Interview with Shawn Kellerman
by Monica Yasher

Posted on 2/24/2010 by Monica Yasher

(Pittsburgh, PA) The Olympics in Canada are still going on, and I would like to continue my writing in tribute of our US neighbor, Canada. Last week you read about Harry Manx, as I focused on an acoustic blues artist. This week we will meet up with Shawn Kellerman, who is a rocking electric blues artist. Though the Olympics will be over, I owe it to Sue Foley to continue with the Canadian coverage offering the female blues perspective on March 3. But, for now, let’s concentrate on Shawn.

Shawn Kellerman will be playing at Moondogs in Pittsburgh on Friday, February 26, 2010, at 9:00 pm with his band that includes Joseph Veloz and Andrew “Blaze” Thomas. The first time that I met Shawn was at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival. Shawn is a powerhouse to watch and gives a fan their money‘s worth. He knows how to work the stage and play that guitar!

I tried to speak with Shawn several times. On one occurrence he was flying back from Russia and the plane had to do an emergency landing. I was glad that Shawn remained safe. I am also glad to have had the opportunity to speak with him on his CD, his guitar, and some of the events that got him where he is today. Let’s see what Shawn had to tell us.

Monica: Hello Shawn?

Shawn: Yes?

M: This is Monica how are you?

S: Good, thanks.

M: I wanted to talk to you about your CD, “Blues Without a Home“. When did that come out?

S: April 2009.

M: How did that title come about?

S: Just kind of putting words together. It was kind of…to be honest…it was from my bass player, Joseph Veloz. It was kind of an interesting play on words in a way. I googled it to see if we were being original, and nobody else put that together and I thought it was kind of smart. Secondly, it was kind of personal to my life, as I had split up with my wife and things were changing in my life. In one way it was kind of funny and in one way it wasn’t.

M: It intrigued me. You travel, for instance to Russia, and I was thinking you are always with the blues without a home. That’s what I thought you would share and there you have so much more to it.

S: That was number three on the list. The traveling and more traveling so much going everywhere. It was kind of that too. But, it was many different things. And the funny thing about it, through all of these interviews, you are the actual first person…I have been kind of wondering in interviews if I would ever get asked…and, you are the first person who ever actually asked me.

M: As a songwriter, I could see all the play on words. I guess you have to love wordsmithing to pick up on it. I saw a lot of meanings in that. I thought that was really cool! Congratulations on your cool idea.

S: Thank you.

M: What is your latest effort coming out?

S: We have an idea of a CD already recorded. It’s not the final recording. The whole idea is kind of written. It’s so close. I may release something in the year. My next focus was really a DVD, a live performance. I thought with the touring, I was thinking of doing something a little different. I thought a DVD. We’ll see by the end of the year ,there will be a new product, a DVD or CD. I’m also doing some web casting, and it seems that I’m doing one every month now.

M: How does that work?

S: There’s this bar I play in called, Rascals, in Illinois. There’s a cam setup and he tapes everything. I have to more fully understand it. I have done others. We did a Christmas show back here in Canada as a web cast.

M: I see there is more of that. I’m not understanding what that does for someone. You can’t sell your CD’s to the audience. So, what does that do for an artist? I’m just curious on the new technology and what it does for an artist.

S: We had 600 people on line watching it. I’m not sure what it does. It’s fun. But, as you said, I’m not sure what it does.

M: Let’s move to your guitar work. I read the following, “You are an inner circle of musicians that define modern blues”. So, what is the definition of modern blues to you?

S: Modern Blues…trying to write a song that has strong blues roots. Everybody has their definition of pushing the envelope of how far out can you go.

My mentor was a guy named Mel Brown who played blues, jazz, country. I’m sure several people looked at him as an old blues, a black blues guy. But, he wasn’t. He did what was called for. Maybe I have a weird concept of what modern blues might be, because he was the type of guy that…and I learned from that…he mixed a little bit of everything and that is what I am doing. I like all the blues. I like the swing blues. I like soul blues. I have done hip hop in 2007. I played a whole Albert King guitar solo hip hop. It had a hip hop groove. I’m just trying to have fun with it, trying to be a little bit new, and trying to put my own little edge. I don’t think I’m in no way shape or form a huge innovator. I’m trying to put my mark on trying to push the envelope a little bit, to go to make it a little bit newer.

