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Citizen Airmen making mark on Middle Georgia music scene

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner
  • Hq Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
A pair of full-time Air Force reservists assigned to Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, are making their mark on the Middle Georgia music scene.

Lt. Col. Christopher Afful, who occupies an active Guard and Reserve position as chief of the Agile Combat Support Branch within the Force Generation Center’s Forces Division, and Chief Master Sgt. Dan Kelly, the Services functional manager in the Directorate of Manpower, Personnel and Services, can frequently be heard on stages in and around Macon, busting out their unique blend of blues and rock and roll.

When Kelly, a singer and harmonica player, decided to start his own blues band about a year ago, he knew he had to have Afful as his saxophone player.

“That was a no-brainer,” Kelly said. “This guy is an unbelievable sax player, and I think we sound pretty good together.”

Kelly named his band Barrelhouse. The group’s lineup consists of two guitarists, a drummer, a keyboard player, bass player, Afful on sax, and Kelly on lead vocals and electric harmonica.

During its brief history, Barrelhouse has played at Smith’s Ole Bar in Atlanta (a blues staple), the Big House (the stage behind the Allman Brothers museum on Vineville Avenue) in Macon and the historic Cox Capital Theatre in Macon, along with other venues.

“We have a ball playing together,” Kelly said. “The music scene in and around Macon is incredible. There are so many great musicians around here. I don’t think people really realize how good the music is in Middle Georgia.”

Afful, who goes by the stage name Kofi Ah, said he really enjoys seeing people come together while he is playing.

“In this day and age with all of the tumult going on, it is very much needed,” he said. “We try to give folks a chance to take a breath and celebrate their commonalities instead of their differences.”

The colonel said his love of music dates back to his early childhood.
“I’ve juggled a love of flying and a love of music since I was 3 years old. I can remember standing up in the back of our Ford LTD looking inside the speaker trying to see the band,” he said. “Over the years, the Air Force has always kind of won out. I turned down music scholarships for an ROTC scholarship. I declined international tour opportunities when I was in college because I was in ROTC.

“It really came to a head when I was in Aviano (Italy) and got a tour and recording offer from some of the Wynans (a musical family) and couldn’t do it because I was PCSing and had a class en route. At this point in my life, having achieved a lot of my Air Force goals, I want to chase some of those music goals that have been put on hold.”

Afful started playing saxophone in middle school and honed his skills in church while growing up in Atlanta. He has played everything from reggae to blues to gospel to rhythm and blues and even a little country. His first paid performance was in 1990, and he has played in bands wherever his Air Force career has taken him over the years.

Kelly, who grew up in Norwich, Connecticut, has been playing harmonica recreationally for about 40 years, but it’s only been in the past four years or so that he has been performing on stage in front of live audiences.

“For me, there was always a little fear of getting up and playing in front of people, so I had to prove to myself that I could overcome that fear,” he said. “It’s scary the first few times you do it, but now I love performing in front of people and really getting the crowd into it.”

Kelly is also Barrelhouse’s chief lyricist. He writes the words, and the band gets together and collaborates on the music.

“It blows my mind how they can take the words and magically pull it all together,” he said, adding that the band is planning on getting in the recording studio in the near future to record some of its original music. “It’s going to be really cool to get some of our tracks cut.” Kelly also plans to compete in the Southeastern Harmonica Championship in Florida next year.

In addition to playing with Barrelhouse, Afful and Kelly both have other bands they frequently perform with around Middle Georgia.

“It’s so incredible because you never know who you might be on stage with,” Kelly said. “You’ve got people who played with the Allman Brothers still playing around here. Jack Pearson, former guitarist for the Allman Brothers, recently got on stage with a few of us. We played frequently with Robert Lee Coleman, guitarist for James Brown and Percy Sledge. In fact we played a show at the Cox Theatre with him just a couple weeks ago. Scott Pallot, a two-time Grammy nominee, opened the show for us. People just don’t know what they have here, so we’re trying to help spread the word.”