The Sandy Kelly Story

Sandy was born Philomena Ellis in Wales and was involved with show business almost from birth. Her father, Frank Ellis, was part of the Duskey Family Show which traveled the length and breadth of England, Scotland and Wales performing in the workingman's clubs. In fact, young Philomena was brought on stage when she was only three years old. "I used to go on stage and sing and tap dance or whatever was called for, and it was nice to entertain people and get so much attention at that age," Sandy related in a 1994 interview.

Sandy's childhood was spent on stage and traveling prepared her well for the career path she would choose. In 1974, Frank brought his family to Ireland to Ballintogher, a small village about six miles from Sligo, the major town in the northwest of the country. Sandy set about getting into the local entertainment scene immediately running several ads in the local paper looking to join an existing band, or form her own group.

Easy Listenin'

In the end, she met Gerry Feeney, a keyboard player who had been with local showband Dee Leydon and the Powermen as well as numerous local groups like the Students. Gerry then contacted Gerry Gallagher, a young American guitar player who had been living in Sligo for four years and asked him if he was interested in playing bass and the final piece in the puzzle was Sean Savage, a drummer from the town of Ballisodare.

The new band needed a name and so did Philomena, who wanted a stage name which would pay tribute to her show business family, the Duskeys. The result was a brainstorming session during which it was decided to call the group Sandy Duskey and Easy Listenin'. A bit of trivia is the fact that the name "Sandy" (spelled with a "y" instead of the traditional "ie" was suggested by bass player Gerry based on the name of his American baseball hero, Sandy Koufax. However, most promoters still spelled it wrong as can be seen in the advert to the left.

The band rehearsed for several weeks and was ready to hit the road in March 1974. They toured the Northwest of Ireland and Sandy was an instant success. Her unique voice, easy going personality and on stage presence made her a crowd favourite and the band went from strength to strength. After some time, Gerry Feeney left the band and Gerry Gallagher moved over to guitar. Around the same time drummer Sean Savage quit the band as well. The band drafted new members James Blennerhassett on bass and Dick Lynott on drums. In fact, Sandy and the band were making such a big impression in cabaret that Sandy soon came to the attention of showband manager and musician, Tom Kelly from Ballina.

The Fairways

Tom could see that Sandy would be the perfect fit for his band, The Fairways and approached Sandy to join. She parted company with Easy Listenin', which would continue on the road until Gerry joined The Magic Band in September, 1974. James would go on to become one of the top session players in Ireland and after years pf touring regularly with artists like Francis Black among others, he joined the Conquerors in 2008. Dick would rejoin Gerry and James in the Kim Newport Band, as well as play with numerous rock and pop groups in the region.

Sandy was an immediate success on the Irish ballroom circuit. Along with the late Gary Street, she fronted the band whose set consisted of a strong dose of high energy pop and rock. Within a short time, Sandy was signed to Hawk records and released her first single, Come Back Billie Jo, an up tempo pop song with a strong country feel. The record did very well, reaching number 13 in the Irish charts. More importantly, it brought Sandy and her talent to the attention of the entire country and established her as one of the top female entertainers on the scene.

For the next two years, Gary and Sandy shared the spotlight as Gary Street, Sandy Duskey and the Fairways. As time passed, Sandy's talent showed through garnering more fans for herself and the band. Eventually, Gary left and emigrated to England where he continued to perform. Sadly Gary (his real name was Joe Conway) passed away in the UK in 2003. Towards the end of the 1970's, Tom brought Sandy's sister, Barbara Ellis, into the band, along with her cousin from Wales, Marian (using the stage name Nina Duskey) and they became the Duskey Sisters and the Fairways.

Duskey Sisters

With the continued success under the Duskey Sisters banner, the band soon dropped the use of the Fairways name and became known simply as "The Duskey Sisters," and they took the ballroom scene by storm. Playing bass in the band was Tom's brother, Michael Kelly and he and Sandy were soon dating and eventually married. In 1981, the Duskeys got their first crack at Eurovision when they sang, Where Does That Love Come From in the Irish National Song Contest. They came in third behind another trio of females, Sheeba.  

