tools of the trade

Above is Steve’s art table, where he did virtually all the work you can see on this website.  You can see on the left of the table is something he had been working out possibly for a future piece (?) and an unopened canvas on the right beside it.  There is debate as to whether our father, Pete, made this table for Steve or some 35 years ago for our brother, Peter, who was considering going into drafting/architecture.   In any case, Steve ended up making good use of it.

steves-ibanez-les-paul-copy-2.jpgSteve gigging in black

The guitar above and below is Steve’s first electric guitar, purchased sometime in the late 1970s, possibly 1978.   Close to our neighbourhood in the Markham and Lawrence area in Scarborough, used to be a small music shop, I think called Painted Post Music.  I took my first guitar lessons there and I’m quite sure it’s here that Steve bought this guitar for around $400.00.   It is an Ibanez copy of a type of Gibson Les Paul issued in the 1950s.   Note the lack of a pickguard, and gold hardware.   These copies are sometimes referred to as “lawsuit era” guitars (1970s) due to the fact that many companies, Ibanez prominent among them, began making pretty decent guitars using established, popular designs by Gibson and Fender.  The big companies sued in an attempt to stop them from copy-catting.   This was Steve’s main (and only!) electric up until the late 1980s.  Black of course! The “radioactive” decal came courtesy of Steve, not the manufacturers.

Steve's black Ibanez Les Paul copy

Below are two photos of the electric Steve came to own after his black one.  He bought this candy apple red Charvel/Jackson at Steve’s Music on Queen St. west in the mid to late ’80s for something like $1500.00.   A guitar made by this company was the guitar of choice by many metal players at the time, and Steve was deep into metal in the eighties and much of the nineties.  It was one of the early type of guitars that featured “active” pickups, which meant partly that they employed a 9 volt battery housed inside the guitar in order to operate.  I’ll never forget how horrified Steve was opening up his guitar in back and discovering this battery  – “What the fuck is this?”  He needed to buy batteries in order to play his guitar!   But his horror soon receded as he got used to the beautiful tone this guitar produced.

I’ll never forget the day he bought the guitar.   In those days, it was quite common for many of us in our crowd of friends and acquaintances to go to political rallies and protests.   One Saturday we were downtown on Queen street returning home on the streetcar from some sort of gathering, I looked out the window and there was Steve walking along with his new guitar.   He’d skipped the rally in favour of going guitar shopping.  Priorities!

Steve's 1980s Jackson Charvel

The Society of Steves in The Tunebox Junkies, 1995 (Rod’s Benefit Bash)                                  (Jocelyn Grills, drums/Brenden Cavin, bass/Dan, Steve Kelly, guitars/Steve Shortell, tenor sax, Rod Cohen vocals)

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Below is Steve’s resonator guitar by Johnson.   This type of guitar is sometimes referred to as a “Dobro” but that is actually a manufacturer’s name.   People are always taken with this instrument whenever they see it.  It’s easy to be so attracted to it, and I guess Steve was too.  The metal body is made of nickel, as far as I know.  These guitars are most typically played in different country and blues musics, and often using a slide, the 2 or 3 inch long tube the player wears on one of the fingers of his fretting hand which produces that bending, slippery, sliding sound on the instrument.  Steve favoured a clay, or ceramic slide as opposed to glass or the most commonly used steel slide.  He picked up this guitar brand new in around 2004 for about $1200.00 and it is featured prominently on our Into the Water CD.  Listen for it on the new stuff also (coming hopefully in late summer).  I’ve heard people say, when plucked, it reminds them of the banjo.  So if you hear something in the Kelly Brothers that sounds like a banjo, now you know what it is!  Steve worked at slide quite a bit and got pretty good at it, too.  I think at some point he must have felt, you can’t be a Muddy Waters devotee and not own a resonator guitar!

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Below is pictured Steve’s first guitar, a Mansfield copy of a Gibson Hummingbird.  This may look familiar to some of you, as there is a decent shot of the real enchilada on the cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” album.  Gord’s, however, is a twelve string while Steve’s is the standard six.  Also, the actual hummingbird image has been worn away from years of Steve’s strumming hand grazing the pickguard.

My parents bought this guitar, if memory serves, for Steve’s 16th birthday.  My mother and I went to have a look at it at some guy’s house – I don’t remember if she found it in the classifieds, or if I did.  Anyway, she wanted me to go with her to check it out, to make sure it was a decent instrument, etc.   Well, we got there, I played it for about a minute, gave it the once over for about half a minute, pretending to know what I was doing, and declared something like, “Yeah, it’s good.”  First guitar purchased!  I’m pretty sure Steve was reasonably impressed with it – I would be able to tell if he wasn’t.  It wasn’t the greatest guitar, but could hold it’s own, and Steve used this as his main non-electric for years, up until around just after 2000, I would say.  First song learned:  Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children”.

