Band members, musicians and family pay tribute to musician Red McKelvie
John Bisset / Stuff
Red McKelvie performs with the Bog Trotters at Sail & Anchor Bar and Cafe in Timaru on St. Patrick’s Day 2016.
Former bandmates, musicians and family of Bertram John ‘Red’ McKelvie shared fond memories of the talented musician following his death on Saturday.
McKelvie, who was living in Geraldine at the time of her death, has a long list of Australasian musical references to her name – including playing guitar for Australian musician Richard Clapton and in band The Flying Circus.
Canadian-born New Zealand singer/songwriter Tami Neilson took to social media to pay tribute to McKelvie, whom she described as a “sweet soul” and credited with making her music “infinitely better” on the two albums he worked on.
“His legend is one that is woven through the rich tapestry of New Zealand music. He was a walking encyclopedia of music history.
Neilson said she met McKelvie around 15 years ago during one of her first tours of New Zealand as a supporting actor – having just lost a friend it was a difficult time for her and McKelvie offered him lodging for the night.
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“My late friend was Duane Marrs, who was like an uncle to me in Nashville. He built steel guitars, first for the legendary Sho-Bud, then for his own company, Marrs Steel Guitars.
“I told Red that I had just lost a friend who was another steel player and when I said Duane’s name, Red’s eyes filled with tears.”
She said McKelvie then showed her his own steel Sho-Bud built by Duane Marrs.
“It was so heartwarming to talk to someone in this new country who could relate to my loss. Red has always held a special place in my heart since that day and I can’t believe we lost him too. J ‘hope you and Duane are exchanging licks somewhere now, Red,’ she said.
Timaru man Doug Blakie has played alongside McKelvie in the band, Shakey Ground and The Coyote’s, performing in hotels, bars and private venues across the South Island and has described him as a great companion of tour.
“He was a legend in New Zealand music and a privilege to share the stage with him,” Blakie said.
Such sentiments were echoed by Cheryl Blanchard, who played with McKelvie in the Timaru-based band Flashback.
“He was a real individual, there never was someone quite like him and there never will be again,” Blanchard said.
Renowned for playing the pedal steel guitar, one of the most difficult instruments to master, McKelvie also sang and played five other instruments.
He was primarily interested in country and Irish music, working with New Zealander Al Hunter and touring with country artist Patsy Riggir.
Blanchard said his former bandmate sometimes changed genres mid-show and recalled one time when they were playing a country gig and some teenagers in the crowd asked him to play Guns N’ Roses at the square.
“He just put his mandolin down and picked up an electric guitar,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard said he was always keen to perform anywhere, including weddings and retirement homes and always lend his talents to Timaru’s bands.
Elaine Barwell, McKelvie’s cousin, said he moved to South Canterbury in 1995 and was in high demand by bands in the local music scene.
Barwell, who shared a house with his cousin for a while, said he always plays music in his spare time.
“’I only think about music’ was his slogan.
“He loved making people happy with his guitar and making people dance,” she said.