Who was Jeff Kelly and what did he contribute to music?

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Karyth Cara | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Jeff Kelly is a song writer, guitarist and singer who fell in love with the Beatles when he was a schoolboy and decided after college that he wanted to be a musician and, as a result, has spent his life writing and recording--often on home-equipment--music, sometimes alone and sometime with fellow musicians, especially friend Joe Ross. Together in 1983 they began the band called Green Pajamas. What Kelly contributed to music is a little more difficult to say because he works within a very narrow genre and has a very limited (though enthusiastic) following. One might say that one contribution to music was the tangible inspiration for others that Kelly and Green Pajama provide by demonstrating that small scale efforts in the musical arts (or, presumably, other arts) counts and can build satisfaction and success.

Jeff Kelly is a native and president resident of Seattle, Washington, where he lived when his elder sister was immersing herself in the sounds of the rock and roll sensation from England, the Beatles. Jeff found his inspiration to play music in the Beatles' later album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and in the song "When I'm 64," in which he could hear the stereophonic separation of sound on his sister's phonograph player when the singers' voices were directed through one speaker while the instrumentals were directed through the second speaker. Learning guitar from his father and writing his own compositions while still in grade school, Jeff's mature lyrics through his adult years have been characterized as describing both the commonplace and the sensational of life, covering topics from vampires to nuns to afternoon strolls. One of his most famous Green Pajama songs, which brought him some notice when covered (remade) by two other groups, is about "Kim the Waitress."

According to the description by Rolling Stone's David Fricke, the music genre Kelly performs in and writes for is acid pop, or psychedelic pop. Psychedelic pop of the 1980s, appearing originally in Los Angeles, California, is called the Paisley Underground because it relies on and is rooted in various elements of psychedelic sound traditions of the original 1960s "acid music." Other Paisley Underground bands that existed at the time of Green Pajamas' founding were:

  • Rain Parade
  • Dream Syndicate
  • Bangles
  • Long Ryders
  • Green on Red
  • Three O'Clock

Kelly, on guitar and vocals, and Joe Ross, on bass and vocals, and Karl Wilhelm whom Ross recruited, on drums, were the three founding members of Green Pajamas. Kelly had long made home recordings of his songs on recording equipment provided by his parents but now it was time for Green Pajamas to record professionally. Their first full-length tape recorder cassette Summer of Lust was recorded by the small local Seattle Green Monkey recording label in 1984 after which Steven Lawrence joined as a second guitarist. In 1990, the four released Ghosts Of Love on the Green Monkey label. Green Pajamas and Green Monkey went into a passive state as jobs had to be pursued to support families. Still, Kelly's Portugal was also released in 1990 and Private Electrical Storm followed in 1992.

Two pivotal events occurred during the 1990s when first Sister Psychic of Seattle then Material Issue of Chicago covered "Kim the Waitress." Material Issue's version made it onto Billboard's charts, so Jeff Kelly and Green Pajama won some much appreciated national exposure. As a result, Green Pajamas revitalized itself in 1984 and released the single "Song For Christina," which inspired further releases of their music in the U.S. and overseas:

  • 1997 Indian Summer, Best of Green Pajamas - Get Hip, Pennsylvania
  • 1997 - Camera Obscura label, Australia
  • 1997 Strung Behind The Sun - domestic release (with Eric Lichter on keyboards, percussion, vocals)
  • 1998-99 Strung Out, All Clues Lead To Meagan's Bed, Seven Fathoms Down and Falling - (with Laura Weiler on guitar and vocals; Scott Vanderpool on drums was later added)
  • 2000 Narcotic Kisses - previously unreleased tracks
  • 2000 Melancholy Sun: The Home/Solo Recordings of Jeff Kelly (1987-1997)
  • 2000 Coffee In Nepal and Portugal

The following for Green Pajamas has always been small but it has remained constant, spanning several decades, and has spread to international audiences. As of 2014, Green Pajamas were still actively performing. Kelly still receives letters from fans and well-wishers in European countries and from Australia thanking him for his work:

"[I]t's sort of heartwarming when I get letters from people in Europe, telling me they dig what I'm doing. It makes you want to keep on going. It makes it all worthwhile." (Jeff Kelly in Magnet Magazine, 1998-99)

In recognition of Jeff Kelly's contributions to and longevity in a music genre that in the main faded with the 1980s, in 2009 Magnet Magazine issued a second interview with him in which Kelly says Green Pajamas still performs live about five times a year. 

Jeff Kelly's Contributions

  • solidifying an otherwise fad music genre
  • continuing through three and a half decades of writing and recording
  • achieving international recognition for his songs and for Green Pajamas
  • continuing in collaboration with Joe Ross through as many decades
Sources:

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