Kelly's musicianship was amazing. He had an uncanny ability to
nail a tune every time, even when he was playing fast. He'd say
'Let's burn them ticks,' or, if someone else had started the tune
at a slower pace, 'Aw, c'mon, lets play that at Mt. Airy speed,'
and then he'd play the tune hell-bent for leather, never flubbing
a note, and everyone else would be hanging on for dear life. I
think that, mainly because of the influence of his parents, folklorists
Chuck and Nan Perdue, he was big into putting stuff down for posterity...his
attitude towards the recording process was that 'I've got to do
this, because who knows how long we'll still be able to play this
stuff' --another one of life's lessons that he taught us. You
always knew, when Kelly was in a jam session, that he'd lift it
to another level and give the participants a session to remember.
It is a great honor to have had the opportunity to be such a
close friend and musical collaborator with Kelly, and I will miss
Pete Marshall, Mando Mafia
I was fortunate to know and be close to Kelly. He was a brave
and valiant man. His musicianship was impeccable. Kelly's primary
focus was helping others. He will be sorely missed.
Rick Friend, Mando Mafia
I'm going to miss Kelly when I go to the festivals next year.
Kelly had a deep, resonant voice that I loved to hear. When he
would first see me at any festival we attended, he'd say "Julie!"
and I'd know that I had arrived to be among friends. He was great
company, welcome anywhere he went. He had a great sense of humor,
was an entertaining storyteller, and a good listener. His songs,
"Riley's Groundhog" and "Run, Pony, Run" were
a blend of his great stories and musical talent, and it's sad
that we won't be treated to more. But it was his musicianship
that was truly memorable. He had what I used to call the "fastest
fingers East of the Mississippi." Dead-on accurate in his
playing, he went well beyond mere technical proficiency. He could
bring a tune to life in performance. And what tunes! He knew so
many. He'd pick up a tune from one jam, play it in another and
spread dozens of great tunes around like Johnny Appleseed.
I am glad that he found four like-minded musicians with whom
to play and become the Mando Mafia. These guys are like family
to each other, and I know they're all hurting to have lost Kelly.
But the great thing about Kelly was that he knew he was surrounded
by equally fine musicians, and that's why the collaboration known
as the Mando Mafia has been so successful. I hope it continues,
however bittersweet it will be without Kelly.
Julie Mangin, webmaster, mandomafia.com
What a truly awesome friend Kelly was! When we had music parties,
if Kelly would have been the only person to show up it would have
been just fine. He'd have acted like he hadn't noticed. He always
showed up if at all possible, rolled up his sleeves, peeled shrimp,
stirred the gumbo, mixed the margaritas, played with the cat,
massaged your neck if he thought you were in pain...there just
isn't anyone quite like him! Who do I make cheesecakes for now?
I'm thrilled for Kelly's reunion with Kevin but the living are
going to be hurting for a while to come...
My first memory of Kelly is from Musicalia more than 15 years
ago. I was learning to play mandolin and was mesmerized by a late
session being led by Kelly and others. I took my cassette recording
home and learned every tune. When soon after I picked up a banjo,
I set my goal high at becoming good enough to play with him and
the rest of the Mafia. What a sound.
I reached that goal, not knowing at the time that the real benefit
was the lasting friendships I'd make with Kelly and the rest of
the music community. Kelly's welcoming attitude, his love of life
and his concern for others exceeded his musical abilities. Though
I will miss playing music with him, I think I will miss more watching
him put others' needs in front of his. How he managed to always
be there when needed and still get in all the best jam sessions
Kelly and I laughed recently about playing music together as
old men. We agreed that the young folks would probably say we
suck. Then, Kelly picked up a Mando Mafia cd and said "yeah,
but we'll show 'em what we did when we were young". Thankfully
his music is preserved forever. His person could never be forgotten.
I will miss him dearly.
I met Kelly about twenty five years ago when he lived at Twyman's
Mill. I lived in Aroda at the time, and I had been playing my
mandolin some with banjo player Bill Graham of Twyman's Mill.