Steve's first guitar

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Steve and I would often play together at various family functions.  He was of two minds about this:  being quite shy and not the most confident in his abilities, he was very nervous about performing at intimate gatherings; but he also viewed it as something of a duty, knowing many people, particularly our parents, enjoyed hearing us both sing and play.  Above is a photo of us playing in my parents home – it’s around 2000, but I don’t know what the event is.   Whenever something was upcoming, like a milestone birthday for instance, I would sometimes get a phone call from Steve who would, without any discussion of the event, say, “Well, I guess we better get some songs together, eh?”  Even though he was reticent, he knew these little performances were important for our family community and helped keep our musical juices flowing besides.

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Above (looking very studious) is Steve playing his main guitar, a Taylor acoustic.  Steve got this fine guitar (finally!) around 2000.  The photo here has Steve at my kitchen table at Springdale Boulevard in Toronto on one of our many Friday nights.  Here is where we crafted our songs together as well as just jammed innumerable songs by other artists we loved.  Steve is shown here looking at some lyrics of one of those songs in a binder we came to just call, “the book”.  I estimate that we had over 600 of those nights.  They started out with just Steve coming over for a couple of beers, but it wasn’t long before he said, “Maybe we should play guitars next time.”  And the rest is music history!  Usually it would be just Steve and I playing but often we would have our friends Don or Rod come play, in addition to many others who showed up for two or three times (you know who you are).  Sometimes people were there just to hang out and enjoy the music and the general fun times (especially Maureen, Deirdre and Brenna).  Steve never failed to have people in stitches.   Without doubt, I enjoyed having him over as much for the humour as for the music.  Both cerebral and low brow, sarcastic and benevolent, dry, wry and ironic, theatrical, quick witted, anecdotal, slapstick and of course his famous impersonations.  Steve’s comedy repertoire ran the gamut.  You could just watch Steve doing something entirely mundane like hanging up his jacket and find something funny in it.  He was a natural.   I know there are a lot of people who know Steve a little bit, but only know him as “shy, quiet Steve” and find it hard imagining there was the Steve who could easily leave you in tears from laughing too hard.  Regularly.   Friday nights will never be the same.

For those who consider themselves rock gear nerds, even just a bit, below are Steve’s two amps that gave voice to his electric guitars.  The one on the left is a beast of an amp, “Phasor Twin” by Vibration Technology (VT), from none other than Scarborough, Ontario.  Their company had two employees assembling amplifiers in the late 1970s by the names of Dan and Steve Kelly.  And I mean the company had TWO employees assembling amps.  After high school this job was the first full time steady work Steve and I both had, minimum wage factory and all the perks that go with it.  We were there for two or three years each, and I remember walking to work (the factory was right in our neighbourhood) in the morning with Steve, in complete silence.   Steve bought his first amplifier there at a pretty good discount.   It is 60 watts, has two 12 inch speakers, is solid state, no tubes, back when solid state amps were supposed to be the up and coming thing.   The overdrive just didn’t make it happen like a good tube amp.   I think it is the heaviest amp of its size I have ever lifted.  The one on the right is a single 12 inch Marshall Valvestate, which combines solid state with tube.  It’s actually quite a good sounding amp.  Unfortunately, after Steve bought this amp, he only performed with it on one or two occasions.  But at least he had it for recording and playing in his apartment.

Steve's phasor twinSteve's Marshall

 

Steve's harmonicas

Above, some of Steve’s harmonicas, his harmonica holder and his main slide (ceramic).    The larger harmonica in front is chromatic, and first belonged for years to our father, Pete.  Steve appreciated a good harmonica/harp player, and would sometimes point out how the instrument was so often misused by so many high profile artists who couldn’t seem to be bothered to work at creating the simplest melody.  Although it wasn’t a frequent concern of his, he was conscientious enough to be in the former group than the latter.  You can hear a soulful example of his playing on our song, Will and Margaret, at reverbnation.com or seanadams.ca or on our Into The Water cd .

Steve's piano

For Steve’s 50th birthday our family gave Steve a new Yamaha keyboard, pictured above.  He worked at it a lot and came to know his way around it pretty well.  Steve initially studied written pieces, conservatory style, in addition to just playing around on his own and with occasional pointers from me.   After a few years he dropped the reading and  just worked on learning pieces he liked by ear and chord knowledge.

As mentioned above, Steve was a frequent visitor to our home (he actually lived there for two years in the mid-nineties).  When he came over for our regular Friday night sessions, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to just quietly walk in the door, hang up his jacket, put away his beer and without saying any more than a casual “hi”, sit down at our piano and start playing away for 10-15 minutes.   Once he was done, our visiting would get under way.

It wasn’t too long before he started applying his new found knowledge to song-writing on the piano, and as you will hear in the coming months ended up writing on this keyboard one of his finest songs.

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