking poet, a clever word-smith and very thoughtful and serious about all the musical choices he and I both made with regard to bringing life, colour and dimension to our songs. Never contrived or formulaic, he relied on intuition gleaned from experiences and influences, often speaking about getting ideas from dreams and from some inexplicable, spontaneous source.
Still, he might cringe at having some of his earlier songs on display here, as he was aware, correctly, that as the years went by he became a “better” or more mature songwriter. But I feel, as do others, that there are some gems in those oldies from the ’80s, as well.
There are, loosely, four main periods into which I would like to categorize Steve’s body of songwriting work.
First is songs written while in our band “Rude Awakening”. Included here are songs from a studio recorded tape from 1985, Adventures In TV Land, as well as songs from a December 1984 performance recorded at our frequent haunt the Cabana Room at the Spadina Hotel. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other RA recordings that were never preserved, or songs that were just never recorded.
Second, recordings Steve made on his own in the late ’80s using a TEAC 4 track tape machine and a Dr. Rhythm drum machine. These will be uploaded at a later date. Steve was very into metal (Metallica, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, etc. – no hair bands!) in those days.
The third period includes Steve’s 7 songs from the Kelly Brothers 2007 cd “Into The Water”.
The fourth period, to be completed hopefully by summer’s end, is new music Steve and I were in the middle of rehearsing when Steve died. We had, fortunately, recorded all the songs on a portable device, as demos in preparation for rehearsing and “proper” studio recording. So it is a stroke of luck, in the midst of tragedy, that Steve’s voice and much of his guitar work will be preserved and “dropped in” when I, bass player Griffin Clark, drummer Brodie Clark and engineer/musician Aaron Comeau finally put it together in studio (the Kelly Clark Sons).
While I feel that Steve always demonstrated excellent songwriting skills, he became more consistent and fully mature for “Into The Water”. Even still, however, there is a newer quality on the “fourth period” – a deliberate stylistic attempt at blues – something Steve did not take lightly. He was loathe to just reel off a recording of “white man’s blues” as he put it. But Steve knew the history, the musicians and the styles. He loved all the old blues artists, particularly Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, and carefully, respectfully and lovingly crafted two songs (roughly) in this idiom. These songs came from Steve without a hint of contrivance, and I’m confident listeners will feel he did the tradition justice.
With one exception (see song notes below), I have elected to include here only songs that Steve wrote and sang. Some have suggested that I include my own Rude Awakening and Kelly Brothers songs as well, as Steve obviously had a part in those songs too, singing and playing guitar and being a reliable friend and critic of the songs as they were guided to their final states in performance and recording.
But I feel that would muddy the waters a bit and make the site less “pure”. So, as it stands, we have only the songs Steve wrote and sang and had the main say in arranging. (For anyone interested in hearing Adventures in TV Land, Christmas at the Cabana or Into the Water in their entirety, visit seanadams.ca where Sean has posted a memorial page to Steve on his website. You can also listen to Into the Water at reverbnation.com)
One final note: Looking back at these times during the 1980s there is an obvious pull between sweetness and sadness due to the tragedy of Steve’s death. Unfortunately, the sadness is made more acute when we acknowledge the additional early deaths of our brothers Steve Shortell (sax player and renegade artist) and Mark Baldi (bass player Rob’s brother, piano player and extraordinary sound engineer).
Rude Awakening at The Turning Point, Bloor St., east of Spadina. (1982) Steve Shortell, Dan Kelly, Steve Kelly, Rob Baldi (drums, Cray Cutrara) A benefit for “Rock Against Racism”
From Cabana Room performance December, 1984 drums: Jim Fike / bass, backing vocals: Rob Baldi / sax, backing vocals: Steve Shortell guitar, vocals: Dan Kelly, Steve Kelly / sound: Ian (last name?) / cover by Sean Adams
No Miracles These lyrics reflect Steve’s firm atheism at the time. He later took a less rigid view, spiritually speaking, and never really stayed a committed materialist.
Adventures In TV Land A witty look at the paradoxes and contradictions of excess and affluence. I remember the band really liked to cook on this song.
