PRO-PORTRAIT: Pat Kelley has had a life-long love affair with the guitar.

There is no denying the powerful combination of talent and passion. And, Pat Kelley has both, and has mixed them well—for the last 50 years.

“I can’t remember when I didn’t play the guitar, or call myself a guitarist.”

“The first time I ever heard a guitar, a message must have gone off in my brain that said I’d have a life long love-affair with this instrument.” Pat has made playing guitar his life’s passion, and his career.

Whether touring, recording, songwriting, producing, performing or teaching, his guitar, his talent, and his passion are always in-tow.

Pat’s toured with the likes of the legendary George Benson, and Natalie Cole. He spent years performing in the band on the Merv Griffin Show, and Pat Sajak’s talk show during their heyday. He’s a sought-after studio musician and solo recording artist; had a record label; published a series of books; is the director of Jazz Guitar Studies at the University of Tulsa; and has taught in the guitar program at the University of Southern California (USC) for the last 15 years. If you get the idea that Pat has a lot of things going, you’d be spot on.

“I’ve always felt like fortune has really smiled on me…I have always loved having the guitar in my hands, even from when I was a kid, and have kept doing it all my life, and never stopped.”

At an early age, Pat moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of making a career out of his passion, “I was a pretty evolved guitarist by the time I moved to California in the early 70’s. I got into jazz at a pretty early age, but still played in bands that were playing Beatles and popular music at that time. I was always working on skills, and learning how to read music.” Pat has an “ongoing determination to try to get better. It’s a never-ending thing, really.”

In examining his success, Pat has found serendipity to be a driving force—of being in certain situations, and taking advantage of those opportunities, to allow his career to fall into place. Different parts of his career have been emphasized at different times—like the five years with George Benson, balanced with solo performing; and teaching mixed with producing and studio recording. It is a career mixed, and balanced perfectly, not unlike the jazz music he has dedicated his life to.

Of course part of the shifts and pivots in his career have come from the changes in the industry. “Record company existence is really different than it ever was. Everyone’s budgets have shrunk down because record companies aren’t expecting to sell as many records. They’re not quite as willing to put as much money into that, so that impacts artists some. On the other, hand, everyone has the ability to get things out there. So, it probably works in favor of a lot of people as well.”

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