A Whiskey Riff Exclusive: Kelby Ray of The Cadillac Three Is Changing The Game

Some pretty rock-n-roll stuff.

Teetering between rock and country is a three piece band by the name of The Cadillac Three. Long hair, tattoos, with a rock-n-rock style, The Cadillac Three have come a long way together over the years. Something you cannot do is put The Cadillac Three into a neatly labeled box. They have some heavy rock songs and then others that if they were played acoustic would sound like straight country songs. Their story is one that’s been told before, but this version is coming from a different angle. Kelby Ray sometimes gets mistaken for a keyboard player because at first glance fans might not be able to tell what he’s doing behind his set up. In reality he’s doing a two man job by himself. Kelby is playing what he would call a lap steel bass guitar. But it’s not actually a bass, it’s the same concept as an electric guitar with thicker guitar strings and a setup that doubles as a bass sound. There’s a whole lot going on behind that set up, and Kelby took the time to explain it all to me and show me around his rig.

A kitchen with a sink and a toaster oven

Via Sinister Underground Productions

My first question before I saw The Cadillac Three play for the first time is if they use a lot of bass tracks (prerecorded sounds/music that the band plays along to). The answer is a hard no. TC3 is all live and doing it the old fashioned way without in ear monitors and using monitors to hear each other play. So since it is just the three of them on-stage, no additional band members behind them, Kelby comes into play by rhythm guitar and bass guitar simultaneously on a lap steel. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. A basic full band is typically made up of two guitars, bass and drums. T3C is drums, one electric and one lap steel.

A group of people in the snow

Via @thecadillac3

The over-time transition came from the guys going from a four piece band in American Bang to a three piece band The Cadillac Black, and then one last name change with a new label, The Cadillac Three. The music evolved, and so did the setup of the band. “There was no huge immediate change, it was evolving over time. We were writing better and crafting better songs. Me playing what I do was a necessity thing for the band. It took out having to have another band member and makes us different,” Kelby explained. While catching up with Kelby and the guys in Atlanta recently I asked Kelby how he came up with the idea to start playing lap steel since he’d been a bass and guitar player in the past. “When we recorded our first album I played bass on it and Dave Cobb had an electric steel guitar in the studio. We used that on a couple of songs like “Tennessee Mojo” because the slide sounded cool. We ended up using it on the rest of the record and it kind of took over our sound. That’s how I started with lap steel.” Later on Kelby was inspired by a sound technician at Mercy Lounge in Nashville who told him about another band who had done a sort of hybrid electric guitar and bass guitar set up. Kelby had everything he needed at home and set it up in his living room and immediately told the rest of his band that he was onto something. After that he put his new invention to the test in the studio, playing the new setup on every song from then on. All the bass sound on their self-titled album and last year’s release Bury Me In My Boots have no actual bass guitar, but use Kelby’s setup to create the bass sound.

A kitchen with a sink and a toaster oven

Via @lucidlinds

Kelby’s rig has a number of different components to it, and for non-musicians it’s a little long winded to keep track of everything he’s got going on. But he broke it down for me and explained that he has the lap steel hooked up to a splitter called an “AB Box” with the sound going to a guitar amp and a bass amp, the latter through an octave pedal, creating the bass sound. “So I’m really playing one thing, but it sounds like two,” Kelby added. I then asked how bringing this homemade set up worked with playing live with the band. “Starting out as a guitarist when I was young and spending years bass in a rhythm section with Neil on drums, I learned how to play both instruments separately. Now I get a chance to do both at the same time while creating something unique,” Kelby explained to me.

A kitchen with a sink and a toaster oven

Via @thecadillac3

It truly is a good thing the venue had a sturdy foundation because if it hadn’t, the ceiling would have been coming down in pieces. But knowing their fan base, that rowdy crowd would have reveled in it. There are no acoustic sit downs in this show and it is full throttle from start to finish. In the past the show was a little bare bones production wise, but on their new Black Roses headlining tour they’ve really stepped it up. Skulls, roses, high energy lighting, with the guys knowing how to egg on a crowd really makes their show a good time. This band’s music and story combined is not your average run-of-the-mill band and I think people are going to start to catch on to what Kelby has started and you’ll start seeing it more often.

Display photo via Mike Maney