M: It looks like you played with Mel Brown, Deborah Coleman and Bobby Rush. These people all mentored you, but which one influenced you the most?

S: Mel Brown. He moved to Ontario when I was 18, so I was highly influential. He was the first guy and he was a guitar player. His sense of melody and when he played the guitar, it was like conversing. It was like he was using words. But it was just his guitar. And to me that really touches my heart. It was probably the biggest influence.

Bobby was an influence for a certain feel that he had in his band that was really intriguing to me. Secondly, his ability as an entertainer. The way he presents it to people. The way he throws it out there. When I joined his band, I was a little kid. I was touring a few years, but I was still a shy guitar player. It was basically…it’s your time…and when he points to you on the stage, you better shine.

That was told to me first by Otis Clay. I was like 22. He told me that, “You’re getting to be a great guitar player, but you need more discipline. You need to join that band that is going to take you and make you shine and go out there”. Everything needed to be shined up a little more and polished. That took a couple of years. I took his advice and went on the road. I joined Bobby’s band and thought this is how you come out performing a festival. I learned a lot that way from Bobby.

M: I met up with Bobby at the Heritage Blues Festival. He really has showmanship down. Very impressive.

S: Oh Yeah. A great person too.

M: I think it was his guitarist that wasn’t feeling well, and he was deeply concerned about his fellow band member. He was like a Dad with his kid. He still did the interview though. I told him that we could do it over the phone at a later date. That goes to show you what a great blues artist he is that he felt he had to do it. What a great guy.

S: Yeah. He always tried to make something happen. Sometimes someone would call and conditions may not be the best. But Bobby would always make it happen. He’d always..things would be tight…things would be rough…not everything was perfect….but it would always come off. There would always be a show. Someway or another it would always come off.

M: Let’s talk about the touring. I was watching the movie “Ray” and the Chitlin’ Circuit was mentioned in that movie, and I didn’t know what it was. Whenever I talked to Bobby he was the first person I talked to that mentioned it. Obviously you toured that with him right?

S: Right.

M: You hear the Chitlin circuit. Why is it so special? What is that experience like? Why does everyone want to do it? I’m still curious. What can you tell me about it?

S: Well. The Chitlin circuit is basically black run clubs all across the country. You know, I would have to say, that 99 percent of the time it’s an all black club. So, that’s the nickname it gave us. Bobby would play there the majority of the time there. So, when I joined the band, people would tell me that you better watch it. There was not a big fear of a white man from Canada coming down to play black clubs. It was never ever once an issue. I was part of the band and if Bobby hired me I must be doing something right. It was great and I got to see all the great bands that I love like Denise LaSalle, Little Milton, Bobby Blue Band. We did shows with them. Johnny Taylor. It was great. I might not see them anywhere else. So it was a great experience. I learned a LOT from some of the greatest performers today. I got to see some amazing shows when I did that with Bobby.

M: You have a lot of kudos out there. For instance, you performed at the 80th birthday celebration for BB King. What do you think your best moment is on a stage. What do you hold dear through your whole career?

S: I’d have to say my best moment was when I was playing with Bobby Rush. We were playing in Arkansas and I was playing with him for a year and it was just after Christmas. We were playing in a club. I felt like I got it. It was like I felt all of a sudden that I knew how to play guitar. Or, I knew that I finally got this thing that I came to Mississippi to learn.So I asked the guys how they could deal with me for the last year because now I felt that I got it. From there, it was just trying to hone my craft. It seemed like I just stepped over a huge hurdle. That was a long time ago. Maybe ten years ago now. Yeah. That’s probably the most memorable. There’s lots of great memories. I traveled the world to Moscow. For a personal feeling that is probably the biggest.

