One Year Later: Missing Joe “Zippo” Kelley

by Bill Brenner on August 8, 2011

Hard to believe, but it’s been a year since the death of Joe “Zippo” Kelley. I listened to Zippo Raid’s “Punk Is In Season” disc on the way home from work and smiled the whole time. In the year since he died, Joe has had a big impact on my own life.

Here’s the second track on that CD, one of my favorites:

I’ve gotten to know his awesome parents, Joe and Marie, and a lot of other people from other local bands. I’m richer for that. It would have been a million times better if I was making these new friends with Joe still around, but there’s no use in trying to figure out God’s master plan.

We fell out of touch after college because I let my demons turn me into a recluse for a long time. What’s done is done.

There’s a great lesson for all of us, though, one that has gotten clear as the months have gone by. The soul of a person who lives to the full and impacts so many people for the better never really dies.

His presence has been at every local rock show I’ve been to, most notably the two benefit shows in his honor last October and this past January. He’s very much with us whenever we listen to his music.

Another favorite off the “Punk Is In Season” disc is about Greg Walsh, drummer of Zippo Raid, Pop Gun and other acts. I’ve known Greg for almost as long as I knew Joe. We worked together when I was in my first reporting gig in Swampscott and Marblehead, Mass. The first time I heard the opening lines I laughed till I hurt:

Greg couldn’t make it to the fuckin’ show

It was rainin’ wasn’t even fuckin’ snow

What else can we say

Greg is a fuckin’ pu-sey!

Greg knew how well that lyric nailed him, and during the chorus you can hear him gleefully chanting: “Oye! Oye! Oye!”

That’s the Joe I remembered. He could poke fun at you and make you feel like one of his best buddies in the same breath. In fact, if he needled you, you knew he liked you.

When you hung out with him, you always knew you were in the presence of someone with a heart of gold.

That’s how it was at Salem State, when we’d stand outside the then-commuter cafe smoking cigarettes and talking about Nirvana. He could take to people effortlessly, even a guy like me who often had trouble knowing how to act in front of people.

It’s been said that when you went to a Zippo Raid show, everyone who showed up was in the band. That’s just another telling example of how welcoming a presence he was.

I’ve become a fan of many of the musicians who showed up at those two benefit shows to pay homage to Joe. And that experience has rekindled a love of the Boston music scene that had gone cold for a long time.

Thanks, Joe.

Right before the January benefit show, I ran a post where Joe’s friends shared memories of their time with him. On this one-year anniversary of his passing, it seems very fitting that I re-run those narratives. So read on. Peace be with you all.


Greg Walsh, drummer for Pop Gun and Zippo Raid, who once worked with the author in a dingy little weekly newspaper office in Marblehead:

“When Zippo Raid first started out I was studying a lot of the drummers we played with because I really needed to get up to speed – so to speak – with punk rock drumming. I was seeing what worked and didn’t work – and what I noticed was a lot of bands did breakdowns where they’d be playing fast and then suddenly cut the tempo in half – it was like pushing moshers off a cliff and they gladly went along for the ride. 

“So I begged Joe to find some spots in our songs for breakdowns, but anything we tried sounded forced and honestly kind of trite, and we took pride in not doing punk rock “by the numbers.”

“Then one day Joe came to rehearsal and said he wrote a song with breakdowns in it – called “Work.” But we always referred to it as “The Breakdown Song.”

“I have a recording of that rehearsal where he says he wrote that song for me. Probably just to shut me up, but the sentiment was still there.”

Harry Zarkades, singer and bassist for Pop Gun:
“Joe Kelley, when I first met him, was a DJ at WMWM Salem State College Radio 91.7 FM when Pop Gun was in it’s hey day. Well, if we ever had one.
“Anyhow, we used to goof around and play a version of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” for kicks (a song which we all secretly like but didn’t actually fit our musical motif). Se we decide to play it live in the studio at WMWM when we’re in there one day, and Joe, with his terrific sense of humor, decides to get revenge on us for playing it on his show. So we play about 10 Pop Gun songs and then, for a less than Grand Finale, we break into Cat Scratch. Joe is miffed, amused, but quickly acts. At the end of our show he tees up the actual Ted Nugent live recording of Cat Scratch complete with stadium crowd noise which he blares into the studio as we finish our tune.
“We were totally confused, but eventually got the joke. Joe was sitting in the booth very pleased with himself. The guy had a great sense of humor, like I said.
“I miss that most about him.”
Stu Ginsburg, owner, Platorum Entertainment, one of the planners for this Saturday’s benefit show:

“His first appearance  on WMWM was when he came back to school and found the radio station during my show. He rang the buzzer and asked me if I was f—ing his girlfriend, then he thought it was cool anad came back wth me a few times and became a DJ and so on.

“Prior to WMWM, he and his girlfriend were going to many Grateful Dead shows and other hippy events. Joe never played gutair at that time, but WMWM changed him into Joe Zippo. He was a rightous dude. I miss him.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

stu August 9, 2011 at 9:41 am for pics and info about upcoming annual show On the Saturday Closest to Joes Birthday. This years scholarship went to Eric Stevens

Marie Kelley August 11, 2011 at 5:34 am

A year after his passing, Joe’s father and I miss him more than ever. We know our lives will never be the same. Joe’s friends keep his memory alive as we try to do. Joey was loved by almost everyone. Whenever we read something about him, it is heart-rending to know how good and loving he was with his friends. We love him, but sharing this pain helps a little. Joe loved greatly and was loved back the same way. Thanks, Bill for the story. Love ya.

dc66steps September 6, 2011 at 9:07 am

Joe! Still missing you over a year later all the way in California!

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