"A Naturally Un-natural Progression"
Lee Kelley was born and raised in Concord, NC. As long as he can remember, he loved music; he loved songs; and he loved drums. Whether it be the turntables or 8 tracks; where his older brothers played rock and roll of the late 60s/early 70s; or Mom’s Pontiac Bonneville, which seemed to always have the hits of the early 70s playing through it’s car stereo from either “BIG WAYS” or 1100 WBT-AM…Music was always nearby.
An energetic kid, Lee began pulling pans and toppers out from under the stove at a young age. By then, his neighbor, John King, had begun playing drums. Once he heard, felt and sat behind his welcoming neighbor’s drums, Lee was drawn to the instrument. In time, John got new drums, so at one point, there were two kits set up. These afternoon jams of drums, listening and playing to music of the time through a large console stereo
would be the basis of Lee’s somewhat informal education for many years.
Once the drum bug bit, and his parents were convinced by John that kind of investment wouldn’t be lost on Lee, they got his first kit when he was 10 years old. A silver CB700 kit, he would practice to tapes and records for hours on end; day in and day out. When not practicing, music was his still his constant companion as he found ways to take his music wherever he went. Sometimes with an 8 track player or other time with a cassette player for which he would make his own “mix tapes” of favorites from the albums at home.
By the time he got to school band in 7th grade, Lee had already been playing kit for 5-6 years and still a voracious listener, it made it easy to stay at the top of marching band, symphonic band and jazz band through middle and high school. He was eventually named drum captain of the award winning Concord High Marching Spiders.
As Lee finished high school, pursuing music as a vocation was not something seen as the “norm” in those days. Because of this, his parents suggested Lee get something to “fall back on” should the pursuit of music after a college degree didn’t work out. He saw the reality of this and continued onto college, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Pfeiffer University.
While attending Pfeiffer, Lee still made some time for practice but the biggest music impact was running around with the Charlotte area rock band, “Sugarcreek”. This was a professionally run, professional sounding band that was right from a city 20 miles from his own. The band’s leader/keyboardist, Rick Lee, took Lee under his wing and was encouraging that he might be a good enough drummer to play on their level, which was good enough for him.
Over several years time, Lee sat in with “Sugarcreek” a number of times, building his confidence and Rick continued to be the “brother from another mother”. Rick would give Lee albums and bands to listen to which, as always, gave more fuel to his fire.
As fate would have it, as Lee’s final year of college began, “Sugarcreek” had broken up and Rick called, “I’m forming a new band and YOU’RE the drummer!!” Thus began “Too Much Sylvia”; first a melodic rock band with several original tunes (Lee still has the work tape!!) and then (and to this day) a variety band that would play many different genres and even work skits and costumes into the act. Lee learned more “on the job training” than anytime before AND he proved to his parents that he could make a living playing music.
After leaving “Too Much Sylvia” in 1994, Lee continued to play/sit in/sub with a number of different groups in and around Charlotte; Les Moore; The Monday Night All Stars; Bargain Basement Blues Band featuring Clarence Sales; Captain Cook & The Coconuts and John O’Gorman; co-producing & playing on an album for the later. Many of these included frequent travel around the SouthEast playing any gig that came along.
On nights off, Lee always ventured out to see friends in other bands play. One of these nights brought him to country bar, Coyote Joe’s to see pal, Rick Murray play with the house band. Neo-traditional 90s country was in full swing with the band playing all the hit artists of the time; Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Tracy Byrd, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Mark Chesnutt and many more. Really liking what he saw and still drawn to good songs to learn from, Lee would go see Rick play every couple of weeks or so when he wasn’t gigging.
Around mid-1996, another drummer friend suggested a trip to Nashville as the town was in the middle of a multi-year country music boom. The city was BOOMING with music and all of the players were AMAZING. Lee was hooked!! He returned home with full thought of getting to Music City as soon as possible.
Strengthening Lee’s resolve, famed Nashville Studio drummer, Eddie Bayers, had answered a question in Modern Drummer magazine offering to listen to that drummer’s playing. Bayers was gracious enough to offer that up to any of the Modern Drummer readers too. Lee got together a demo and hopefully sent it off to Nashville. A month or two later, Lee received a package from Bayers’ office with an personalized, well wishing autograph picture and a note. The note was encouraging that Lee would work should he move but please get “day work” while things unfold. That was IT and on January 11, 1997; Lee loaded up a truck and moved to Music City.
Upon arrival, he hit the club scene, sitting in when he could and picking up any gig that came along. That’s the name of the game when one is new to a scene…Hang out, sit in, make friends, network and play, play, PLAY!! It quickly began to pay off and in March 1998, Lee got the gig with MCA Artist, Gary Allan.
Over the next 4 years, Lee would work with “GA” on the road and in media to help promote his next three career defining records, “It Would Be You”, “Smoke Rings In The Dark” & “Alright Guy”. TV appearances in Gary’s videos “Right Where I Need To Be” and “Smoke Rings” title track and performances on CBS, CMT and TNN followed. this adventure also included touring near all of America, travel to Europe & Australia; as well as 2 years of “Crown Royal Untamed and True” Tours with headliner, Mark Chesnutt.
In early 2002, Lee joined MCA Artist, Shannon Lawson in promoting Shannon’s debut album “Chase The Sun”. This brought more live dates across the country, such as “CMT’s Most Wanted Live Tour” with headliner Brad Paisley and Lee’s first of many experiences playing on the famed, “Grand Ole Opry”.
As happens sometime in the music industry, that gig came to a halt. Lee did what he’s always done; he just kept playing. Once again with anyone and anybody as he waited for something to present itself, which it did in early 2003.
Mark Chesnutt was coming off a package tour (3 artists/1 band) and was putting his full band back together. Lee got the call…No audition, here’s the songs, here’s the show…See you in Texas!! Touring with Mark and hanging with his New South Band a good bit during previous years had made an impression. For the next 5 years, Lee would do 80-100 dates a year with Mark around the country and the world; in support of Chesnutt’s “Saving The Honky Tonk”, “Heard It In A Love Song” and “Rolling With The Flow” records. The appearances included more chances to play the “Grand Ole Opry”, both at the Opry House and the historic Ryman Auditorium plus a concert taping in the form of GAC’s “Country On The Gulf.”
In late 2008, things changed for Lee, some health issues began to show themselves. With his marriage to wife Denay coming in November, he'd been hurt cliff jumping while on a relaxing lake day. You can read about this entire experience under “Lee’s Blog” on this site.
As Lee continued to be a “working musician” and getting his health back in order, Lee & Denay welcomed their baby boy, Dylan, into the world in 2010. Around the same time, Lee began work with Curb Recording Artist, Heidi Newfield. Work with Heidi included the inaugural “Country Throwdown Tour” with 11 other acts promoted by the same folks that put on the Warped Tour. Fortunately again, this brought multiple appearance at The Grand Ole Opry, including several at the Ryman Auditorium; Country Music’s Mother Church.
After a couple more years on the road working with Heidi; along with some time out with Americana artist, Chris Knight; Lee is looking to develop other aspects of his work. Focusing on building a clientele with his “Boom Boom Drum Room” Internet Drum Tracks along with other sessions, Skype lessons, some club work as well as several appearances on the hit ABC Television Show, "Nashville" playing, you guessed it, a drummer. Lee is also enjoying time being a husband to his wife, Denay and father to his son, Dylan.
He still goes on the road, subbing for other national acts like Jana Kramer, Kellie Pickler, Aaron Tippin and even his old boss, Mark Chesnutt when called upon. Lee says, “If anything that sounds like fun comes up, I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out. BRING IT ON!!"