M: How many years were you at it before you encountered that feeling? For those would be artists? How long did it take?

S: I was about 25 or 26. I was probably playing for ten years. I mean who knows. I just feel that I play a lot differently now and today I feel that I reached a whole different kind of hurdle. The other day I was just thinking, “Wow”. And it wasn’t as quite an impact as the Bobby Rush night. But I feel like at 37, I’m really coming into my own as what I do as a guitar player and performer. I never thought and it’s kind of weird. I was so into Albert King and Albert Collins and Mel Brown. It’s kind of like I’m evolving almost into a more Shendrixy kind of thing and it’s like I never would have thought that EVER. We are kind of experimenting. We are doing dirty delta blues or we are doing even some rocky blues. I don’t want to say that we are turning into this power trio. But we’re just really experimenting with different things and we’re not trying to keep it into one little category.

M: You’re having fun.

S: That’s what I like the experimentation and trying new things.

M: I can see that when you’re on stage that you are very high energy. How do you pace yourself?

S: It’s just…someone sent me an email once and they said, you know, I’m a long distance runner and when I watch you play, I don’t picture you as this frantic energy. I can tell that you are in shape, and you know how to deliver it for 75 or 90 minutes at a festival. That’s the only guy that ever said that I have control of the energy. He said he really liked it. I do go to the gym and all that and everything is about a healthy energy to me. When I do the most high energy festival show, I feel the best after that. I feel physically the best. People say you must be worn out. I’m not. I feel more energy from it.

M: The energy with being a vocalist, you have to pace yourself. You can’t be winded. You have to figure that out. You can’t be jumping up and down and singing a whole bunch of notes. That has to be….

S: Yeah. Once in a while the coffee helps, but for the most part it is good health and keeping it together. As a full body physical experience, you have to keep it together. If you look at Luther Allison, before he passed away, he was a healthy guy and he was 57. I looked at him and said wow! This guy was 30 years older than me and his energy level was off the charts. I watched blues of Freddie King when he was in his 40’s and 50’s. So there’s no excuse for me not to go up there and perform. There’s just no excuse. Just give it my all. Once I was categorized as this guy that makes faces as Jonny Lang and I said, you know, when I was making my first face, Jonny Lang was 4 years old. I’m not copying Jonny Lang by any means. You see I have pictures of me when I was 15 years old, and I was making the stupidest faces. If you do the math, Jonny was four (LOL)!

M: At 15 did you have the backing of your family?

S: I started in the family band. My step mother sang and my father played piano. We had a drummer and bass player and played some clubs. I had the bug of being on stage after about 8 months. I was playing rhythm at first. I was so intrigued by all these lead players that registered something. Quickly I became the guitar player and I started getting calls and I just started playing in other bands. There was a blues club locally and they would let me in underage and I would watch the greatest bands from Chicago and Mississippi. It was Robert Cray before he was Robert Cray. The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Otis Clay. Lonnie Brooks. The list is way to long.

M: What’s next for you? Touring?

S: It’s festivals in the summer and we are still touring on this CD. It’s just getting more recognition. I’m still a minnow. I’m the new dog right now. It’s getting more people to recognize who we are. Keep plowing through.

M: That’s what it takes, perseverance.

S: Even last year, it was great for Ron…I appreciate him…recommending me for the festival and playing in front of Curtis Salgado and Los Lobos. Not everyone would do that, so I appreciate that.

M: Curtis Salgado came back into Pittsburgh in November. He has an intriguing life. I’ve met so many cool people by doing this. Thanks Shawn for being one of them.

S: Your welcome.

Barely a few hours after the death of blues legend Mel Brown, March 20, 2009, grief-stricken guitarist Shawn Kellerman pays wordless tribute to his musical mentor with a heart-wrenching rendition ...

Shawn, to use your own words. "It was like he was using words. But it was just his guitar. And to me that really touches my heart."

If you enjoyed reading this electric guitarist, you may enjoy reading G.E. Smith.

Copyright © 2010 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2010 Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved.

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

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