A musician named Harmoni is sort of like a baseball player named Homer: It’s a great name if you can live up to it. Bass ace and vocalist Harmoni Kelley proved she could do that long ago, earning accolades as a session and touring player in Austin and Nashville before her recent move to Southern California.
Kelley was named Bassist of the Year at the 2009-2010 Austin Music Awards, and she just keeps getting better. In 2015, country superstar Kenny Chesney tapped the hard-rocking yet versatile Kelley to carry the bottom end in his band, praising her melodic sense and rhythmic drive in a July 2015 Rolling Stone interview.
“Bass is my first instrument and has pretty much been my only instrument,” offers Kelley. “I started playing bass when I was 17 years old; I was a really big Guns ‘n’ Roses fan, and I saw Duff McKagan onstage, and I thought, I want to be that guy. I want to get onstage and rock. The bass called to me; it ties everything together and makes everything move. The bass tone I prefer has a warm, buttery kind of tone, and it’s like molasses and honey, dripping and oozing. I stay away from the high-end treble sound that a lot of bass players like. That sound is great but I get my sound with an old Fender ‘P’ bass with flatwound strings through an Ampeg tube amp. To me, that’s the perfect bass tone.”
Kelley’s first bass rig was an old combo amp that she and her father found at a pawn shop. It didn’t last long, though. “I kind of drove it into the ground,” she laughs. Meanwhile, she noticed that most venues with their own backlines had one thing in common: “The common denominator was always an Ampeg bass amp,” she relates, “and that made sense to me because I can always get a great bass tone out of an Ampeg no matter what. Sometimes we showed up for gigs where there would be some other amp, and I was fighting to get a good bass tone. I never have that problem with an Ampeg.”
At her early recording dates, Kelley found the situation much the same. “At almost every studio where I worked in Austin, the producer or engineer would have an Ampeg B-15 that they preferred I use to get the best bass tone,” she observes. “There’s this common theme with Ampegs. I love them!”
On Kenny Chesney’s tours, Kelley employs two Ampeg rigs. For festivals, TV shows, and similar situations, she opts for an Ampeg SVT VR Vintage Reissue amp and a 4×10 cabinet. For gigs where the amp needs to provide more of the direct sound, she chooses an SVT VR with a big 8×10 “fridge.”
As much as Kelley delights in her SVT VR rigs, she has more recently found a new and much more portable passion. “I love, love, love the Ampeg SCR-DI,” she enthuses. More than a bass direct box, the SCR-DI is a true Ampeg preamp that delivers a wide variety of legacy Ampeg tones. It even delivers classic SVT tube-like grit and grind, thanks to its Bass Scrambler™ overdrive. “When we were in rehearsals in Nashville this year, I brought the SCR-DI in, and our front-of-house engineer immediately wanted to plug it in and A/B it. Everybody thought it gave the bass so much character, and the engineer was like, ‘we’re definitely using that 100 percent.’ So I use it on the road, which has been amazing, and I also can throw it in a backpack, take it to the bus, and work on songs in between shows. It’s incredible!”
Starting with her first experiences with Ampeg amps, Kelley has been a confirmed devotee. “As an old school, meat-and-potatoes bass player, the Ampeg tube sound is just what I’m looking for,” she proclaims. “It makes me feel at home as a bass player. I absolutely love Ampeg!”