Bill told me about this good Mandolin player who had moved into
the area, so he recommended that I get together with him. One
thing led to another, and I went on down and met up with Kelly
at his place. It was kind of a little place, but it served the
purpose (a roof over your head). I think at the time Kelly was
playing a little A model Gibson. We sat down with our mandolins
to play some, and man he played this stuff like I had never heard
before. I had never seen anybody play like that! I remember thinking
to myself how awesome his mandolin playing was! From that point
on I became a huge fan of Kelly Perdue! To me he was one of the
best mandolin players ever to walk the face of this earth. Every
time I got an opportunity to pick with Kelly or be around him
with my mandolin, I did it. Sometimes I would try to play songs
with Kelly and wouldn't understand the melodies. Kelly would write
out the tablature for me for those songs, and get it to me the
next time I saw him! I still have some of that tablature at my
house today. I lost touch with Kelly in the late eighties, but
I tried to follow what he was doing with his family, the Mando
Mafia, and with his career.
The last time I got to play a tune with Kelly was at a gig that
the Mando Mafia and my band played on the lawn in Madison. It
was a little over a year ago. That was a special moment and memory
that I'll never forget.
Such sad news! It's really hard to realize that Kelly's gone
from this world. He left it a better place for his having been
here with us. I have many great memories of Kelly....the band
contest at Galax with all those mandolins (probably the first
Mando Mafia appearance in the world), his warm acceptance of us
Southwesterners as we invaded the Southeastern states with our
music and food, the pictures he sent us of the family he was so
proud of, all the great jams over the years and finally the band
contest at Clifftop 2003. He set the high-bar for mandolin players.
He is someone I truly admired both as a musician and a person.
I hope to write a tune for him in the near future honoring his
great presence. Peace to all, Scotto
A few years ago, I e-mailed Kelly after Up In The Cool
was released. I asked him about publishing some of the Mafia's music.
He replied, We don't write anything down. Just put your mando over
your shoulder and let it rip. I'll miss him.
I was stunned and extremely saddened to learn of Kelly's passing.
I had seen him around at festivals for quite a while, but it was
just this past summer when I finally got to play some tunes and
get to know him better. I liked him immensely, I loved his musicianship,
and I was looking forward to many years of great sessions. I sure
do feel cheated. He was a big guy, but he leaves an even bigger
hole. Mon coeur fait mal.
This will take a very long time, maybe never, to get used to
the idea of the empty space in this world left by Kelly's death.
Kelly was front and center in the fun and work of music and community.
I feel privileged to have basked in his aura, his humor, his love
and his music. I am enriched by his reckoning me a friend, and
will treasure the memories of the tunes we shared, the jokes,
the silliness, the deep music day and night. I have a band photo
from Galax 1989 of the maiden Mando Mafia performance....I think
we played some rag...anybody remember? [I was there...I believe
it was Stone's Rag --Julie] The Galax music police
were not happy. As we left the stage (to great applause) the emcee
said "Boys that just weren't right."
I remember Kelly laughing and repeating that phrase after every
enjoyable tune played the rest of Galax that year. As I grieve
I can echo that sentiment now, "Boys, that just weren't right."
It ain't right at all...
The loss of Kelly is just too monumental to even contemplate.
Music festivals will never be the same. For the past few years
I have always camped in the same neighborhood as Kelly and family.
I could always feel his presence there. He was a real front-and-center
type of character whose impeccable musicality, razor-sharp wit,
and infinite generosity will be sorely missed by all whom he touched.
My daughter Amy remembers him as "a grown-up that you don't
forget, such a nice person." I remember receiving a generous
dose of Kahlúa and whipped cream in my morning festival
coffee. For me, that was the spirit of Kelly. This guy lived life
to the fullest. And you're right on, Kelly. Life does need a little
Kahlúa and whipped cream. Your spirit will live on.
Here are the lyrics I wrote to a song for Kelly, and I look forward
to playing it for everyone when we get back from Florida.
This one's for you, Mr. Mandolin player
Who's that knockin' at your door?
This one's for you, Mr. Mandolin player
I can't hear you anymore, anymore,
I can't hear you anymore
They come to see Mr. Mandolin player
They long to hear your song
All the boys in the band playin' old time
But your mandolin is gone, gone
But your mandolin is gone
Where did you go, Mr. Mandolin player?
Didn't hear you say good-bye
All the boys in the band playin' old-time
Nothin for to do but cry, cry
Nothin for to do but cry
It's mid December, Mr. Mandolin player
I feel the chill in my bones
Your spirits circlin' in the wings all around us
But your mandolin is gone, gone
But your mandolin is gone.
