Australian songwriter Paul Kelly (born 13 January 1955) is a multi-talented instrumentalist and singer. He is proficient at the guitar and harmonica and his style of music encompasses genres as disparate as bluegrass and dub reggae; however his expertise rests in folk-country.
Kelly was the 6th of 9 children and spent most of his childhood in Adelaide. Though Kelly did not know right away that he wanted to be a musician, he came from a musically inclined family. His maternal grandfather was an Italian speaking Opera singer, who was the leading baritone for the La Scala Opera Company, while his grandmother was the first female symphony orchestra conductor in Australia. After Kelly finished school he developed an interest in writing poetry and short stories and managed to sustain himself by working odd jobs. However he eventually rekindled an interest in the guitar and started playing solo gigs in 1974. He moved to Melbourne in 1976 to form the R&B band the High Rise Bombers. This group did not last long at all and Kelly formed another group called Paul Kelly & the Dots.
With his new formation, Kelly started getting positive recognition almost instantly and was quickly signed to the label Mushroom Records. Through this label he released the two albums “Talk” and “Manila” before breaking up with the Dots and moving to Sydney. Kelly penned his landmark album “Post”, which was also self-funded upon his move to Sydney. With its success he renewed his contract with Mushroom Records and founded another group to support him, The Coloured Girls.
“Post” was met with overwhelming critical acclaim and was declared by Rolling Stone as the best record of 1985 as well as being championed by actor Russell Crowe. Kelly continued the trend of recording records at a fast pace. As “Post” took no longer than two weeks to record, his next album, the 24 track double album “Gossip”, took only a month to cut. This album played an integral role in introducing Kelly to an American audience, and in 1987 a revised version edited to 15 tracks was distributed by A&M Records. The album received high praise from critics and the general public, with music journalist and former The Go-Betweens member Robert Forster calling it an essential roots-rock album.
With the release of “So Much Water, So Close to Home”, Kelly would change the name of his backing band to the Messengers and would also recruit the help of Scott Litt (of R.E.M. fame) to produce it. In order to not sound redundant Kelly separated from his backing band after the release of 1991’s “Comedy”.
Kelly switched gears in the 90s and became involved in an eclectic array of endeavors including acting in and writing material for the play “Funerals and Cruises”, producing the album “Charcoal Lane” for the aboriginal musician Archie Roach, and issuing his first ever book of poetry. He also wrote the soundtrack for the movie “Everynight...Everynight” and in 1995 went on a 7 week US tour with Joe Jackson and Liz Phair.
1997 was a big year for Kelly. This year saw the release of his compilation album “Song’s From the South: Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits”, which climbed to No. 2 on the album charts and has since went platinum 4 times. Also this was the year in which Kelly won the ARIA award for best male artist. In the late 90s Kelly formed a new band for a brief time called Professor Ratbaggy. This group featured a technological savvy sound and a bent towards dub reggae.
Throughout the 2000s Paul Kelly released albums at his standard incessant pace, putting out a total of 5 albums between 2001 and 2007. In 2012 he released the album “Spring and Fall” to great critical acclaim as well as his documentary “Paul Kelly - Stories of Me”, which traced his 40 year career. Kelly has toured extensively throughout the world and is cited as one of the largest influences on folk-pop culture to come out of Australia.