UNITY – Musical artist Duff Kelly grew up in a musical family and now finds inspiration in everyday life to continue his musical endeavours. Although his life has not been what he had dreamed of, Kelly has been able to defy all odds with his.
Kelly, originally from the Rutland area, has been making a name for himself in the music world, with music that speaks to all walks of life. Kelly has been using his life experiences, positive or negative, as inspiration for his songwriting. Through his struggles, mentally and with his family, he has been able to reconcile the relationships between his parents and himself.
From a young age, Kelly was taught by his parents to play guitar. He performed with his family, consisting of his parents and two brothers, each taking a role in the band. Even though Kelly was talented, he said he felt like he was never meant to live on the prairies. With the cold harsh winters and the isolation due to farm life, Kelly became an extremely rebellious teenager.
“I was opposing my father’s wishes just to piss him off. I did my little stunt on Main Street that lit up the town, then a high-speed pursuit with the cops. I had gotten kicked out of school, a criminal record, thousands of dollars worth of fines, so Dad and I were just at each other’s throats,” says Kelly.
It was at that time Kelly walked away from not only his family but his guitar as well.
“I just hopped on a freight train and bounced around for at least a decade. I was more focused on a different career anyways,” Kelly said.
He had always had a love of flying and was determined to become a commercial pilot. However, Kelly was still not keen on taking orders, so he switched gears once more.
“I changed my direction towards waterbombing, which was a dream for me. Pushing the envelope was my kind of flying, not in controlled airspace, listening to vectors. You’re putting out fires, saving people’s homes and helping.”
Kelly started working towards his goal as a water bomber pilot, by obtaining his commercial license and multi IFR and started working as a crop duster pilot.
“I was learning how to control the aircraft and not crash. At that time, music was put on the back burner,” said Kelly.
One evening in 2007 changed Kelly’s life. Although he cannot recollect the moment itself, Kelly hit a powerline while flying and crashed.
“There were five crop dusters that went down that summer between Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. I was the only survivor that summer. I recognize now that I am on borrowed time,” said Kelly.
Kelly suffered a brain injury and bodily injuries, resulting in multiple surgeries. His entire family was with him while he was undergoing treatments. After being in the hospital for close to a year, he underwent 20 reconstructive surgeries and brain rehabilitation over five years. He even checked himself out of the hospital in Saskatoon, unaware of how hurt he was. He was also becoming addicted to pain medication when Kelly started looking for an outlet to help him from going down a dark road.
“Once I started healing physically, I was told I couldn’t pass a Catalan medical, so flying was no longer an option for me. I got super depressed, hooked on pills and all my dreams kind of went up in smoke. So, I literally picked up the guitar again, just out of desperation,” said Kelly.
About a year after the crash, Kelly was able to hold the guitar again, however, had to make some drastic changes.
“I’m actually left-handed, but Dad only had right-handed guitars and most parents won’t go buy a left-handed guitar in case the kid doesn’t pursue it. So, I ended up learning to play right-handed guitar as a kid. After the crash, I had to re-learn how to play guitar this time left-handed,” Kelly says.
At first, Kelly said he struggled mentally. He was a proficient player before the crash and with having to start over, he never thought it would be as hard as it was. He started going to open mics on Vancouver Island and it was terrible.
As he recovered, Kelly would call many places home, yet it was the ocean that drew him to the coastal regions of British Columbia, California and Hawaii.
“While living in Honolulu, I got a phone call from my dad. Mom’s health deteriorated to the point where she couldn’t help on the farm anymore. They were asking if I would come back for the summer to work on the farm. I started griping about it to some friends and one girl looked at me and said she wished she could do that, go home to Oklahoma, and help her parents, who were both killed by a drunk driver,” said Kelly.
Those words put things into perspective for Kelly. He took the offer from his parents and has been coming home yearly to help on the farm for the past four summers. “I’m very thankful that I recognized the opportunity to make amends with my parents and especially my dad,” adds Kelly.
Kelly has been taking time to write songs and perform. He uses his life’s trials and tribulations as inspiration to write. Big Ol’ World was the first song that Kelly wrote that allowed him to recognize the talent he possessed. In the music video, he used images from his life, including the crash he survived, to let others resonate with the troubles we all go through.
Kelly says he has experienced a spiritual awakening.
“I don’t affiliate with any religion, I recognize divinity. I am thankful and blessed to be here. The song Holy Lady was an open and honest conversation with the divine. I decided to call it Holy Lady rather than Holy Father because, in my mind’s eye, it felt more like a nurturing martyr,” said Kelly.
Kelly says he does not fit into one genre of music, instead, his music could fit in any category.
“I like covering a diverse spectrum because I feel that music is a journey, a universal language that emotionally connects people on a higher level. Everybody is struggling, so I want to take people on the ride to spark emotion and invoke action. I love inspiring people, so to be able to write songs and truly help others in their journey, that’s what really fires me up,” Kelly adds.
Kelly has collaborated with other Unity musicians including Keith Heitt, Brent Reiter and Travis Gerein and learned how to be a vocalist as well.
“The only time I ever sang was in the high school hallway, me and my buddy would belt out some Kurt Cobain songs. The pretty girl in my class kind of smirked at my singing and I shut up and never sang another word. It destroyed me,” Kelly recalls.
At times, Kelly’s music can be considered controversial, especially when he voiced his concerns about Canada during the pandemic and freedom rally. He wrote two songs during that time, Wicked People and Freedom.
“All of us have won a golden ticket just being here and I have a moral obligation to stand up for us. I can’t just sit idly by, knowing we have the ability to do something about it. What can I do as a farm kid from Saskatchewan, lose my voice and position and speak truthfully about things that I see unfolding? I would rather be crucified, slandered and cancelled for standing up for what I know is right as opposed to being a coward and not do anything,” said Kelly.
With the loss of a good friend, Kelly said he feels that it is important he continues to be authentic, honest, real and truthful.
“That’s what is going to matter anyways and hopefully those things will resonate through my music,” said Kelly.
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