Larry Keel: The Greatest Musician You've Never Heard Of...

There is a growing legend in music about a man and his guitar and his name is Larry Keel. In Western North Carolina Larry has been elevated to icon status with those who appreciate good, solid, hand crafted music. It seems like everywhere you go and everything you hear in these parts Larry's music is the theme music that's playing in background. If you were to ask anyone on the streets the simple phrase "Local Musician" Larry's name is certain to be at the top of that list. Why Larry Keel is a household name is quite simple. Larry's down-home recipe of Flat Pick style guitar, prolific songwriting, guest appearances, and a honest commitment to his fans, loyal or new, is why he has such a special place in the hearts of music lovers world wide.

Born and raised in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, Larry Keel has traversed the globe bringing Bluegrass, Blues, and Folk music to countless satisfied audiences with his trusty guitar and mind altering fret work. From his first band Magraw Gap (who took the band competition at the Telluride Bluegrass Fest. In 1996, Larry taking the Flat Pick Championship as well that year and in 1994) to appearing with Sam Bush, Acoustic Syndicate and Keller Williams to now making harmonic waves with the Larry Keel Experience, Larry has charted a musical course that most folks can only dream of navigating.

This year will bring some greatly anticipated material from Larry Keel including his latest CD release 'Journey' and a documentary film on Larry and the band called 'Beautiful Thing: A Year In the Life of the Greatest Musician You've Never Heard Of'. Needless to say there are some very excited fans chomping at the bit for these morsels!

Larry Keel is a very humble and honest man and I had the great honor finding that out first hand when we spoke a few days ago. If you are new to the man and his music then you will find Larry's past as intriguing as his bright future. I'll not delay an longer and let Larry tell about himself in his own words.

S. Remington [SR]: Did you grow up listening to more traditional music styles or was this a developed attraction for you?

Larry Keel [LK]: I grew up mainly listening to traditional types of music whether it be old Country music from the forties and fifties or Bluegrass and Old Time. My dad played banjo and guitar.my brother played guitar and accompanied him. So I definitely grew up listening to those styles of music.

SR: Did your family play together in a band, like in the gospel tradition?

LK: Not really, we just played as a family at gatherings or around in the country at cook-outs or down at the fire department or VFW. We'd go down there and play music for them all and just have a good time...and that's how I got my chops...

SR: I was wondering, while you were learning to play guitar if the Flat Pick style was something that you were aiming at or was it something that evolved over time?

LK: When I started playing my brother gave me most of the technique that I started developing with the Flat Pick. I liked different finger-style guitar players like Merle Watson and Merle Travis... ALL the Merle's... [Laughs from both], but I gradually went towards the Flat Pick style, I always loved it...

SR: I understand the early in your career you were contracted to play at Disneyland Tokyo?

LK: Yeah [chuckles] When I was eighteen years old a friend of mine, who was older than me but went to school with my brother, had been living in Florida for two or three years and was reading through a newspaper and saw an ad for musicians wanted. He answered the ad and found out that was Disneyland in Tokyo, Japan. He called me up and asked if I wanted to audition, which I did. They liked what they heard so we went over there for about seven months. It was incredible

SR: I've been listening to your new release 'Journey' and I wasn't expecting electric guitar and was pleasantly surprised as well at all the different influences on the album itself like Reggae, Swing, Ragtime and Blues. Was this intentional experimentation for the Larry Keel Experience?

LK: Well, some of it's new and some of it's been with me from the beginning. I was just like any other kid with a Telecaster, you know. But, eventually, from sticking to my guns with the acoustic thing I wanted to delve into other areas that I've always been into. I just wanted to do some new recordings and see how it all would turn out.

SR: I was curious if you and The Experience took these new experimental sounds for the band out to your audience before the CD release, like a road test?

LK: Oh yeah. We handle it on a night by night basis since The Experience changes a lot. One night we'll have Jason Krekel [Snake Oil Medicine Show] and maybe Big Daddy [Steve McMurry from Acoustic Syndicate], we keep it rotating around.. It's a really true representation of all of our musical influences and inspirations....

SR: Have The Larry Keel Experience just come off of the road recently on a stretch of shows?

LK: Yeah, even though we stay almost continually on tour. We're just really trying to stay established and grounded in the music scene right now which is vast with talent at the present time. We've got a big year coming up as well...

SR: I understand that there is documentary film coming up about you in the near future. Is that true?

LK: Absolutely! It's been produced by Brownpenny Films and it was filmed by a guy named James Ryan Gielen. It is a very life like representation of what it's like throughout the day in our band... the up's and the down's of being a touring band...

SR: So it's definitely away from a personal history of Larry Keel and right directly in the action... what it's like being on tour?

LK: Sure. It's about following us around the country...it took a full year and he took over two or three hundred hours of footage and then edited from there.

SR: Did it feel strange being on camera that often, was it uncomfortable?

LK: It became natural... Ryan really makes you feel comfortable and films in a very easy way that allows you to be yourself.

SR: Will the documentary be submitted to any film festivals?

LK: I think that it's been submitted to like ten festivals across the country. We're real excited that folks are getting a chance to see it.

SR: Do you see a DVD in the Larry Keel Experience future?

LK: I'm currently in the process of putting one together with live performance, interviews, and such. That should be out by next Christmas time [Winter 2004]. That's something to look forward to

SR: Is there anything else that's on the horizon for Larry Keel or the Experience, maybe something that you can give the readers a sneak peak?

LK: My brother and I have been collaborating more over the past few months and there's a Keel Brothers CD that we're getting ready to release. It's very cool, a more traditional take... This will be out in the beginning of March [2004], just in time for festival season

It was great to catch up with Larry Keel and gain insight into one of the greatest musical minds of our generation. Don't forget to check the Upstream below to all sorts of Larry Keel teasers and treats for some of the upcoming excitement revolving around him and the Experience. Make sure to get out and see the documentary film when it comes to your town and we'll do the same.

By: S. Remington
Article originally appeared on PhreshWater.com in 01/04

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