Local Music Makers: Spotlight on Guitarist, Vocalist, Composer, Kelly Jones
By Peggy Ratusz
It’s a Sunday evening as I write this feature. I’ve just returned home from a brewery gig. Whenever I come home from any gig or show, I experience a wind-down period I refer to as “show afterglow,” especially if the performance was well received and/or well attended.
I just spent three hours making music with my friend, the superlative guitarist, vocalist, composer Kelly Pierce Jones and the featured artist this month.
There’s no shortage of really, really good guitar players around here. But what separates Jones from others is his stylistic sincerity. The story of his life is reflected in his genuine sensibility.
“I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was 8 years old and I got that they were something big. I noticed the girls screaming, the matching suits and the hair, but I wasn’t necessarily turned on by music.”
As a pre-teen, he took guitar lessons and even then he says, “I remember learning to play simple melodies from Hal Leonard music books, and I couldn’t connect with them.”
So he put the guitar in the back of the closet and quit taking lessons.
His older brother bought a membership to Columbia House Record Club a few years later. In the case of Columbia House, its members would receive discounted records or cassettes — often up to a dozen for as little as a penny — and in the fine print agree to buy a limited number of items at full list price over a period of time.
His desire to emulate his brother, who obviously enjoyed receiving and listening to records that were packaged and mailed to him personally, Kelly’s fascination triggered his deciding to order Jimi Hendrix’s first album: “Are You Experienced.”
“Opening that record and just seeing the album cover, I thought oh man! This is so cool! I put it on my turntable and I absorbed it. I listened to it every chance I could. It sparked my desire to start playing guitar again.”
He began exploring the language of music using an old gut string acoustic lying around the house. He knew that there was more to it than just a desire to be good at playing. Very soon he became keenly aware that the facility of playing the guitar required the use of his whole body, his arms, his hands, his wrists, his fingers.
Once he experienced Hendrix, the juices began to flow. An increasing desire to want the sound to feel a certain way captivated him. “The difference between wrong notes and right notes and then adding groove came much later. It takes a long time to get there but I started to realize how important it was that I find and bring out my own voice.”
When he was four years old, his family moved from Dimmeydale, WV to the 4-story farmhouse his paternal great grandmother owned and lived in, in Wheeling. So in his pre-pre-teen years he’s learning to ride a bike and roaming free on acres of land, listening to records, experimenting and exploring the idea of learning to play guitar under the roof and sky of his ancestors.
At some point, Kelly explains “my parents started questioning what I call the 50’s family template.” As a result his family home ended up being where friends gathered for regular volley ball and keg parties.
“My mom was liberal and turned my dad onto progressive ideas. He started to grow his hair long; he grew a beard and mustache and started hanging out with people half his age. He was a doctor so in the 60’s he was part of the country club cocktail crowd.
"But eventually these younger friends opened him up. They turned him onto The Grateful Dead, Waylon and Willie. It informed and influenced me about life and love watching these people interact with one another.”
It became increasingly apparent to Kelly that pursuing a career in music was something he could manifest and accomplish. He joined the Jazz band in high school and played with his friend, Grant Sinclair who was the brother of his future wife, Debi. After high school he attended Berkeley College of Music with a concentration in Jazz guitar.
At Berkeley, Kelly says he compared himself to others too much. “I started to lose my ability to value my own genuinely valid individuality.”
One of his schoolmates was none other than guitar virtuoso, Steve Vie. After attending one of his gigs, Kelly began to rethink his approach to playing.
“Vie had this aggressive approach to his instrument. He’d play a solo and in the middle of it he’d hold his guitar out in front of him by the strings, shaking it and grabbing the whammy bar. It was no longer just about executing melodic riffs, it was about sheer abandon and fierce expression of feelings.”
So in the decades since Berkeley, Kelly Jones married his drummer pal’s sister and high school girlfriend Debi Sinclair and they moved from New York to Wheeling to Asheville.
Dedication to his instrument along with tremendous support from his wife and two kids, Jones has parlayed into a career filled with unforgettable experiences.
A few months ago he played Carnegie Hall with Catholic/Christian artist, John Angotti. For more years in a row than he can remember, a West Virginia band he was in, opened for country music icons like Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley at the infamous “Jamboree in the Hills Country Music Festival”, a 28 year long annual event held in Saint Clairsville, Ohio.
I’m a fortunate band leader that Kelly is available for me to hire more these days. He plays regularly with virtuosic versatile vocalist, Blake Elledge, along with special events outfit, Emerald Empire. For many years he was Jesse Barry & the Jam’s guitarist.
He tells me his future goals include releasing original compositions that he’s held hostage in his basement studio for far too long.
As we wrap things up, Jones adds a final thought: “It’s my life’s task to continue to be comfortable in my own skin. This gives me permission to embrace other people’s success instead of comparing theirs to mine.”
Kelly Jones Gigs/Shows with Peggy:
Sat June 3rd – Whiteside Brewing (Duo), Cashiers, NC 6-9pm
Sun June 4th – Sierra Nevada Brewing (Full Band), Mills River, NC 2-5pm
Thurs June 15th - Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack South (Duo), Asheville NC 6-8pm
Sat June 17th – The Grey Eagle Patio Show (Duo), Asheville, NC 5-7pm
Sat June 24th – One World West (Full Band) Invitational Blues Jam, Asheville, NC 4-7pm
Thurs June 29th – The Outpost (Full Band) Asheville, NC 6-9pm
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at