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The Steady Pulse In the Career of Jim Kelley

You know Jim Kelley from Syracuse’s very own Horn Dogs. But, there is much more to one of Syracuse’s top staple drummers. Here is my conversation with him about his path in a healthy run as a musician.

Chuck Schiele: Hi Jim. Thanks for doing this interview with Sound of Syracuse. I know you’re a busy dude.

Jim Kelley: Hi Chuck, thank you for speaking with me!

CS: How long have you been playing and how did you get started in becoming a

JK: I began in the mid 70’s while in elementary school, I was always enthralled by the older kids playing drums in school and in parades and soon joined in!

A rock-funk-R&B-blues-jazz etc hired gun, Jim started out in a number of new wave and metal bands, then more classic rock bands, and fast forward to today, he has gone back to his roots and is now with the Horn Dogs, a 9 piece horn driven R&B/motown/funk/dance and classic rock band.

CS: And, things took off from there …

JK: I was fortunate enough to have grown up in Boston in a thriving music scene and then coming out to the Syracuse area in High School. From age 11-18 I took private lessons from several stellar drum teachers, played in every band available in school and with a variety of “garage bands” throughout Jr. high & high school, played with multiple regional bands in my stepfather’s and mother’s restaurants as a teen, did the All-County thing, etc. I auditioned for and was accepted to several music schools – and went with my first choice, Berklee College of Music in Boston. The magic of Berklee is playing with people from all corners of the Earth and developing in the “after hours” – jamming with people every night for 6+ hours in all different styles! I played out with a few bands around Boston as well during that time. After a couple semesters decided to return to Syracuse.

At the time, Metal and New Wave was happening and I played with a number of new wave and  metal bands through the early 90’s, the best known was “Mistress.” When metal was slowly fading, I played in a couple of original projects that eventually gave way to playing more straight ahead classic rock stuff in a number of bands
including Hard Drive and The Drop Outs. Fast forward a bit and I went back to some early roots and joined up with The Horn Dogs, a 9 piece horn driven R&B/motown/funk/dance and classic rock band. Eleven years later, I’m still with them and growing stronger!

I took a bit of a break with the Dogs to start another music thing but came back to the Dogs in 2014. Since then we have played to audiences all over New York and took home a SAMMY award for People’s Choice in 2016. We are currently a finalist for the 2019 People’s Choice Sammy as we speak!

For several years I have also subbed for a number of bands when their drummer wasn’t available or if they didn’t have a drummer! A rock-funk-R&B-blues-jazz etc hired gun! Aside from subbing on drums and congas/percussion I have also played or recorded with a variety of people for certain gigs/projects.

Lastly, with The Horn Dogs still going strong and a busy schedule for 2020, I even made the time to join yet another band —Crooked Halo— a female led classic rock/modern country band made up of people from other active bands like Rhythm Method, In Too Deep, Right Turn and Fuzz Box that is debuting late March 2020 and booked through 2020 as well! Most of all, if I’m not at one of my own gigs, you can find me out a lot at other people’s gigs supporting them as well!

Check out The Horn Dogs Fan Club on Facebook, and their website with complete details and schedule at www.thehorndogs.com

CS: Please tell us about the different gear you play.

JK: Depending on type of gig, my main gigging sets are one of several Sonor designer sets I have. The size of set up may change depending on type or gig or how much space there is. With The Horn Dogs I share the stage with 8 others! So space can be a premium. I like to play a 5 to 7 piece set for most things, sometimes smaller or larger if appropriate. I also have 30 snares I own as well as a variety of Zildjian cymbals. On occasion I’ll bring out a “show” set, like my see-through Pearl Crystal Beat set that has LED lighting that changes colors. It’s a cool sounding kit and people love the visual. But they aren’t Sonor! I have several other vintage sets I use too. If I do a jazz, blues, Motown/R&B, or other types of gigs where appropriate, I have vintage Sonor and Gretsch kits. Lastly, I also play lots of percussion – congas, bongos, timbales, djembe, cajon, lots of little percussion “toys.” I also play mallets and have a resurrected 1920’s marimba I use.

CS: From whom, or from where do you find musical inspiration?