Like his friend, John Jackson, Kelly Perdue was the person you
would want to send to a foreign country as a representative of
Virginia and the United States. Kelly had this great joyous energy,
fortitude, and talent that transcended language and boundaries.
He knew the roots of his music and he had the spiritual authority
to stretch it out at mind boggling late night jam sessions. While
we mourn here on Earth and pray for Kelly's family, we also give
thanks for having Kelly for his incredible lifetime.
Love to you.
Jimbo & Kim Cary
I have been trying for weeks to put down memories of Kelly, but
words fail me. Our household is still numb, and we are still shedding
tears for the loss of our friend, and especially for our friends
that he left behind. It hasn't really sunk in, and most of us
wonder if it ever will.
What a strong, friendly, talented energetic guy - he was just
so full of vitality, it seems impossible that he is gone. You
could feel him walk into your campsite, and his music (no matter
what instrument) never failed to carry a jam to a new height.
As has been stated before, the giant gaping hole he leaves behind
is immeasurable. But the little things are going to be tough too.
Where will we go for the jokes, the hugs, the endless supply of
Caffeine-free diet cokes, the Dave-Grant sushi party on the hill
at Mt. Airy, and who is going to curse and wrestle the spider-dome?
I can still hear him laughing from a distance as we walked through
the campsites from "Carolina" to "Charlottesville"
and we'd look at each other and say, "let's go party with
the Perdue boys!"
Fish may be safer now, but the music world is just a little quieter
and much sadder. At least he left his mark on the world for the
rest of us to enjoy - no mere thumbprint, this, but a giant dinosaur-stomping-foot-print
to be pondered, measured, followed, treasured - a permanent impact
on the planet to leave us awestruck, and to be preserved forever
in our hearts.
Goodbye Kelly, we miss you.
We inherit from Kelly. At Musicalia when we found out Freyda
had died, stunned at the loss of her personality and skills on
earth, we were all together, singing and talking about her, and
I said I wanted to carry on with her Alexander Technique. Somebody
said they wanted to inherit her sense of humor, then somebody
else, her hair, her singing voice; by the time it got to Laura
Light, "Well, of course, I would choose her fiddling."
And we realized any amount of people can magically inherit the
talents and traits of our missing friend. And from Kelly, what
he left for us here, I would like to inherit the left hand power.
My left hand got broken a year and a half ago; it doesn't seem
like it's ever going to get better. But I believe in miracles
and angels and all that stuff. So I am prayerfully trying to be
Kelly when I wiggle my ring finger. Whether or not I get my strength
back, it is always a tribute, a little piece of him tracing through
me to the next generation.
Tina Liza Jones
It's impossible for us to find words to adequately express our
shock and grief at Kelly's sudden and untimely death. We know
it can only be a shadow of Libby, Ben, and Daniel's loss and pain.
We also know that nothing we say can lessen that pain, but we
hope they find some comfort in knowing how profoundly he touched
our lives and how much we loved him.
In our lives, we have met and come to know many people, but can
count on one hand the exceptional few who truly touched and enriched
our lives. Kelly is at the top of that very short list. He is
one of the kindest, most genuine human being we have ever met.
The breadth of his interests and intellect, and his unfailing
good humor, made him a most fascinating friend and co-worker.
Recently, one of Kelly's patients said, "Kelly treated everyone
with respect." Those simple, heartfelt words are a wonderful
tribute to a man who touched so many lives in so many ways - with
his work, his music, and his friendship. We are honored to have
called him our friend.
Marise and Bill Craig
When I think of Kelly, as I often do, I will shed a tear, but
mostly when I think of him I will smile and remember all the good
times that he was such a big part of. The festivals, the music
parties, the beach trips; nothing will quite be the same without
him. I do feel truly blessed to have known him and called him
What a tragic loss to our community. Kelly was such a talented
and generous personality. His musicianship was second to none.
Kelly's immense knowledge of tunes and his willingness to share
proved him to be a Giant of a man in both skill and compassion.
