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Guitarist with Shadows of Knight, played on ‘Gloria,’ dead at 67

Blues guitarist Joe Kelley.

Blues guitarist Joe Kelley.

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Shadows of Knight, Kelley perform "Gloria"
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Updated: December 16, 2013 6:14AM



It isn’t just anyone who can take a sloppy, snarly, sexy, sweaty Van Morrison song and make it his own.

Guitarist Joe Kelley was a member of the Shadows of Knight, a Chicago garage band that broke from the local pack with their 1966 hit recording of “Gloria,” a jangly, driving, three-chord trance of a song that would go on to influence punk rock.

The tune, first popularized by Morrison when he was with the group Them, still has the power to electrify a party as revelers join in the shout-it-out chorus of “G-L-O-R-I-I-I-I-I!”

Mr. Kelley became a sought-after blues musician, billing himself as the “Blue Shadow.” He played with Howlin’ Wolf — who gave Mr. Kelley his slide for his guitar. He even showed a young Ted Nugent a lick or two.

“Joe Kelley was a seriously gifted musician, and the depth and spirit of his bluesy playing was why Les Paul created the electric guitar,” Nugent, who once lived in the northwest suburbs and attended St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, said via email. “The killer history of Chicago blues owes a debt of gratitude to Joe for reminding us all that the ultimate soul and passion of music comes from the great black blues masters that Joe linked us to in such an authoritative and fiery way. Godspeed, my American Guitar BloodBrother. Jam on!”

Mr. Kelley, 67, died in September of lung cancer at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

The Shadows of Knight played early on at a place called the Cellar, an alcohol-free teen club in Arlington Heights whose roster of performers included an astonishing array of now well-known names, among them the Who, Cream, Buffalo Springfield and the Steve Miller Band.

The self-taught Mr. Kelley joined the band as a bass player.

“He was a better guitar player than the lead guitar player at the time, so on ‘Gloria’ he was on bass guitar, but later he took over as the lead guitar player,” said his friend Butch Shatzer, his former road manager and guitar tech.

The group cleaned up the lyrics a bit to get better airplay with “Gloria” than Morrison had, according to vintagevinylnews.com. Morrison sang, “She come to my room and she make me feel alright.”

The Shadows of Knight changed it to: “And then she call out my name, yeah, make me feel alright.”

“Gloria” made the Billboard Top Ten, and the Shadows went on tour with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars.

The Shadows’ version helped people rediscover the song by Them, which had been banned by some radio stations as too racy.

In a 1987 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, lead singer Jim Sohns said Morrison thanked the Shadows for their cover when he saw the band perform in New York in 1966. “He shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you,’ ” Sohns said. “At that time, he was down and out. Them had broken up, and nothing was happening. The money he made off of ‘Gloria’ and the advance from publishing is what got his solo project going.”

Mr. Kelley, the son of a Glidden Paint salesman, grew up in Hinsdale. In 1954, he and his brother Patrick were given musical instruments for Christmas. Pat got a guitar. Joe got a trumpet. “Within a week, he had taken the guitar, and I had the trumpet,” said his brother, who became a neurologist. He said his brother never took a music lesson.

After high school, Mr. Kelley attended Western Illinois University for two years, studying business, “which probably was an ill-fated choice,” his brother said.

Creative differences and Mr. Kelley’s desire to play the blues led him to leave the Shadows and form the Joe Kelley Blues Band, which played Chicago clubs including the Kinetic Playground, the Burning Spear and Kingston Mines.

He recorded with Wild Child Butler and Long John Hunter, and his fans included performers Koko Taylor and Eddy Clearwater.

Magic Slim said of him, “This guy has got what it takes to make strings on a guitar talk,” according to his last record label, TearDrop Records.

At first, it was tough getting established. For a time, he lived in Texas. He didn’t like it much. It inspired his song “Stuck Down Here in Houston.”

Mr. Kelley helped Nugent learn the blues, according to Shatzer and Rich Ryan, another friend, from Richie Rich and the Chi-Town Blues Band.

“Nugent knew how to play, but he picked up a lot of tricks on how to play the blues and how to feel them,” Shatzer said.

Mr. Kelley “just lived and died to play more blues,” said Bobby Abrams, a former guitarist for the Buckinghams, another Chicago band that broke big nationally, with 1960s hits including “Kind of a Drag.”

“He played blues like you’d hear down in Mississippi and Alabama,” Ryan said.

Mr. Kelley, who also played with the band the Outsiders, cut a dashing figure on stage. He wore turqoise rings and bracelets and his cowboy hats. And when his hair was short, he’d wear a long wig to maintain the look of a ramblin’ man.

A memorial music jam is in the works for Mr. Kelley.

Email: modonnell@suntimes.com

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