Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Kevin Selfe is a man who has dedicated his life to the blues. For more than a decade, he has been sharing that love and dedication with audiences from coast to coast, building a loyal following wherever his energetic mix of traditional and contemporary blues is heard. Although many have played the genre before him, Kevin’s path to, and through, the blues is an interesting one and is what draws people to his music.
In a world of teenage guitar prodigies, Kevin learned to play the guitar at a relatively late age while studying Meteorology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. “I had plenty of time to practice in my dorm room”, Kevin explains “because my major was not real popular with the ladies.” He jokingly but honestly adds “They used to call us the weather dorks”.
“My roommate was a bass player and he introduced me to this whole new world of music that I wasn’t aware of. While everybody else was into the grunge thing, we were listening to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Elmore James. It was like this big light went on in my head.”
After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Meteorology in 1995, Selfe felt like there was something missing, something else calling him. He decided to abandon a potential career as a weatherman, and pursue the music that consumed his soul, the blues. Kevin states “I don’t think I ever really chose to play the blues…I think somehow the blues chose me.”
In 1997 at the age of 23, he joined the regionally popular Fat Daddy Band based out of his hometown of Roanoke, VA. During his tenure with them, the Fat Daddy Band won the Charlotte Blues Society's 2001 Talent Competition and was a finalist at the Blues Foundation's 2002 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, thus being named one of the top 6 unsigned blues bands in the world.
One of the most memorable experiences in Kevin’s life occurred that night while coming off the stage of the New Daisy Theater during the finals of the IBC. Kevin recalls “Bob Margolin (Muddy Waters’ guitarist) was one of the judges that night, and was presenting an old Stella guitar that Muddy had owned to Howard Stovall and The Blues Foundation. Before the presentation, Bob was slated to play the guitar for a couple of tunes. We were the last band to compete and Howard was waiting at the bottom of the stairs watching over the guitar. I asked if that was the guitar? He said ‘Yes’, and then I asked if I could touch it. He said ‘You sounded great…here, you can play it for a minute…you earned it.’ So there I was, playing Muddy Waters guitar on Beale Street, with his strings still on it. Words just can’t describe what I felt. It was an amazing experience. That guitar now sits in the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, MS. I get goose bumps every time I see it.”
After spending 6 busy years touring the South and recording 3 CD’s, Kevin left Fat Daddy and joined forces with fellow Virginia bluesman Rodger Crowder, forming Little Rodger and the Cheap Thrills in 2003 (who incidentally was also a finalist at the IBC in 2008). Over the next 2 years Kevin continued touring, regularly performing at some of the nation’s best blues clubs including The Slippery Noodle in Indianapolis, IN; Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Nashville, TN; and The Double Door in Charlotte, NC.
In early 2005, Kevin decided it was time to go out on his own and formed his own group, Kevin Selfe and The Tornadoes. The band quickly became known as one of the tightest and most energetic blues outfits around. In September 2005, he and the Tornadoes had the honor of backing up Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater at the Taste of The Blue Ridge Blues Festival in Roanoke, VA. In January 2007, Kevin backed up former Muddy Waters sideman and harmonica legend, the late Carey Bell, on what ended up being his last show. “Getting to do that gig with Carey was one of those magical nights I’ll never forget,” Kevin remembers.
Kevin Selfe & The Tornadoes released their first CD entitled
Selfe-Contained in January 2006. The well-received recording comprised
of ten dynamic tunes that captured the band’s uncontainable energy and
creativity. Although Kevin is best known for his guitar work, his other
skills started to garner attention. Blues Matters (UK) says of Selfe on
the CD, “Playing fine harmonica as well, it is his superb deep voice
that resonates throughout”.
Kevin relocated to the blues hotbed of Portland, OR in February 2007 and formed a West Coast version of The Tornadoes. He hired long-time Portland drummer Don Shultz, and recent New York transplant Allen Markel on bass.
In September 2009, Kevin Selfe and The Tornadoes released their highly anticipated second CD, Playing The Game, ten original compositions that highlight the band’s depth, virtuosity, and humor. The CD reached #33 on the Roots Music Reports National Blues Chart, and was a #3 “Pick To Click” on Sirius/XM Radio’s Bluesville. Playing The Game was selected by a group of judges to represent the Cascade Blues Association for the Best Self-Produced CD competition presented by The Blues Foundation.
In four years Kevin Selfe and The Tornadoes have become a Northwest favorite, winning prestigious Muddy Awards in 2010 for Best Traditional Blues Act and 2009 for Best Contemporary Blues Act from the Cascade Blues Association. In all, the band has been nominated for 16 Muddy Awards for Best Electric Guitar (2007-2010), Best Contemporary Blues Act (2008-2010), Best Traditional Blues Act (2009, 2010), Best New Act (2007), Best Bass (2008-2010), Best Drums (2008, 2010), and NW Recording of the Year (2010). The band was also nominated for a 2011 Portland Music Award for Outstanding Achievement in Blues. In early 2011, the band welcomed legendary blues drummer and 12 time Blues Music Award nominee Jimi Bott as the newest Tornado.
Blues Revue says “Selfe plays with rare thoughtfulness and taste...his clean tone and deep well of approaches keep things fresh.” James Walker of Blues Blast Magazine comments “Kevin Selfe is a guitar playing son-of-a-gun...[they] consistently prove originality and versatile competence in their craft. ‘Playing The Game’ has solid enjoyable offerings for most every blues taste”
Longtime Cascade Blues Association President Greg Johnson sums up Kevin Selfe and The Tornadoes the best, “Kevin draws the crowds to the band with fiery fretwork that gets “wanna-be” guitar heroes excited and professionals listening closely. As a band, the three together all fall in complete synchronization with one another on stage as a true ensemble that just may be one of the best outfits on the West Coast.”