Kelly's passion for music was only rivaled by his devotion to
family and his generosity to his friends. His witty stories and
tales of his interesting family will long be remembered in our
hearts and in his songs. I know that Kelly's spirit lives on and
I believe he is now in the greatest Jam with all the best musicians
who have gone on before him. May we meet again some day. You will
not be forgotten. Love, Jodi
I remember hearing about Kelly and his mando sidekicks about
15 years ago at a festival. After placing in the top 10 at the
Galax mando competition twice, I thought I knew the mando pretty
well. Then, I saw Kelly playing some obscure tunes (to me anyway)at
those "lively" tempos. I didn't even take my mando out
of its case. Not that I didn't feel welcome; let's just say that
he opened my eyes up to a whole new mando world. Thanks Kelly,
you will be missed but definitely not forgotten.
I don't have any really personal memories of Kelly. I'm just
a fan of the Mando Mafia, and of his incredible musicianship.
I got to see Kelly play a few times, and I have all the CDs, but
I never got to know him.
Then why do tears spring to my eyes whenever I think of Kelly?
Because he was a dear friend to a lot of people I care deeply
about, and I see how much pain they are in over his loss.
I also see by reading about Kelly what a remarkable person he
was, how much he was loved, and what I've missed out on by not
getting to know him. And I thank all of you for telling me about
him, because now I do feel like I know him, at least a little
You who knew and loved him are so very fortunate. You have my
Here it is, New Year's Day, and I still can't wrap my mind around
Kelly's departure. We drank a toast to him last night while listening
to "Burning Down the House" and I could just hear him
say that the music police were on the way. You could drive an
18-wheeler through the hole this has left in our lives. What a
soul the man had! I'm sure he lives on in all of us, so let's
keep the memories alive!
Sheila Martell Newman
I met Kelly in the early 80s. I had just learned my first few
tunes on the banjo, when I went with a folklore class to Twyman's
Mill for dinner. Marc and Kelly pulled a banjo down from the wall,
put it in my hands and made me jam with them. I remember their
smiles and encouragement were so infectious that I thought, "Maybe
I'll really get this. This may be even more fun than I hoped."
Last time I sat next to Kelly at a jam, I absent-mindedly played
about half a phrase of a tune I was learning. Everyone was chatting,
and I didn't think anyone could hear, but nothing got by Kelly's
ear. "Black Hawk Waltz, right?" he said. "West
Virginia-Kentucky tune. Let's play it."
To help ease the pain of missing him, I'll try to remember the
great times with Kelly and with his welcoming, encouraging family.
Memories of Kelly are many but some I'll never forget. Once on
a cold night at Musicalia it was either play hard or go to bed
and Kelly had visited our camp and joined in giving it that needed
spark. I remember peeling off layer after layer and Kelly saying
"I'm going to get you down to that tshirt before the night's
over" and of course he did! I was also fortunate to be in
that Galax band when all the rules were broken,what fun!! My fondest
memory is a night at Clifftop 3:00am setting in my camp alone
trying to decide if I should go to bed or find a jam, here comes
Kelly, sits down and says wadya got in that fiddle for me? After
that he introduced me to a tune that was mellow but happy, just
the thing for that moment. I think that is the essence of Kelly
he always seemed to know what the moment needed and could deliver
it in a way that made everyone feel included, secure, safe, and
appreciated. Thanks for the wonderful times, tunes, and friendship,
I can't remember meeting Kelly, maybe 6-8 or so years ago at Clifftop,
maybe at Musicalia, maybe it was Rockbridge, maybe it was in another
lifetime. Some people feel like family from the time you meet.
Kelly was such a person. Last festival season his famous spiderdome
turned into Westminster Abby, a cathedral to music and PVC. He
was a man that lived to share; share his music, friendship, a
conversation... Kelly shared music with you whether you were award
winning or could barely keep up with his precise, rapid pace.
One of the last times I saw Kelly, I sat and talked to him and
Libby with my future husband Nate at his brother Marc's housewarming.
Nate and I have reflected on that conversation many times since.
It was so pleasant and brought us clarity in our young love. We
admired the love that showed brilliantly through Kelly and Libby.
I just can't help but remember how happy they were. Now I can't
stop thinking how wrong it is that he is gone. I hope our fond
memories can honor his graceful legacy.
Besides his musicianship, I remember always laughing around Kelly:
over coffee in the morning at Mt. Airy, over bloody Marys at the
beach, between tunes at a party or festival.
