-----Kelly Willis was born in Lawton, Oklahoma, United States on October 2, 1968. She spent her middle school years in North Carolina and her high school years in Annandale, Virginia.
Heavily influenced by her mother, who used to sing in local musicals, Kelly became interested in music. One day during a high school visit to the beach, she entered a nearby pay recording booth and sang her own version of Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear." With the demo in hand, Willis impressed her then boyfriend, drummer Mas Palermo, and joined his rockabilly band at the age of 16. The band took her on as the lead vocalist and soon rechristened the band Kelly Willis & the Fireballs.
After Willis’ high school graduation, the band decided to move to Austin, Texas. After a few months in Austin, however, the band broke up. Willis and Palermo, married in 1989, formed a new band called Radio Ranch. In Austin, Willis attracted the notice of several influential Texas singer-songwriters including Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett. Griffith introduced MCA producer Tony Brown to Willis. Brown signed her to the MCA label in 1989.
MCA embarked on a big marketing campaign to tout Willis after she recorded her first album on the label, the 1990 album Well Travelled Love. Her voice appeared in the 1991 Ridley Scott-produced movie Thelma and Louise, singing "Little Honey." Willis also had a small part in Tim Robbins’ 1992 film Bob Roberts.
Despite of all the publicity and positive reviews from most reviewers, Well Travelled Love and Willis’ subsequent albums for MCA (Bang Bang in 1991 and Kelly Willis in 1993) sold modestly and received very little radio play. In 1994, MCA released Willis from her contract.
|Kelly & Bruce Robison|
In 1995, Willis collaborated on the song "Rex’s Blues," which appeared on the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Bothered produced by the Red Hot Organization.
Willis continued to pursue her music career after leaving MCA. In 1996, she recorded an EP for A&M Records entitled Fading Fast. However, her relationship with A&M was short-lived.
After working with two major labels, Willis decided to record her next album on her own. Her efforts resulted in the 1999 album What I Deserve, which Willis sold to Rykodisc after finishing the album. What I Deserve was uniformly praised by critics, becoming a hit for Willis.
In 2003, Willis and Bruce Robison, her husband and fellow country musician, released the record Happy Holidays, a cover album of Christmas songs. In Fall 2007, Willis released Translated From Love, recorded at Robison's studio, Premium Recording Services, in Austin, TX.
In early 2008, Willis announced she would take an indefinite hiatus from live performances due to family obligations. Her latest album, Cheater's Game, was recorded with Robison was released on February 12, 2013.