Growing up in North Bay Ontario, Sean Kelly fantasized about being a rock star. He dreamed about escaping to Los Angeles, cracking the lineup of an aspiring rock band playing on Sunset Strip and getting scooped up by the A&R guy of a major record label.
Then young Sean attended a rock concert in his home town featuring two Canadian bands; Helix and Honeymoon Suite and he realized that he didn’t have to defect to California to fulfill his ambitions.
“There was this band from Kitchener, Ontario (Helix) putting on this great rock show, and I’m thinking, Hey, I could do that,” explained Kelly, now lead guitarist for Nelly Furtado’s band and author of a brand new book, “Metal On Ice” (Dundurn Press) which pays homage to Canadian hard rock and heavy metal bands that enjoyed a strong domestic profile but, in most cases, never quite made the transition internationally. “When I attended that concert, I realized that if these guys could do this then anything was possible.”
[quote]“I always thought of myself as a fan rather than a rock musician, I wanted to get inside the whole rock music system and see how it all worked”[/quote]Kelly did move to Toronto, started his own relatively-successful hard rock band called `Crash Kelly’, became a top notch studio musician working with a number of Canadian artists before fulfilling one of his fantasies in joining the lineup of Helix where he even co-wrote songs for the band with lead vocalist Brian Vollmer.
As Kelly became part of the Canadian rock fraternity, he started to form personal contacts with other established bands and artists such as Slik Toxik’s Nick Walsh, Harem Scarem, Coney Hatch’s Carl Dixon, Honeymoon Suite, Lee Aaron, Brighton Rock, The Killer Dwarfs and Haywire and he started interviewing them about their careers, how they survived in Canada, their record company traumas and the big question, how they cracked the U.S market – or for the most part, why they failed to crack the U.S market.
“I always thought of myself as a fan rather than a rock musician,” noted Kelly. “I wanted to get inside the whole rock music system and see how it all worked”.
“I wrote this book because, as a fan of Canadian rock, I got tired of reading Canadian music history books that had huge gaps, that didn’t acknowledge that my favorite bands even existed or that they were referred to in some disparaging way. I wanted these bands to get noticed and to be featured in a positive way.” continued Kelly. “I always had a romanticized notion of what success would be like, it was never about money, it was about me as a fan who happened to perform as a musician”.
Although Kelly enjoyed his time with Helix, he didn’t experience real success until he joined up with Nelly Furtado and became part of her band which toured all over the world, performing major concerts and appearing on all the major US talk shows.
“Leaving Helix was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” allowed Kelly. “There were some obvious financial considerations, and to be fair to Nelly, performing with her allowed me to experience what real success is all about. I think our last concert was performed before a crowd of something like 500,000 people.”
Encouraged by Coalition Music’s Rob Lanni and Eric Lawrence, Kelly is taking the promotion of his book a couple of steps further by releasing an EP of key tracks recorded by artists who appear in the book including Brian Vollmer, Lee Aaron, Carl Dixon (Coney Hatch), Nick Walsh (Slik Toxik) Darby Mills (Headpins) and Russ Dwarf (The Killer Dwarfs). Also included on the EP is a new track, `Metal On Ice’, written by Kelly and Walsh. This EP and Kelly’s book will also be promoted during a special concert to be performed later this Fall at the Phoenix Theatre in Toronto that will feature performances by the above mentioned artists.
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“I think the EP and the concert nicely ties everything together,” noted Kelly who said financing for the EP was raised by the Pledge Music system where people donate funds to the project in return for a copy of the record. “It’s a great way to discover if your project has any credibility. If you can’t raise the money by this method, maybe you shouldn’t be doing your project in the first place.”
Aside from performing with Nelly Furtado, Kelly is an in-demand songwriter and session player and he hasn’t ruled out writing future books. “The one thing I learned from this book was that, having worked with people like Lee Aaron in the recording studio, I kind of wished we’d done the music first before I interviewed them for the book. I would have re-arranged the questions differently having now worked with them.”
And finally the ultimate irony; Kelly is now in the process of co-writing music for new recordings by Helix and Honeymoon Suite – the two bands he saw in North Bay many years ago which fanned the flames of his musical conquest.