And this is very telling about him. A few years ago I shared
a beach house with Scott and Susan Nelson, and Kelly and some
other Charlottesville folks were in the house next door. In that
house there was a jigsaw puzzle going, like you do at the beach.
When it was all but done, they discovered it had some pieces missing.
They said that Kelly checked all the other puzzle boxes for those
pieces, and he was caught even checking the boxes at our house!
I just heard the news last night at an old time jam in Boston.
What a loss. I met Kelly at Galax through Lew Prichard in the
early 90's. We were all blown away by his playing, but even more
moved by his generosity - letting a bunch of yankees who just
weren't anywhere near his league hang out and try to jam. He was
patient and very encouraging. Although I only hung out with him
about a half dozen times, he always made me feel like we were
friends. The music was part of it, but it was mostly his big heart.
There are a bunch of us who will be missing him in New England
and Nova Scotia.
i will always have a special place in my heart for kelly, his
kindness, his enormous generosity, to mention just two of many
that he shared with me. everyone that knew him seem to say the
same thing he was a giant among men and a loving and caring person
to all. my favorite memory takes place on the outer banks, where
a large group of us fisherman/musician were where you can almost
always find us at thanksgiving. we had not been there too long
when kelly hooked into a big fish, everyone surrounded him giving
helpful suggestions as to how to safely land his catch, he didn't
say much just stayed steady and patient and finally landed a forty
one inch stripped bass. now you might think every one would be
jealous of such a catch but i think not, instead everyone thought
its about time and well deserved that of all people kelly perdue
should catch such a fish. i feel very fortunate to have known
such a great man and i will miss his big smile and even the way
he would look over his glasses at me in a jam when i would miss
a chord change. my thoughts and prayers to all of you family members
and to all of his many friends, none of us are replaceable!!!
I've struggled for days to focus my thoughts on what to write
about Kelly. He accepted me the moment we connected as musicians-
only later did we discover that we were also scientists in the
'real' world and that gave both of us fodder for lots of denigrating
comments about each other. His humor was never subtle. Anyway,
I still struggle for words that address the void that I feel at
the loss of Kelly. However I found great solace in the words of
my daughter who was usually in the background and apparently not
directly connected but when she handed me this poetic tribute
to Kelly a couple days after THE event I cried freely and openly
that she too had been touched by the positive force that surrounded
Kelly. I offer her words as part of the tribute to a great man,
a wonderful musician and someone I am proud to say was a friend.
Layer upon layer builds upon the curve,
The material of men gathering on these
Still forming cohesive shape
Yet the sound has changed.
From within the black casing
A reverberating silence grows.
A silence composed of so many small notes
That to try to discern one is to drown
In a flood of thousands.
These notes colliding together to create
A colorful void,
A sense of loss that can't be
Defined or ignored,
A music that resonates within,
Even among the ones, like me, who never spoke
The silence sings of
Bright, obnoxious Hawaiian shirts now
Hanging behind the closet door
Of one less plastic cup selected
From the fold to bear the beer
Of one less laugh
Among Buddha-bellied friends
Of the still fingers that once flew
Up and down this neck;
Coaxing, pleading, demanding, creating
But the lid will close and the brass clips will lock
And the silence will grow a bit fainter.
It won't hammer in the ears or
Consume every inch
Every time you look in the corner,
But this music won't die.
'Cause someone else will pick it up,
Will begin to add their essence
Expand upon his silence, cradle the wood,
Until his silence, his presence, can be heard
Again among every pick of the string,
Every rhythm will
All we have to do
Joan Bowlen 2005
2005 was my first clifftop, and i didn't know a lot of people...
i had my video camera and fiddle in hand picking here and there...
well, i went to the stage and instantly began filming.. it was
my first time to see them.. usually i just film a small clip but
with him, i filmed the entire song.. and couldn't wait to show
the mandolin player in my backhome band.. i have shown this video
to countless people... one of the people that i showed called
me up and gave me the news... i didn't know him but he has impacted
my life with the playing... my prayers are with the family...
i could send a copy of the homemade video if wanted.. it has a
lot of the finals on it and shots from various locations as well
as my family(wife and our 2 month old at her first clifftop)
At some early 90's festival, I distinctly remember Dave Grant,
in one of his delighted states, rushing to me to confide that
he had meet a uniquely "tasteful" mandolin player. Like
his prayers had been answered or something, and a light dawned
that awakened a new appreciation of that instrument for him. "And
the guy is really nice too!" This guy, Kelly, Dave always
wanted to play with, wanted to be with.