JK: A couple of places. -I still lean on the old classic stuff —Jazz/Motown, 60’s, 70’s— anything that grooves and has a great feel to it. The second inspiration comes from a lot of the new cats coming up who have their own voice but were rooted in the same stuff. Nate Smith, Antonio Sanchez & Brian Blade are good examples of this – along with a plethora of up and coming rock drummers. Lastly I look to the local music programs as they promote music to a new generation and unselfishly help kids get into music. A good example is watching my son Kyle with The Liverpool Marching Band and watching his instructors not only taking an interest in growing him and the other students
musically, but also as people. And then watching the kids blossom into great
players over a season. Our local music teachers are truly the unsung hero’s and hats off to everyone in this capacity!

CS: Which drummers do you admire most?

JK: This could take a few pages – there are so many good drummers. My top guys in no order are Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Steve Gadd, Jeff Porcaro, Vinny Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers, Steve Jordan, Neil Peart, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Carter Beaufort – this list can go on and on. And we are fortunate that there are so many great local drummers still here or that have made their mark internationally now like Frank Briggs, John Dittreich, David Northrup. Another list I can keep going on!

CS: Please share a highlight or two from your career.

JK: I’ve had a few cool things – winning music awards including SAMMYs, getting asked to play on all kind of gigs. One very cool night at The Dinosaur BBQ a few years back, Ben Mauro, a stellar local guitarist that made it big —from Lionel Richie, Cher, John Fogerty, Don Felder, etc.— played a whole night with The Dropouts to a packed house. We are lucky it was still standing after that! Sean Kelly, our guitarist, and an excellent one at that, plus Rolland Brunet on bass that night, Jeryl Payne on vocals and me on
drums – lifted all of us to new musical heights!

CS: Please share a funny story from your career.

JK: This may be read by kids too – so I’ll be selective! There’s probably a few. I did have a local newspaper have a blurb on an upcoming “formal” gig one of my bands was playing a few years back. They used a photo of me from like 15 years prior in all my big teased hair spandex looking glory! Someone put the wrong pic in but I’m sure people wondered was type of event this was going to be!

CS: Tips for the budding musician:

The Horn Dogs will be busy playing throughout the year all over CNY. If you like to dance and love the power of a horn band, check us out!

JK: Listen to everything you can – even if you do not typically listen to it or dig that style of music. Play with everyone you can – it will give you greater chops and musicianship plus build your network! Don’t wait for opportunity – go make it! Make the time to practice: the people you are watching on stage did!

CS: Your thoughts on the CNY music community:

JK: I’m baffled why some say this town has no scene? The CNY music community is alive and strong. I’m amazed at the talent here in all genres and the musicians who really support each other. The venues that do a great job promoting live music – some of the best include The 443 Social Club & Lounge where owners Jimmy and Julie promote live local and regional acts, open mike nights and original music. The Wildcat is another spot that is outstanding for live music – Dan & his team promote music and provide a great atmosphere for live performance. And everyone knows Shiftys, Dinosaur BBQ, Limp Lizard and many others who are proactive at driving the music scene. There are a ton of festivals and outdoor events around here – some better than in major cities! Let’s hope The Syracuse Jazz Fest can come back! Frank Maltifano is one of the greatest promoters and supporters of live music anywhere! Most importantly are the fans and supporters of live music who go to the shows, buy the music and merchandise and do a lot of promoting themselves! The Horn Dog fans are a great example of this. We see tons of our followers travel dozens of miles to our gigs – some never miss a show! And when we are not playing, a large portion are out supporting other bands as well. We have some of the best audiences right here in CNY!

CS: Near future plans for you and your music?

JK: The Horn Dogs will be busy playing throughout the year all over CNY. If you like to dance and love the power of a horn band, check us out! Crooked Halo, my new classic rock band will also be out and about all around CNY this year as well! You will most likely see me out with other bands – duos – acoustic – electric, and on drums and percussion this year too!

CS: How can we stay in touch with you and your music?

JK: You can find me on Facebook where I always try to update people who are
interested. Also, The Horn Dogs have a FaceBook page “The Horn Dogs Fan Club” that you can see and join for free! The Horn Dogs also have a website with complete details and schedule at www.thehorndogs.com. Crooked Halo also has a Facebook page. And never be a stranger – if you see me at one of my gigs or watching someone else’s, come on up and say “hi!”

Brace yourself! Here comes the 2020 SAMMYs!

