Clay Kirkland has taught harmonica for over 25 years at Swallow Hill Music, one of the nation’s premier folk music schools. During this time, Kirkland has taught thousands of people to play harmonica.
His wide range of musical experience and training enables him to teach many styles of harmonica to students of all ages, skill levels, and musical interests. He is known for his patience, humor, and the ability to make a musician of anyone.
In November, 2013, Clay was presented the Swallow Hill Music Distinguished Faculty Award.
For private lessons email Clay.
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Clay Kirkland was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of a Southern Baptist minister and pianist/choir director mother. He began performing at the age of six playing claves in the Winterville Elementary School Rhythm Band and singing with his twin sister in the school talent show. He began playing cello in the school orchestra at the age of ten, played baritone horn in the high school brass band, and sang in the school and church choirs until he left for college. In his senior year, a girlfriend gave him a harmonica for Christmas and he taught himself to play. Three days after graduating with a degree in psychology, he loaded all of his possessions into his ’51 Chevy and drove to St. Louis. All he wanted to do was play the blues.
In his 45-year career Kirkland has performed country with Willie Nelson, rock and roll with Chuck Berry, hip-hop with the Flobots, jazzy blues with Robben Ford, the real roots blues with Sleepy John Estes, East meets West with the Royal Musicians of Nepal, and Southern rock with the Derrick Trucks Band. He has toured the US with country/Broadway star Gary Morris and with world champion rodeo cowboy Larry Mahan and his Great American Cowboy Band. He has twice performed as a featured soloist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. His orchestral blues composition, "Brahms in Blue", morphs Brahms’ Third Symphony into a Muddy Waters song. Kirkland wrote the musical score for the entire orchestra.
Clay has opened shows for B.B. King, Kansas, Leon Russell, the Steve Miller Band, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Paycheck, John Mayall, and more. He has performed in concert with Buddy Miles, Lou Rawls, The Da Vinci String Quartet, Junior Brown, Gospel Queen Madame Andrews, and countless others.
Currently Clay performs in the trio Trunko, Kirkland, and Kull; his rock and blues band, Key on a Kite; and with his brothers, guitarist Gary Kirkland and harmonica player Ham Kirkland, as the Kirkland Brothers. His annual Beat the Reaper concert and birthday celebration is a staple of the Denver concert calendar, bringing together esteemed musicians spanning genres and eras.
One of the world's innovators on the harmonica, Kirkland unlocks a soulfulness hidden in the instrument's brass.—Denver Post
He makes his harmonica sound like a screaming guitar, sultry sax, rocking piano, ethereal synthesizer, of lightning-speed violin.—American Harmonica Newsletter
Kirkland is an amazing player...He is downright dazzling at times, displaying an originality that is surprising and not too often heard.—Sing Out Magazine
Phenomenal technique... a visionary musician, stunning... rooted firmly in the blues.—British Blueprint (London)
Kirkland's a marvelous frontman, brimming with charisma and crooning in a bassy, wolfish voice... Kirkland whisks you along in his journey's wake, one that allows for blues appreciation but eventually transcends beyond into bliss and ecstasy ... One of the most unusual stylists on the planet.—Dirty Linen Magazine
Combining the elements of blues, jazz, and the classical raga style of India in an almost mystical brew.—Sing Out Magazine
Honey-dripping harmonicat Clay Kirkland took almost three years to compile the material for Clay, Blues, Rock Raga, his innovative collection of gut-punching blues, classical riffs, flamenco stylings and East Indian ragas. The resulting effort is enchanting, from the live recording of six tunes done with his former electric band, the Screamin' Demons, to the five acoustic pieces on which Kirkland is joined by flamenco guitarist Miguel Espinoza and two Nepalese musicians on tabla and sitar.—Westword, Best of Denver 1995 Best Worldbeat Album Review
When Clay plays it isn’t harmonica, it’s St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.—Larry Mahan, five-time all-around world champion rodeo cowboy
Son, I sure do like the way you play.—Houston Stackhouse, Sonny Boy Williamson’s King Biscuit Flour Hour guitarist
Clay’s harmonica playing is what feelings sound like.—John Neill, Western Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year
One of the greatest and most original harp players on the planet.—Bob Lohr, Chuck Berry’s pianist and worldwide sidekick for the last dozen-plus years