Fort Wayne seems to embrace blues guitar players. From legends like B.B. King to regional favorite Duke Tumatoe, the Fort can be counted on to pack a venue to hear its heroes flaunt their fretwork. Local blues fans will sit comfortably in the ornate majesty of the Embassy or squeeze into a jam-packed beer tent to witness yet another prodigiously talented idol do their thing. If you play it, they will come.
The good news for blues devotees in the Summit City is that one of them is one of us. Fort Waynes own Brad Kelsey can justifiably be called a phenom. Kelsey has had an obsession with the blues since he first heard recordings of his great-grandfather, John Maverick Wick. Apparently, Maverick was a renowned Fort Wayne musician in the 1940s. He was a gifted jazz and blues piano player who traveled extensively throughout the Midwest and eastern states. Kelsey remembers often hearing records along with tales of his great-grandfathers long career.
Kelsey, 26, originally envisioned becoming a drummer, but mild parental resistance probably redirected his interest to the guitar. Like most parents of would-be rock stars, Kelsey's father figured his sons interest would be short-lived. Dad agreed to purchase an amp if his son was committed enough to pay for his first guitar with money earned from mowing neighborhood lawns. At the age of 10, Kelsey acquired a used Japanese Fender guitar from a neighbor for $50.
After spending about a year under the tutelage of John Forbing, Kelsey continued to advance his skills in the self-taught mode. Forbing, a well known Fort Wayne guitarist, had given him the basics, but now Kelsey wanted to go in a different direction. He listened to and was inspired by the usual suspects of modern blues greats, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy.
Kelsey recalls that his first performances were at wedding receptions and graduation parties. I was scared out of my mind. We played a lot of B.B. King songs. I think we must have played The Thrill Is Gone more than once during most shows. Thats probably why I dont play it live anymore. Luckily, the young blues prodigy survived his teenage burnout on the King classic.
Joining Kelsey in his current trio, billed as Brad Kelsey & Triple Tornado, are drummer Brandon Ford and bassist Andrew Teeple. Together, they create a powerful blues-rock sound that draws heavily on the Stevie Ray Vaughan influence.
Ford acquired his skills from his father, who was also a drummer. Ford went on to study percussion at IPFW and currently teaches private lessons and some percussion classes at schools in the area. Teeple studied his craft at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota. (I failed to address the topic of having such a scholarly rhythm section with Kelsey.)
The band participated in the recent whatzup Battle of The Bands III contest. Kelsey says he was initially reluctant to take part in the event, saying, I just didnt think a blues-rock band would be that successful in the battle, especially at Columbia Street. Former Triple Tornado bass player Adam Kugler convinced him otherwise, and the trio advanced all the way to the final round. Like I said, Fort Wayne supports blues guitar players.
The trio was undergoing a line-up change during BOTB III, which made the experience especially unique for newcomer Teeple. Other commitments prevented Kugler from continuing in the band shortly after entering the battle. While Teeple was starting to play regularly with the band, it was determined that now ex-bassist Kugler would finish the BOTB III shows. I stood near Teeple in the Columbia Street crowd during his bands final round performance. He obviously had mixed emotions. I was happy to see the band [advance], but it just made it even harder not to be up there, he said.
Prior to their BOTB III appearance, Brad Kelsey & Triple Tornado supported Joe Bonamassa at this years BBQ Ribfest at Headwaters Park in Fort Wayne. A few thousand people showed up for Joe, and were introduced to Kelsey and his band. It was an incredible experience that the young band wont soon forget. Kelsey also heard encouraging remarks from Bonamassa and his crew.
I recently caught up with the band at the Grind Coffee House in Fort Wayne, where their event was listed as an acoustic show. As it turned out, the band plugged in for a loud, raucous blues show for the caffeinated customers. Apparently, Ford was scheduled for a hernia operation the following day, and the band wanted to play all-out before their drummer went under the knife. That odd inspiration aside, the band played an energetic combination of originals and inspired versions of Billy Myles (via Eric Clapton) Have You Ever Loved A Woman and Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Chile. As with most Brad Kelsey & Triple Tornado shows, Kelsey opened the second set with an acoustic (coffee house-friendly) solo tune called The Blues Aint Dead. It features Kelseys remarkable prowess of the instrument.
Since steering him away from the drums, Kelseys family has provided enthusiastic and faithful support of his flourishing career. Mother Marjorie manages the band, and father Denny acts as the bands soundman and head roadie. Kelseys wife Rachel, his grandparents and other assorted family members can usually be seen at the shows, often sitting in a group sporting band T-shirts. They were certainly easy to spot at the Battle of The Bands shows.
Just A Step Away, Kelseys debut disc released in 2005, continues to sell well locally and is also available on the Internet at CDBaby.com. Kelsey reports that copies have been shipped to London, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany and just about anywhere blues fans are wired to the Internet. Kelsey and his mates are currently putting together new material for their next record, which they plan to record this winter and release in the summer of 2007. Kelsey expects the new album will be somewhat of a departure from the debut. The new record will be edgier. The first record was more about my inspirations. The new one will be more about who I am as an artist. The new record will likely be recorded at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne.
Kelsey recently entered into a sponsorship arrangement with Budda Amplification (budda.com) in San Francisco and has high hopes for the exposure that will come from this association. Frequent shows in the Fort Wayne area should make Kelsey a household name to local blues aficionados as well. Kelsey hopes to attract a young audience in town that will help keep the blues segment of the sometimes fractured Fort Wayne music scene alive.
You can keep up with Brad Kelsey & Triple Tornado through their website at Kelseykelsey.com. The family would love to meet you at a show, but probably wont give up the good seats. He may be your neighbor, but hes their boy.