Shawn Kellerman is an imposing figure on stage. Tall, clean headed, long and lanky.
He prowls and gyrates about the stage, hurling incendiary bolts of blues licks from his guitar as the band leader for the Lucky & Tamara Peterson Band.
I first saw Shawn several years ago (pre-Blues411 days) and declared him ‘the best guitarist you never heard of’. I was thrilled when I learned he was now with one of the most electric performers in the Blues, Lucky Peterson. So we took some time to catch up and learn just a little bit more about him and his road to today.
Blues411: So good to see you again. Last time was in Rochester, NY with your own band. So tell me, how did you wind up with Lucky, or what got you here.
Shawn Kellerman: I was bringing bands and artists to Canada for gigs for some time, I started with cats like Sherman Robertson, Bobby Rush they came up for a few…but Lucky has always been my favorite artist, but I could not find him or his people anywhere.
I finally found his agent, Lucky hardly had any web presence at the time. I found his agent and told him I wanted to get Lucky to come up to Canada to play some gigs. He was amicable to get Lucky up here to play gigs. I flew him in and he was my guest, so ever since then we have been doing gigs together, maybe only two or three. We toured Russia, visited Moscow and in January of 2012 he hired me for a weeks gig in Canada. So that Saturday, after the gigs, he asked if I wanted to be in the band full time.
I was like, “awwwwwww,Yeah, hell yeah”. I had been watching Lucky since I was nineteen and I just loved his energy, that was my thing. I guess I reached the point that I was finally good enough to be in the band.
I was just feeling things differently, two months before that my father had passed. He was my influence to all this Blues and everything – the nucleus of my guidance. When I was twenty I took myself on the road but he started it all for me. I was a pretty good guitarist but at this point I was just feeling life and things different, it was time for us to join forces.
Lucky on B-3
Blues411: It’s like that a lot of the time. You have to be open for the change, receptive to the forces going on around you. You plan and scheme and struggle to get there but if it ain’t time and you ain’t ready it won’t happen. Well it can but it might not work out.
SK: That was it. Seemed like the right time. My dad played organ, he would just love where we are at now with Lucky. I inherited my dad’s equipment his Leslie’s and B3′s, one of them is now in a church in Dallas. Lucky’s been playing it, but when we go to Europe Lucky will drop off at the church and it’s being used.
B411: Now that’s very cool. You and Lucky are a great fit.
When you fronted your own band you were exceptional with Joseph Veloz on bass, and a great band..
SK: Yes Joseph was the bass player, and Andrew ‘Blaze’ Thomas on drums, he’s back with Bernard Allison now. The times we have gotten back together is just killer, we lived in each others heads and when we get back together it’s like we never left it.
B411: You guys were dynamic, in every sense of the word, band. But tell me how difficult was it to go from your own band to being in Lucky’s band.
Shawn Felling It
SK: It’s funny but in some situations, like jams some artists are a little bit wary to play with me. What they don’t realize I was a side guy first. I didn’t start singing till way later on, like not till halfway thru my career. I never opened my mouth with Bobby Rush I just played guitar.
Now Otis Clay was the guy who took me aside when I was twenty-two and told he “Man, you were killing it out there, but you got to get some discipline” I was a side guy so I’d just play guitar, we had singers, this was when I was playing with a soul singer from Detroit and we had opened for Otis on a few occasions.
So from that point – that conversation – that launched me to make a phone call to a guy to get me to the next step.
Guess what? I did get a call back, I got a call from a cat in Washington D.C., to play with Charlie Sayles (he’s on JSP Records) harmonica player, but I only lasted two months, but then I went with Deborah Coleman. It all started to leap-frog from there.
Next thing I know I got in touch with Bobby Rush, he let me sit in with him, and he doesn’t let too many people sit in with him. He said you need to call me, I don’t think he realized I would move to Mississippi. I was young and free so I moved to Mississippi – he said I could stay at his house for a little bit and see cause it’s a little different down here. (we all laugh)
After about seven weeks I got my own apartment and stuck it out, so we hit the road together. But I was still a side guy, but if it wasn’t for Otis Clay I would not be here today.
Blues411: So did playing with these guys help your discipline as a side man or as a lead guy? I ask because your rhythm work is definitely right up there among any players out there.
