The Rocks Off 100: Pat Kelly, The Godfather of the Suffers
Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Pat Kelly is a lifelong Houston musician and the driving force behind the Suffers, whose irresistible blend of R&B, ska, reggae and rocksteady has made them the reigning HPMA Best New Act. They're multiple nominees again this year in Best Reggae/Ska/Dub, Best Female Vocals for singer Kam Franklin, and himself for Best Keyboards.
Photos by Marco Torres Pat Kelly (L) plays keyboards with The Suffers at the 2012 Houston Press Music Awards Showcase
Kelly, who started on piano at age 6, started in the local music scene at 17 and has spent time in Half Loaded, soundpatrol, Los Skarnales, the Igents, The Stingers ATX, and the The Handsomes. He still plays drums in the Theater Under the Stars Orchestra throughout the year at Hobby Center, but the Suffers is Kelly's first band where he's played keyboards.
"I decided that it was way easier to be creative in a band situation for me from a keyboard rather than be sort of stuck behind a kit," he says. "I'm lucky that I have a group of friends and musicians that let me do this seriously and not just at the end of band practice when everyone switches instruments to jack around. The Suffers have really become sort of a creative outlet that I've needed and wanted."
"Aside from being the primary songwriter and a major force in the creation of the band, Pat's our reality check," adds the Suffers' drummer Nick Zamora. "When things are intense, he stays cool. This really helps balance out the various personalities in the band. Don't take this to mean he won't get aggro when the situation calls for it though. He's like the godfather."
Who? Kelly was a charter member of the Houston Children's Chorus, and says he was able to travel the world with that group before high school. With several uncles who were drummers along the way, today besides his Suffers and TUTS gigs he pays the bills as a percussion teacher.
Kelly at Free Press Summer Fest 2013
"What really makes him a great songwriter and an incredible drummer, is that he has a deep, deep understanding of "feel," Zamora says. "He has a very complex sense of the little intricate details that are at the heart of a musical style; tempo, cadence, the instrumentation and how the instruments work together to form the gestalt -- or complete picture, so to speak."
"Some of the best shows I've played though are ones with the Stingers ATX on our European tours or Skarnales on Mexico tours," Kelly says. "I've played in theaters full of people as a sub with the Houston Symphony and with TUTS, but there's still nothing like thousands of people sweating dancing singing to that songs that YOU wrote. It's pretty sweet."
Why Do You Stay In Houston? "I've never left Houston since my family came here," says Kelly , who calls himself a proud HSPVA graduate and also attended Rice University's Sheperd School of Music as a classical percussion major. After a long gig consulting at PVA he now works After teaching as a consultant at PVA for some time, he now works at at the John Cooper School in The Woodlands and has recently relocated to Humble from his native Westbury area.
"I've always been very aware of working and how to work as a musician here," Kelly says. "It's a lot of making your own moves, and also being able to change to all different styles and comfort levels, being well-rounded. I stay here because we have one of the best scenes around.
"And I have a lot of opportunities constantly," he adds. "It doesn't happen overnight, and I'm grateful. There are a lot of guys I've know thou the years that are really really good at one thing... And don't care to do anything else.. That's not my style. I wanna do it all... Houston's my perfect place for that. I'd have a hard time living in Austin or NYC."