The two day event is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, March 5 & 6, 2020.

On Thursday, March 5, 2020, the SAMMY Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place Upstairs @ the Dino. The SAMMYS Award Show will be Friday, March 6, 2020, at the Palace Theatre on James Street in Syracuse.

Tickets are currently on sale and you can find out full details at their website: www.syracuseareamusic.com. You can follow the “Syracuse Area Music Awards” on Facebook or Twitter @sammyawards and Instagram.

Here is a list of nominees and performers:

Hall of Fame Induction Dinner

Thursday March 5, 2020, 7:00 (Doors: 6pm)

Upstairs at the Dino


Moss Back Mule Band

Tim Fox

Seth Marcel

Judy Mareiniss

Music Educator: Casey Vanderstouw

Lifetime Achievement: Garland Jeffreys

Syracuse Area Music Awards Award Show

Friday March 6, 2020, 7:00 (Doors: 6pm)

Palace Theatre

Best Pop

Stephen Phillips / Big Eyes & Rosy Cheeks

Jenna Cunningham / Seizing Self

Best Hip-Hop or Rap

Slick Fashion 2 / Purple

315 CA$H / A Rough Start#RELOADED

Coughlin / #TheHeat

The Real Raw Breed / No Excuse

MBK Richy / RS2

Best Americana

Mike Powell / The Full Nelson: Live at the Odeon

The Ripcords / Last Dance

Coffee & Beer / Leap

Off the Ground / Cleared for Takeoff

Ghost Town Ramblers / Outlaw Highway

Best Alternative

Late Earth / Eleventh Hour

Keep Up / Up In Flames

The Action! / 20 Years Alive

Mandate of Heaven / Least Concern

Devinne Meyers / Silver Line

Best Rock

Atkins Riot / Too Much Whisky

Underwater Bosses / Aqua La Vista

Chris Eves and the New Normal / One Spark

Slow Train / In Between

Mike Powell & The Black River / Gypsy Winnebago

Ronnie Dark / Sky

Best Hard Rock

Kris Wiechmann / The Heaviest Tenderness

Cry to the Blind / Deliver Me

Ecliptic Vision / Ecliptic Vision

Murder in Rue Morgue / Endless Cycles

Killaton / My Abyss

Best Other Style

Mark Nanni / Towns & Spaces In Between

Josh Dekaney / All the Americas

Leo Crandall & Hymie Witthoft / Unknowable & Stunning Thing

Spotlight Studios / A Holiday Spotlight

O’Connor & Dunn / Which Way to Neverland?

Best Jam Band

Big Sexy & The Scrambled Eggs / Road Less Traveled

Vaporeyes / Vaporeyes

Best Singer/Songwriter

Dale Randall / All the Love I Know

Andrew VanNorstrand / That We Could Find a Way to Be

Cam Caruso / Up Above & Down Below

Sydney Irving / The Greene EP

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers / Live and Listening

Best Blues

Sean McLeod / Harriet Tubman Freedom Music Festival-Live! Vol. 4

King Kool and His Royal Blues / Train Wreck

Diana Jacobs / What She Needs

Chris Terra Band / Lady Luck

Earl Slick & The West Side Social Club / The West Side Social Club

Best R&B

Gary Carpentier / LUCID

Barroom Philosophers / Digital Demise

Jaquiel / Changes

Alani Skye / Alani Skye

Best Country

The Cadleys / Duets & Ballards

Whiskey Hollow Rush / True Stories

Jon Rogalia / A Little Too Country

Emalee Herrington / Plans Change

D. Dusk Rogers / Pounded Down By Christmas

Best Jazz

London McDaniel / Masterpieces

Melissa Gardiner / Empowered

Best Electronica

Ruby C. / Ruby C.

Empires in Orbit / Doom City Limits & Singles

Founder’s Award


James ‘Saul’ Brown

Rick Linzy

Hollis ‘Larry’ Mathis

Isaac Wynn

Jack O Bocchino Spirit of the Sammys Award

Marge Nolan

Performances by:

Garland Jeffreys with James Maddock

Emma Jude with Late Earth

Moss Back Mule Band

Ron Spencer Band

Seth Marcel

Melissa Gardiner (who will be with a 12-piece band)

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is a lifelong, award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member Quatrocollective.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.