Mike Kelley’s Journey from The Sharks to The Hammerhead Horns
In the vibrant tapestry of the Capital Region’s music scene, Mike Kelley has been an undeniable thread for over 40 years. From his early days with the iconic band, The Sharks, to his latest venture, The Hammerhead Horns, Kelley’s journey has been rich, both in notes and narratives.
“I’ve been extremely lucky,” Kelley remarked while discussing his rich history. Though luck played its part, Kelley’s talent and adaptability have solidified his legacy.
Starting off with the band “The Sharks” in the early 1980s, Kelley recalled, “We wrote our own stuff. Albany was abuzz at that time; it was really fantastic.” Not only did the band pen their own songs, but they dared to be different. “It was, you know, downright garish,” Kelley reminisced, referencing the band’s three horns at a time when minimalistic was the trend.
Kelley’s venture with The Sharks wasn’t confined to Albany. “We toured up and down the East Coast a bit – in Jersey, New England, Western New York.” Their vibrant and eclectic style made them a mainstay in a legendary era of bands in the region.
He fondly reminisced, “Everybody knew each other. It was great. After The Sharks, I joined Blotto for several years and later was part of the Fear of Strangers reunion. Playing with Todd Nelson was challenging and a real thrill!”
Kelley’s collaborations extended to playing with Johnny Rabb, as well as The Luster Kings, showcasing his versatility across genres.
And now, Kelley has embarked on a fresh project, The Hammerhead Horns, a revival of an older name but with a renewed spirit. “Back in the day, when we used to play with Blotto, they’d bring our horns in for some tracks. We were dubbed the Hammerhead Horns,” he explained.
The modern version of the Hammerhead Horns is a quartet of old friends from The Sharks that have been playing together for over 40 years: Mike Kelley (piano), Bob Assini (drums), Bob Button (trumpet), and Jeff Roberts (trombone), along with “newcomer” Leslie Barkman (vocals).
This ‘one-time deal’ for a street festival in Millbrook became a recurring ensemble. “It sounded so good, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Kelley admitted. “We’ve played together for so many years; it just falls together. It’s a bit reckless, in a good way. People dance even without a bass or guitar!”
The band has a unique sound, melding roots, Ragtime, and Barrelhouse blues. Kelley’s expertise with the piano sets the beat. “I’m influenced by the likes of Professor Long Hair and other New Orleans maestros,” he shares. With the addition of Leslie Barkman’s soulful vocals, their rendition of classics like Billie Holiday’s tunes adds depth and flair.
Despite the changing times, Kelley’s spirit remains consistent. “It’s about having fun. I just want to play, if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing,” he insists.
Looking back, Kelley’s journey has been about passion, collaboration, and, most importantly, the joy of creating. Whether it’s with The Sharks, Blotto, or now with The Hammerhead Horns, one thing’s clear: Mike Kelley is here to strike the right chord.