Life’s Limits This song is the “one exception”. I wrote this song but couldn’t play the guitar parts and sing at the same time, so I asked Steve to please sing it. He didn’t really want to, but obliged anyway. And he put everything into it even though I’m pretty sure he wasn’t so fond of it!
Red Star Over Washington Steve making fun of USA/Russia paranoia, while still acknowledging the sobering potential for disaster. But just to be clear, he despised Soviet and American imperialism equally!
Shoot Yourself Our first big hit ! The lyrics are classic Steve: caustic, unforgiving and simultaneously funny and grim. This song was partly inspired by Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch 22. It was the early days of Rude Awakening, and I remember when Steve brought this song to the band – we were all so impressed : we’ve got ourselves a great songwriter!
From the tape, “Adventures In TV Land” Rude Awakening, 1985 drums: Jim Fike / bass: Rob Baldi / tenor saxophone, percussion: Steve Shortell guitar, vocals: Dan Kelly / guitar, vocals: Steve Kelly / engineer: Mark Baldi
The cover of Rude Awakening’s tape, Adventures In TV Land, drawn by Steve.
Victims One of the few times Steve takes solo guitar duties, and he does a great job. But “Victims” was a song that Steve had a love/hate relationship with. He loved the music, but came to hate some of the lyrics and the general tenor of the song. He just felt it had that aura about it of, “rock band sings about important issue”. I agreed with him but I’m not sure why, because all the songs were about important issues, but they didn’t really come off sounding like that to us. Maybe because “Victims” lacked Steve’s trademark dark humor. One related, humorous note: this tape was reviewed in a local music magazine and the reviewer gave it a thumbs down, citing, “Trite, contrived polemics.” Everybody in the band thought that was hilarious !
Man of the Year I always felt this was one of those songs with a simple hook that gets a band cooking. The band somehow always got into the zone on this one. Am I right, Rob? For those who never knew, the “man of the year” Steve is singing about is none other than Ronald Reagan.
Media Stagnation Steve was a thrash metal fan and this was the closest RA ever got to providing that for Steve! Sorry about that, dear brother – but it still rocks!
Not a Tribute When John Lennon was shot and killed in 1980, a somewhat spontaneous rally assembled in Toronto, at Nathan Philips Square, and eventually moved to either a local radio station or Much Music (I don’t remember which). The story, briefly and best as I can remember, is that the crowd gathered around the station, and the “Society of Steves” (Kelly and Shortell) climbed on to the roof, waving some sort of flag and inciting the crowd in some manner. It’s probably not accurate, but fun to tell and think of! This song’s first lines are a reference to that gathering, and the song, generally, is “not a tribute” to Lennon, but “just some thoughts in song”. I know a lot of people had this as one of their favourite Steve Kelly songs.
About the recording: For those who don’t know, most popular music recordings one hears are done in something similar to the following manner: the band sets up as it would for a typical performance but with just the minimal needed to perform a given song. For instance, drums, bass, guitar or keyboards, voice and maybe another instrument part that would be critical in signifying an important part of the song for the band to follow. When that’s all recorded, the sound engineer isolates drums and bass (and maybe a few other parts that went really well in the original recording). He then “removes” the other parts and re-records vocals, soloist spots – anything that was not part of the basic recording but needs to be in the finished product. These parts are called “over-dubs”. He can then mix the volume levels and tone colours etc. of every part individually for a perfect finished product (Into the Water was recorded in this manner). Recording “live to stereo”, as on Adventures in TV Land, everything is done in one take; the whole band played for the original recording and all parts were retained – no overdubs; and no changes in the mix to individual parts are possible later. Both techniques have their own peculiar challenges. A couple of advantages of “live to stereo” is that one doesn’t have to fuss with overdubs in the end, and if done right, advocates say, ostensibly, it captures more of the energy of a “live” performance. One big disadvantage is that you have one chance to get it right and if just one person makes a mistake, it’s back to the beginning for the whole band. You can’t “fix it in the mix”. Looking back, I think we were all on our game that day, and Mark, our engineer, did a splendid job in setting us up just right and carrying it through to the end.
