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Judge for Kajun Kelley

Severn, MD
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Portrait of Kajun Kelley

Kajun Kelley is a veteran of the Washington DC/Baltimore music scene, earning a reputation as a well-respected singer/songwriter and musician, but in particular for being one of the best guitarists around. “I've been playing guitar since I was seven years old. I
taught myself, playing along with my older brothers' Zeppelin, Stones, Kiss and Cheap Trick albums. Then I got ahold of the first Van Halen CD, and it was all over!” Kajun (his given name, by the way) started writing his own songs around that same age. He played his first club gig at fifteen, and continued playing in
various rock bands as a guitarist, background vocalist, and songwriter. In 1994, he released his first solo CD, Kajun Kelley Project-"Moods," a guitar-based, all instrumental effort. The CD received rave reviews- the LA Music Connection going
as far as to compare his guitar playing to greats Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.

It was after a Kajun Kelley Project performance promoting “Moods” that Kajun was approached by blues great Deanna Bogart. Bogart was putting together a new lineup, and asked if Kajun would be interested in joining her band. “It was
a definite change in musical styles for me, but I welcomed the challenge. Deanna, Eric (Scott, bassist), & Mike (Aubin, drummer) were all great musicians and awesome people, so I jumped at the opportunity.” So he took the job, and from 1995 to 2006, he was a member of the Deanna Bogart Band, touring
all over the United States, Europe, and Canada and playing with a host of big name artists. (See List Below) “It was an incredible experience- seeing the world while doing what you love to do most, and sharing all those experiences with the members of that band. We were- and still are- like family.

In between touring and recording with the Deanna Bogart Band, Kajun recorded his second CD, "StaleStories FreshEars,” leaving behind the all instrumental approach and showcasing his singer/songwriter side. As one reviewer put it, “any guitar soloists find it hard to transition from solo guitarist, to fronting
a band, but this CD demonstrates that in this respect, Kelley has made the transition with panache.” The CD also shows Kajun returning to his hard rock roots, with his love for guitar driven bands like Led Zeppelin, Stone Temple Pilots & Alice in Chains clearly shining through. “StaleStories” is truly a solo effort- Kajun sang and played all of the instruments (except for the drums and percussion, provided by Mike Aubin), as well as writing, recording, mixing, and producing it all himself. “My plan was to put my own band together and promote the CD by booking shows around Deanna’s touring schedule. That proved to
be next to impossible. Musicians can’t commit to a band that’s not working. I would say, ‘Hey, wanna join my band? I’m going to be on the road for the next month or so with my other band, but when I get back, maybe we’ll play a show or something.’ It was a tough sell.

So in April 2006, he made the decision to leave the Deanna Bogart Band and strike out on his own. “Deanna always used
to say ‘if you want to find musicians, book some gigs’- so that’s exactly what I did! I booked my first three shows without having any idea who was going to play them with me. I ended up having a different lineup for each of those three nights. Trial by fire!” But soon the nucleus of the Kajun Kelley Band was formed, with Eric Bouchard on bass and vocals, and Rob Minnick on drums. “Even though I obviously love layering guitar parts in the studio, I’ve always preferred playing live with a trio- drums, bass, & one guitar. It gives you a lot more room for improvising.

And improvising has become what the Kajun Kelley Band’s live shows are best known for. In addition to playing Kajun’s original music, the band has adapted a “no set list, all request” format. The word soon spread that the band could play just about anything you could throw at them, all off the top of their heads. In an interview in the March 2011 issue of DC’s On Tap Magazine, Kevin Laliberte (McGinty’s Public
House) summed it up nicely. When asked if he had a favorite band that plays the club, he answered “Kajun Kelley. He is an amazing guitarist. You can ask him to play any song and he will play it ten times better than the original.

“One of the things I love about the guys I play with is that
they’re pretty fearless- they’ll play things we’ve never even thought of playing before, all in front of a live audience.” Kajun tries to explain how they pull this off: “I was thinking about it the other day; when I was young I would practice by turning on the radio and playing along with whatever song happened to come on next. Little did I know I’d have a chance to apply that when I grew up! I guess it’s the musical equivalent of a photographic memory. If I’ve heard a song before, I can usually hear it in my head- like it’s the radio- and I’ve been playing guitar for so long now that my hands instinctively know where to go.” This approach also helped in building a loyal following. Fans keep coming back frequently because they never know what songs the band will play from night to night. “It’s fun for us too, and I think that the audience senses that. People can tell when a band is just going through the motions, playing the same show every night. Keeping things so loose makes the crowd part of the show.

As a result of all the “winging it”, the band’s song list keeps
expanding. Kajun keeps a “master song list” on his computer, to help him keep track. “The general rule is: if we fake our way through a song at a gig- and we like it- then we all go home and individually learn the song…..for real. The next show, I try to make sure we play that song while it’s fresh in our minds.
We never rehearse,” (the band has never had a formal rehearsal) “so the gigs ARE the rehearsal!” Once a song is played to the band’s satisfaction, Kajun adds it to the master list. The list of “songs we actually know” is now well over 200 songs long

But Kajun hasn’t lost sight on continuing to write and record
his own original material. His new CD, Struggle Within, was just released in October 2011.  Once again, Mike Aubin is behind the drums, with Kajun playing all the other instruments and handling all the production himself. “I’m really proud of this CD, especially from a songwriting standpoint. I think it’s more cohesive than “StaleStories,” which was more of a collection of individual songs. “Struggle Within” is laid out in somewhat of a ‘concept album’ format, with all the songs blending from one into the next. I can’t wait for people to hear it.