Katy Guillen

Through years of education and exploration, Katy Guillen has established a noteworthy career as a guitarist and songwriter. While widely recognized for her national touring act Katy Guillen & the Girls, the artist’s extensive musical vocabulary has made her a focal point of funk-pop collectives, chamber-pop ensembles and rock groups, and a staple of Kansas City’s illustrious blues scene for nearly two decades.

After taking piano lessons for a year, Guillen picked up her first guitar at the age of 8. She started formal training with Vince Kirk at age 12, and obtained her first electric guitar. Shortly after that, she received Jonny Lang’s album “Lie To Me” — her introduction to the blues, which soon took her into the canons of Albert King, Robert Johnson, Susan Tedeschi, Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Big Mama Thornton and John Lee Hooker. At age 14, Guillen became a regular at jams across the city’s most esteemed blues venues, from The Grand Emporium to Harling’s Upstairs and B.B’s Lawnside BBQ. These years would prove to be some of her most valuable as a burgeoning artist — learning from and performing with local legends like John Paul Drum, Bill Dye, Mama Ray and Annetta "Cotton Candy" Washington.

While the blues made an early and indelible impression, much of her form and flair comes as a result of her background in flamenco guitar. At age 17, Guillen began studying under internationally renowned guitarist Beau Bledsoe, going on to perform in his Manos Rojas School of Flamenco Music and Dance for three years. She was immediately drawn to this highly technical, expressive and explorative style of playing, rooted in the folk music traditions of Spain. And because of flamenco's various forms of expression — guitar, dance and voice — she gained perspective on the value of participating and creating in an ensemble. The technique and control she acquired from the artform has allowed her freedom as a songwriter to create colorful and affecting compositions. Her songwriting has undoubtedly been informed by the discipline’s technique.

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Guillen co-founded her first original songwriting project, The B’Dinas, in 2009. With leanings from funk to prog rock, the members shared writing and lead vocal duties. In 2010, she formed blues-rock duo Katy & Go-Go with respected touring drummer Go-Go Ray. Shortly after their 2012 release of “When I Get Away,” Guillen shifted her configuration to a trio. The songs on this album would become the foundation for Katy Guillen & the Girls, her current and primary songwriting project.

The group’s standout appeal — whether in a blues roadhouse or an indie rock venue — is chiefly guided by Guillen’s mesmerizing, emotive guitar style and poignant song arrangements. With six years and three full-length albums under their belts, Katy Guillen & the Girls have extensively traveled the United States, performed at the International Montreal Jazz Festival, toured Sweden, and supported acts like The Doobie Brothers, Robin Trower and Heartless Bastards.

An esteemed musician in her hometown, Guillen has been a guitar instructor for the past five years, as well as an essential component of KC-based ensembles. From 2011 to 2016, she played guitar and mandolin in Claire & the Crowded Stage, an adventurous pop collective that showcased up to nine members. She also plays guitar in The Band That Fell To Earth, a David Bowie tribute act that chronicles the artist’s ever-evolving career and features 13 of the city’s most prominent musicians.

© Katy Guillen | photos by Anna Selle