After Rude Awakening recorded Adventures in TV Land, we spent a year gigging Queen Street and trying to cultivate our dreams of “making it” into a reality. We didn’t get very far. Frustration soon set in and the band members began arguing about and attempting a concensus regarding what the best path forward was. We decided to move ahead (some more reluctantly than others) as a cover band that also had original tunes. It turned out to be a final move for the band and I ended up quitting to go into music at university. Steve joined a short-lived Neil Young cover band that produced only one gig. The promotional photo above represents what came next for Steve. He is pictured here (top in the shades, of course) with Rude Awakening’s excellent drummer Jim Fike (right). They formed a cover band, called The Cage, and did some brief touring around Ontario for a year or so I believe. I don’t think any recordings came out of the project. Steve would sometimes entertain us with stories of the not-so-glamorous rock’n’roll lifestyle (sleeping with the lights on in a roach infested hotel room). Something he did not miss once The Cage came to an end.
From “Into The Water”, The Kelly Brothers (2006) drums: Jocelyn Grills / bass, mandolin, vocals: Brenden Cavin / percussion: Rod Cohen guitars and vocals: Dan Kelly, Steve Kelly / Engineers: Norm Barker, Richard Uglow – Richard also plays keys on Brushin’ Off the Dirt, and Hell of a Mess CD pamphlet design and layout: Patty Lane
Hell of a Mess Steve’s musical interests and influences were quite varied and more far-reaching than most people realize, but upon hearing this recording for the first time, I realized how such a big part of Steve was firmly planted in the Americana or roots rock camp of musical styles.
New World Century Steve and I shared slide guitar duties on this one. His is the siren-like opening (which repeats throughout), mine is the middle solo. Steve was horrified (like many of us) at the unabashed attempts at world domination by the neo-cons in Bush’s America. The song title is a reference to the American think tank said to influence American foreign policy, Project For the New American Century.
Cobalt Town Blues While most, if not all, of Steve’s song lyrics were serious minded, there are a few that are written that are so sobering, they do not lend themselves to casual play around the kitchen table. Once Steve and I got this song sorted out and recorded I think we only played it together on one other occasion. I enjoyed the riff so much though, and thought the lyrics were among his best, that more than a few times I’ve played it on my own.
Time Takes You This seems to be a favourite among our friends and family. It’s easy to see why. Steve sometimes had trouble remembering his own lyrics and this one bedeviled him the most! One of the few chances I got to be recorded playing Steve’s resonator guitar (see the section, tools of the trade). Steve used this guitar to play slide on a few of both of our tunes.
Private Saloon An extremely personal song, Steve never granted me nor anyone else for that matter, a chance to hear him perform it outside of its recorded version. Not even just the two of us in my kitchen ! Like Cobalt Town Blues, it never really saw the light of day once it was done in the studio. One of my other lyric favourites, this song must be listened to closely for the brilliant ambiance created by the arrangements and how they work with the lyrics. Not “back-ground music”!
Brushin’ Off the Dirt Though it may not be apparent, this song is an example of the Rolling Stones influence on Steve’s songwriting. I think we were alone in the studio with one of the wonderful engineers (Richard Uglow) who owned the place and worked with us on the record. We were about to spend what we thought was a good part of the day working on this song. Steve played his demo version for Richard and explained that he would like a piano accompaniment, in a sort of Elton John/Rolling Stones/quasi- or faux-gospel style. Richard tapped a piano key to determine the song’s key, worked on a few parts for a couple of minutes or so with Steve, then said “OK, I think I’ve got it.” He then proceeded to accompany Steve, recording the song in one take. Steve and I couldn’t believe it – our day’s work was done in less than an hour! (Other instrument over-dubs were done sometime later.) And, finally, this song is an example of Steve’s appreciation of the mystery of existence and a (somewhat) softening of his atheistic views.
