Kelly Willis

Kelly Willis was born in the red dirt of Lawton, Oklahoma and lived the displaced life of an army child, unable to put down roots in any one place too long.

Her parents’ divorce when she was nine struck a heavy blow. Taking after her mother’s love of music, she sought solace in singing, and at the tender age of sixteen she was fronting her boyfriend’s band under the new name Kelly & the Fireballs…a sign of great things to come.

After graduating from high school in the mid-eighties, Kelly found herself in the live music capital of the world, Austin, Texas, and began developing the sizzling blend of country twang and rocker edge that would become her trademark. She has a pristine voice that is both lilting and powerful, often drawing comparisons to that of the legendary Patsy Cline. Her down home delivery of elegant Texas country will cut you to your core.

It took a while for Willis to achieve the success she deserved. Her first three albums, all greatly anticipated, but were met with tepid acceptance by critics and fans. It wasn’t until the 1999 release of her self-produced fourth album, What I Deserve, that she really hit her stride. Time Magazine called it “the smartest, most consistently worthwhile country CD” released that year. In the coming years she produced another three albums which cemented her success and standing, and which included collaborations with Vince Gill, Dan Tyminski and Chris Thile. She took a well-deserved hiatus from touring in 2008 to focus on her family (she is married to songwriter Bruce Robison, and they have four children).

Willis has captured the attention of such notable Texas songwriters as Nanci Griffith, who helped her land her first contract with MCA, and the great Lyle Lovett. In addition to her solo success, Kelly often appears on-stage with her husband. The Bruce and Kelly Show takes us back to other great performing couples…Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings and Jesse Colter. Big shoes to fill, but these two do it right with a sincere chemistry that is easy on the eyes and sweet harmony to the ears. It is indeed special to see them perform one of their intimate love songs in a spellbound Austin club.

Three things you should know about Kelly Willis: (1) her musical career started with her own version of Elvis Presley’s “Teddy Bear”, sung at a carnival recording booth, (2) her voice appeared in the1991 movie Thelma and Louise, singing “Little Honey”, and (3) she once made People magazine’s list of the fifty most beautiful people in the world.

If you love Kelly Willis, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Eliza Gilkyson, Walt Wilkins and Carrie Rodriguez.

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