"You don't choose music,
it chooses you. I know lots of people that choose music that
are nuts about it, but it hasn't chosen them. I didn't care
what I played when I started. I just wanted to play music. I
didn't care 'cause I didn't have to get up early and I got to
wear nice clothes."
Red. For decades, he played in bands fronted by
the likes of Claude Thornhill, Red Norvo, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton,
Harry James, Buddy Rich, Doc Severinsen, Billie Holiday, Frank
Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Billy Eckstine. He jammed with Charlie
"Yardbird" Parker in New York City,
"Parker came up and kissed me after we played together…
I cried…. He was a legend."
He spent three years with Woody Herman. "I
went with Woody to Europe and realized that our one glaring contribution
to the arts had respect in every other country but our own."
Red adored Woody and they were good friends. Herman's Concord
50th Anniversary Album has 'Blues for Red,' where Woody's dedication
says, 'He's done some weird things in his
life… which puts him very close to me.' Red liked
He played with the great Harry James. "To
play bass with a big band was my meat. It was first class all
the way…the easiest big band job in the world. We would
do a month in Vegas, then Reno, then on the road touring, then
start over. The band took in three million a year. Harry was the
best musician I ever saw. Funny thing… when I would come
back to Seattle my folks would always say 'When are you
going to get a real job?' until I joined Harry
James and they saw him in the movies. Then I was all right."
He campaigned to be Washington State's governor
on his own OWL Party ticket (the acronym alternately stood for
"Out With Logic" and "On With Lunacy"). Promising
to "heal the Continental Divide'' and observing "unemployment
isn't working,'' he garnered 8% of the overall vote. In 1989,
he again ran for office - this time for the Mayor of Tacoma. From
a profile in the News Tribune: "If Kelly
were king, Tacoma would have an amusement park, a paddle-wheeler
with gambling on board, a farmers market on the waterfront and
cable cars clanging through downtown streets." Kelly
came in fourth that year, receiving 10% of the vote.
He and his wife Donna opened a club - the Tumwater Conservatory
of Music in Olympia. Four years later, he opened Kelly's in Tacoma.
"I have fun with it. I have no delusions.
I'm as good on the bass as some and better than other players.
I play with people I love and respect. My wife spoils me. I have
great kids. I am surrounded by wonderful friends."
"What do I remember most?
The two Carnegie Hall concerts with Woody and Harry; the first
shot with Chubby Jackson when I was 20; those magic moments that
happen once a year as a player when the entire group grooves and
plays as one. For a high school drop out, I'm lucky!"
Red. He made music, terrific music… he kept
jazz alive in Tacoma….and he made us laugh.