And a time came in my life where I wanted to be with Kelly. I
sought his wisdom, his experience, his comfort, his generosity.
I will always be grateful and feel privileged for having him in
my life, even for such a short time. How to give back a little
bit all that we have received from people such as Kelly?
I played tunes with Kelly about two weeks before he died. It
was at Evan and Eliza's wedding, at the afterparty. There was
some guitar playing blues going on in the main room and I was
standing around not playing and Kelly came in in his black wool
overcoat. He came over and said "Let's start a jam in the
other room." So he and I and Evan and Jodi White set up in
the bedroom that was behind the kitchen and played. After a while
his brother Marc came in and played banjo. I was playing the guitar
and Evan and Jodi were on fiddles and Kelly had his mandolin.
He played a bunch of tunes I'd never played before and he made
sure the chords were just right. We played, funny enough, a whole
bunch of farewell tunes - Haning's and Bob's and another that
Evan remembered when we were talking after the wake. We played
Going Back to Israel. Bob's Farewell was the last one we played.
We played for about an hour and a half I guess, and people were
coming in and out because there was a bathroom in there. It was
really good jam. Kelly was the best musician around Charlottesville
I think. I guess Dave Matthews is better but Kelly was probably
close. It was fun that whole day because of the wedding and when
the Mando Mafia played at the reception, my wife Anne and I danced
every great waltz that they played. We love to waltz and they
set us up right. Anne and I were talking to Kelly at the reception
and I had been kind of limping that whole weekend because a tree
limb I was cutting earlier in the week hit me hard on the thigh
and I was telling Kelly this and he started laughing told this
story of him and his father cutting down a tree when he was a
boy. His dad was real careful and lined the first cut on the trunk
up so it would fall a certain way. But when he cut through to
it, the tree twisted 180 degrees and started falling towards them.
Kelly said his dad just yelled "run!" and somehow the
tree missed them. Wow! He was laughing telling that story. And
he told us about his brother. And about all kinds of things like
the Powers goldmine. I didn't know him real well but when he died
I wept. And I teared up for about 3 weeks afterward when I'd think
of it. He has two boys the same age as my girls and I thought
about that a lot. He was only 45. A really nice guy. god rest
ye, ye merry gentleman. Eh?
I did not share music with Kelly, as I am about as musically
talented as a ham sandwich. But he was one of my best buds when
I lived in Charlottesville - we worked together at Martha Jefferson
Hospital, the two of us, on second shift, and we made homebrew
togethjer, talked for many hours about Robert Scott's expedition
to Antartica, played many a game of Uno together, and such.
I still have a note he wrote to me when I was looking after his
house when he went on vacation. "Yo bud, help yourself to
some 'maters from the garden"... it reads just like he was,
just like he talked.
I think of him often and still can't believe he is gone. Hope
I see him again some day.
Here I am sitting in my college dorm room 3 years after the fact
listening to Mando Mafia records for old-time's sake and I decide
to google search my Dad's name just for the hell of it. What I
found was this page which I had honestly never read before. It
really meant a lot to me seeing all of the memories that all of
these people had recorded here. It really touched me more than
I thought it would because I actually remember almost all of the
memories people mentioned.
Just as everyone has said, Dad really left a big gaping hole
in all of our lives that probably won't ever be filled but the
way I see it his purpose in life was to show everyone he met how
to live a fulfilling happy life. He was the role model that we
all look up to (at least I know I do). The person that embodied
all of those positive qualities we all wish we had. Hopefully
we are able to learn from his example and strive to better ourselves.
I can only wish to have his sense of humor, musicianship, and
big heart but at least it gives me something to work for.
Also if you happen to be reading this webpage Dad, I want you
to know that I miss you more than I could ever miss anything and
I'll try as hard as I can to watch out for everyone for you. I
also wanted you to know that I've started playing a little bit
of old-time music cause I thought you'd be proud of me. I've been
playing upright bass like you showed me. I got into college too
by the way. I just started school at Radford two weeks ago. It's
going ok but I miss home. I hope you're proud.