SK: That’s funny you ask that. See playing behind Bobby – he is like the James Brown of the Blues – he cracks the whip. I sat behind him and cranked out that rhythm but when he looked at me and said move to the front of the stage I had to play like Albert King, as hard as I can play.
Sometimes people see me do all that wiggling and humping on stage and get the wrong idea about my playing, I know how to shut it off and play my part when I need to. But Otis Clay again, was correct in telling me to go out there and learn the discipline to make me better and more marketable.
Blues411: When Lucky goes out into the crowd and free wheels it, you guys stay up with him, and more amazing is that you play serious rhythm – even tho you can’t see him or really tell what he’s doing. Most bands just sort of ‘chunka- chunka’ the rhythm when the lead goes into the crowd but not you or the band.
SK: I just play my part. I mean every note Lucky plays just drips with soul. I would feel bad if I let him down in any way. Every note is just amazing I just can’t cal it in. We all give that 110%, well I think now we are at 170% cos with Lucky we up it all the time.
Payin’ attention, but still playin’ for keeps
Blues411: You are a big, tall guy and they way you prowl the stage is kinda like a Blues Eagle soaring above the crowd as you celebrate your station as a performer. You work it brother, sweat flying off ya as you cover the stage.
SK: When I’d seen Luther Allison back when he returned to North America in 1995 – this guys is fifty-five and he’s delivering like he’s a twenty year old. It was my birthday,I’d just turned twenty-three, I said I’ll never have an excuse in my life to just mail it in.
Blues411: That’s the thing, you put it out there (you and Lucky and the band) for us to take in, and we do and then we return the energy and vibes right back at ya. That’s what’s so amazing and fun. There are many very accomplished artists and others who …. well if I want to see them I play their CD, there is no audience connection.
SK: That’s the thing, anything that’s successful, any kind of job, even if you work in an office you need to dress the part and bring something to the stage. Music is the FIRST THING. Even though Lucky does what he does, listening to it is first and foremost.
I don’t just shake my ass cause I can, the actual truth to it is….ahh no…
Blues411: Go ahead tell it!
SK: I had to shake move my hips in order to be totally in time with Bobby Rush. It’s not because of the Booty Dancers, lets face it I’m a white guy from Canada. It’s just an honor to be in the band, and if I’m playing I damn well better get it right. I’d move just to get it right. Bobby had an eye in the back of his head, if you were looking at the ceiling he could tell.
Blues411: Did Bobby ever critique you on your stage work?
I got you Lucky!
SK: No, not really. You knew on stage right away if you were right or wrong. Lucky never, and he could say a lot of stuff, says much. Once he said last year “guys, we need to suck it up” and that was it. All of a sudden we focused better and that was it. He says the odd thing like “hey can you do this?” and we do.
Blues411: He allows you to be you. I mean you are a force Shawn, you are hard to ignore and yet you fit in so well with him and the band and show.
SK: It doesn’t always work. I have been with bands that initially like what I do but then they, I have gotten fired from a few bands. Well that’s kinda who I am, so we move on. I feel like I have to give.
Hey, Lucky still does ballads, everything he does is dynamic. That’s what first attracted me to him. Some bands play at one level, all fast or medium – just play to the middle, I’m not a middle guy. I want to play fast and slow, low and high. I never played slow till I got with Lucky. Some of those Aretha songs, Gospel stuff I never played that slow.
Blues411: Do you guys have a set list? If not how do you stay with him?
SK: Nah, actually one show on the boat he changed a couple of tunes right in the middle, you just have to be on. One other time he thought we weren’t watching him and being lazy, so he said guys don’t forget look at me. It’s improve, he can go anywhere Donny Hathaway, Duke Ellington.
Blues411: I loved him busting out his Ray Charles stuff. Does he at least tell you the key?
SK: I’m the only one in the band who doesn’t have perfect pitch. Our bass layer does and he’s like “yeh I’m there”. Me, I’m scrambling….
Blues411: That’s the best way to do it a jam played by professionals who know enough to make it special and right. Not easy but exciting and real.
SK: We recorded a CD that ‘s coming out in February – he’d call out a ‘C’ and play a few bars and a groove and then we go ahead and do it. It’ll be out in February.
Blues411: We are so looking forward to it. So folks stay tuned and be sure to check out Lucky and Tamara Peterson band if they are anywhere near you, and oh yeah Shawn Kellerman is the cat who is large and in charge.
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411