Clay Kirkland Concert Photo

Clay Kirkland is quite fond of this performance photo taken at a previous Beat The Reaper concert. Photo courtesy Barbara Pettibone

Clay Kirkland is coming back to Colorado! Many of us know Clay as a beloved harmonica instructor and player. Though he now resides in Missouri, Clay remains one of Swallow Hill’s great ambassadors and we are looking forward to his upcoming visit. 

On July 29 at Four Mile Historic Park he is presenting his annual Beat the Reaper Concert as part of our Shady Grove Picnic Series. This is the fifteenth installment of the concert, and his band Key On A Kite features Swallow Hill Instructors Stef Kull, Paul Trunko, and Chris “Citrus” Sauthoff.”

TICKETS: Clay Kirkland: Beat The Reaper XV at Four Mile Historic Park on 7/29

While he’s in town he’s also teaching two in-person workshops at Swallow Hill. On Saturday, July 31 at 11 a.m. he’s teaching Harmonica: Learning to Play With Others Workshop & Jam Session with Stef Kull. Then, on Wednesday, August 4 at 6:30 p.m. he’s teaching/hosting the Live Harmonica Jam with Bret Billings.

So please join us in the upcoming days and welcome Clay back to Denver and Swallow Hill, we are never far from his thoughts, and he is never far from ours. 

In closing we’d like to share this 1992 Swallow Hill Teacher Feature of Clay from our Fall, 1992 newsletter. 

Teacher Feature – Clay Kirkland

Clay was given his first harmonica as a Christmas present in his junior year of college. Although his background was in classical music (having previously played the cello and euphonium), the instrument “took.” “It chose me,” Clay says. “I liked the sound, and God must have decided the harmonica needed someone who could do something with it.”

And “do something with it” he has. Throughout his more than 20-year career, Clay has formed and been a member of several highly successful bands including K.C. Grits, Breakaway, Powerglide, and Hot Pickles. He has also played and jammed with such notables as Chuck Berry, Sleepy John Estes, and Willie Nelson. One of Clay’s most memorable playing experiences was jamming all night with legendary blues guitarist Houston Stackhouse. After several hours, Houston reached over and said “Son, I like the way you play.” This pat summer. Clay was featured in an exciting concert at Swallow Hill and performed with the groups Harmonica Madness, Lila, and his own blues/rock trio, the Clay Kirkland Band. 

Clay taught for a brief time at Swallow Hill in 1980, and then returned in 1991 to rejoin “the family of Swallow Hill.” Clay enjoys teaching not only because it enables him to pass on the techniques he’s developed to make learning the harmonica easier, but because he learns from his students. “Lots of people underestimate their innate understanding of music,” says Clay. Clay is especially invested in his students having fun while learning the harmonica.

Outside of teaching at Swallow Hill and performing, Clay is a housepainter and the father of an eleven-year-old son. He also enjoys sports, yoga, and learning to play the tablas.

– From the September-October-November 1992 edition of the Swallow Hill Music Association magazine 

Clay Kirkland 1992 Teacher Feature

We featured Clay in the Fall 1992 edition of our newsletter. Read the full text of his Teacher Feature above.