In 1982, the band was again competing in the National Song contest singing the Sally Keating song, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. The second time proved the charm and Sandy and the band won the contest, representing Ireland in Eurovision.  Click here to see a clip of their appearance. The record went to number 12 in the Irish charts, but its success was short lived. Joining the girls for the contest, and subsequently on tour for a short time, was Danny Duskey, another of Sandy's cousins from Wales. Although they didn't win at Eurovision, the success convinced Sandy that she had what it would take to make it internationally.

Sandy Kelly Band

A serious road accident in 1983 put Sandy and the band off the road for several months while Sandy recuperated from her injuries. Just prior to the accident, Sandy and Michael had decided to make the switch from pop to country. The move came as a result of the changing dancing scene in Ireland. Hotels and discos had put the ballrooms out of business over the previous few years and completely taken over the "pop" music scene by the start of 1983. It was then that Sandy decided it was time to go back to her roots in cabaret and country music, changing to her married name, Sandy Kelly. 

To help jump start her country career, Sandy teamed up with Big Tom McBride, Ireland's biggest name in country music for over 20 years. In early 1984, they released the single "If I Needed You" which not only introduced the world to Sandy Kelly, but also reached number ten in the Irish charts and help establish Sandy as a bona fide country artist.

In 1985, Sandy signed with CBS Records and release several singles which reached the Irish top 20. She went on to have several chart hits in the late 1980's as she continued to build her reputation as a country artist.        

In early 1989, Sandy reluctantly recorded the Patsy Cline standard, Crazy. "Reluctantly" because at the time she was doing country rock and original material, and she "felt that Crazy belonged very much to Patsy Cline." The record not only went on to be Number 13 in the Irish charts, but also became one of the country's biggest selling records of 1989.

Nashville Calling

At that time, Johnny Cash was touring Ireland and he heard the record on the radio and called Sandy, inviting her to his show. During his performance, he invited her up on stage to sing. Johnny was so taken with Sandy's talent, he invited her to Nashville and they recorded "Woodcarver" together which became Sandy's second gold record in Ireland. Sandy toured the US extensively for the next few years, appearing at the famous Grand Ole Opry with Johnny and other major American country stars. She returned to Ireland to do her own TV series three years running and also created her acclaimed one woman show based on Patsy Cline's life.

Once again, Sandy's talent was obvious and she was asked to go to London to recreate the part in Mervyn Conn's highly successful West End show, Patsy Cline - The Musical. The show also starred Sandy's friend, George Hamilton IV whom she had met and recorded with in Nashville. The show ran for five years, taking up all of Sandy's time.

Following this, Sandy then played Tammy Wynette in another musical, Stand By Your Man, before subsequently adapting the Patsy Cline musical to create a touring version of the show, "Patsy Cline, Music & Memories," with George joining Sandy once again as narrator.

For the past few years, Sandy has divided her time between touring Ireland and England with George Hamilton IV with a tribute to the Grand Ole Opry (George has been a member for over 40 years), touring Ireland with her own show, and frequent trips to the US where she is working on a Broadway show based on her own life story. One of Ireland's most enduring stars, Sandy continues to entertain audiences at home and abroad with her broad range of vocal styles.

In 2006, Sandy was a host of her own country music show on Sligo's new Ocean FM station. For an audio sample of Sandy on the air, please click here.

In late 2006, Sandy was invited to join "Do You Come Here Often," the showband tribute show put together by Dave Hull Promotions with appearances in Dublin, Belfast and Derry over a one month period. In 2008, she was approached to be part of Ronan Collins Showband Show which toured Ireland during the summer and fall.

In late 2008, Sandy released her latest offering, The Best of Sandy Kelly on the Crashed Record label. The CD includes twenty two tracks and includes many of Sandy's earlier solo hits along with duets she has recorded with some of Nashville's legendary stars including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell. She also did a short tour to coincide with the CD's release. At the same time, RTE produced a television program on Sandy, The Sandy Kelly Story,  which aired around the same time as her tour.

SANDY KELLYIn Fall, 2009, Sandy was part of the "Queens of Irish Country" tour as well as the "Grand Ole Opry of Ireland" tour playing dates throughout Ireland and Canada.

More to come...

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