This Atlanta native is a beloved figure throughout the contemporary music landscape, and a multi-faceted artist whose warm southern persona and powerful voice have left their mark on countless recordings and live performances.
She was recently touted "a national treasure" by colleague, friend, and former Chicago neighbor, Andrew Bird, while acclaimed singer-songwriter M. Ward simply states, "Kelly Hogan rules."
Hogan is the consummate "singer's singer" who has fronted a succession of highly influential bands. She has also collaborated with a list of prominent artists in a role she proudly describes as "the noble sideman".
Hogan's body of work and her considerable interpretive skills harken back to an era when a talent for personalizing the work of songwriters was a revered art form. "I love covering other people's songs," she explains. "To me it's like putting on some incredible thrift store jacket and making it into something new. Sometimes you can find lovely stuff in the pockets of the song that no one has heard before."
Hogan began singing as a child in Atlanta, and performed in bar bands while still in high school - offering heartfelt versions of classics like 'Stormy Weather' and 'Trouble In Mind' - but her creative trajectory was truly formed in her twenties in a ramshackle community of dilapidated Atlanta row houses called Cabbagetown. This rough and tumble neighborhood, built to accommodate Appalachian mill workers, provided cheap housing and a sense of freedom and camaraderie for the city's impoverished creative community. "It was a cheap place to live, so all the musicians and artists moved in," she explains. "You would hear music coming out of all these cruddy little houses. There was scrappy punk rock, arty noise stuff, skronky free jazz, hardcore traditional country music, drag queen poets. Everyone played in each other's bands. We were just in love with making music."
Out of this landscape came Hogan's first band, The Jody Grind - purveyors of a unique and intoxicating mix of cabaret, country, jazz, and punk - featuring Hogan's soulful voice alongside talented instrumentalist-songwriter Bill Taft. "Bill and I met at a punk show," Hogan says. "He asked what records I was currently listening to and I said Hoagy Carmichael. He said 'that's verrrry interesting!' A week later he asked me if I wanted to start a band and I said 'hell yes.'"
The Jody Grind soon became torchbearers for the Cabbagetown scene, were heralded by R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe and released two influential albums before meeting an untimely end. Hogan followed with a stint playing guitar and singing back-up in the raucous rock and roll outfit The Rock*A*Teens before releasing a solo album of her own titled 'The Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear'. In a review of the record, All Music proclaimed Hogan "a talent to watch."
In 1997, Hogan relocated to Chicago and briefly attempted to quit music, but soon failed miserably. Within months she began singing as much as she could. "I became known as the person that could come in like a ninja and sing backup on your song and put my mustard on your bologna," she says. "(Steve) Albini would call me for all sorts of things - singing, screaming, you-name-it. At the same time I would get calls to come sing on shampoo commercials. I took on all kinds of projects because I felt like it was helping to build my musician muscles."
In 1998, she joined the band of celebrated singer-songwriter Neko Case - a venture she describes as "finding my family", and, in the ensuing Chicago years, Hogan recorded and toured with a host of other top artists, worked at the legendary Hideout club, released two additional solo albums for Bloodshot Records, and embarked on a project for radio station WXRT where she recorded a cover song a week for an entire year. She also became one of three DJs for a popular WXRT show called "The Eclectic Company."
"I've spent the last ten years singing with people I love and admire," Hogan says. "Neko and Jakob Dylan, Mavis Staples and Otis Clay and Andrew Bird. I got to really stretch out musically with a weekly residency at the Hideout with my jazz quartet (Kelly Hogan and the Wooden Leg), and I even joined a kid's music band on the side (Wee Hairy Beasties with Sally Timms and Jon Langford). I've always wanted to know music from all sides of the elephant, and I feel like I used everything I ever learned to walk into that Hollywood studio and work with Mr. Gadson and Booker T, Gabe (Roth) and Scotty (Ligon) for my first Anti- record."