No More Reason This song was written partly as a personal response of Steve’s to the period in Toronto some call, “the summer of the gun” (2005). Also commenting on the end of Indigenous armed resistance to European genocide, and his own tendency to “spoil for a fight”, Steve was somehow able to pull together those sentiments and make the lyric work. Musically speaking, Steve’s slide playing was an attempt by him to mimic pedal steel.
The Kelly Brothers and friends: Jocelyn Grills, Rod Cohen, Brenden Cavin
LET IT SLIDE, LET IT SHINE
Below are all the tracks from our most recent album – apologies for taking so long to get it uploaded. I encourage you to purchase the CD, as even if you don’t own a CD player, it’s great to have in your car (if you have one), plus the CD comes with extensive writings about the album making process, notes about the songs, and my own thoughts on our musical culture and how it relates to The Kelly Brothers (presumptuous, maybe, but that’s my prerogative!).
Unlike other uploads on the site, I have elected to include my own songs as well, as it just seems like the right thing to do.
Personnel and Credits
Drums – Brodie Clark; Bass guitar – Griffin Clark; Various Keyboards, upright bass – Aaron Comeau; Pedal steel guitar – Michael Eckert; Guitars, some keys, vocals – Steve Kelly, Dan Kelly; Guitar on One More Repair – Brenna Kelly-Adams; Vocals on One More Repair – Brenna Kelly-Adams, Deirdre Kelly-Adams
Recorded, engineered and mixed at The Trailer by Aaron Comeau ; Additional engineering – Guillermo Subauste (Pacha Sound); Mastering – Reuben Ghose (Mojito Mastering); Album Design – Staci Patten (Accurate Audio)
A special note on recording Let It Slide, Let It Shine
Aside from all the regular work and play that goes into making and finishing a project like this, there were special considerations and challenges that had to be met in order to do it right and get it finished. Specifically, with Steve gone, how do we complete this album, making him a part of it? After all, seven of the ten songs are his creations.
Fortunately, Steve and I had recorded all of our songs on a portable recorder, semi-completed versions of the songs commonly known as demonstration tapes, or “demos”. These versions contained all the main vocals, some harmony or accompanying vocals, guitar, piano work as well as drum machine accompaniment on six of the songs. What this meant was, primarily, that we had pretty good quality versions of Steve’s singing on all of his songs. So our engineers were able to take Steve’s vocal parts, as well as much of his guitar and piano work and “insert” them into the instrumental versions of the songs that all the musicians recorded in Aaron’s studio. For the engineers, it was a tricky and labourious task for which I will be forever grateful. The notes that accompany the CD have more details about this process.
Through Bein’ the Warrior (part 1)
This is a bit of acoustic blues from Steve. He took writing a blues song very seriously, being aware that it seems easy to do, but difficult to do it well.
Through Bein’ the Warrior (part 2)
All The Right Lines
This song went through several different stylistic incarnations before we settled on this version, “An out and out rocker”, as Steve put it. We barely got this song sorted out just a week before Steve died.
One from me. Steve is singing with me on the “Ooh – oohs”. I was able to save some faint electric guitar of Steve’s for this.
One More Repair
Another from me, Steve plays his e-bow on guitar for this, and Michael’s steel guitar blends beautifully with it.
I believe this is easily one of Steve’s best, inspired by Truman Capote’s “In cold Blood”, about the Clutter family murdered during a home invasion. Steve is on piano here.
This is the only song Steve and I ever wrote together, and there are no lyrics!
Let it Slide, Let it Shine
Steve letting us in on some of his more idealistic desires.
Four Leaf Clover
The last song he ever wrote, Four Leaf Clover was meant to be recorded a tone higher, as Steve was really pushing to get the low notes.
No doubt inspired by one of Steve’s musical heroes, Muddy Waters, Hideaway Blues sounds prescient, but was actually written a good four years before Steve died – excellent lyrics, as usual.
To purchase The Kelly Brothers’ CD, Let It Slide, Let It Shine, complete with photos and 50 pages of album notes, please contact Dan Kelly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Steve’s 4-track recordings from the 1980s will be available for listening at a date TBD. Sorry for the delay!)
For those who love Steve’s music, I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed!