Guitarist Larry Keel looking forward to Utah return
When renowned flatpick guitarist Larry Keel began his musical career, he had one goal to take his music to as many people around the world as he could.
He has done that by performing with not only his band Natural Bridge, but also with other artists such as the Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, members of the String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon and Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen, to name a few.
Keel, who spoke with The Park Record last week, said he is grateful the musicians asked him to play.
"The thing is that when these opportunities that came up I followed through," Keel said during a phone call form his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Lexington, Va. "I’m one of those guys who manage themselves, and my wife does all the clerical and bookings."
Music lovers in the Wasatch Back will get an opportunity to see Larry Keel & Natural Bridge when they play at the Notch Pub in Samak on Friday, July 5.
Keel said he is looking forward to playing in Utah, again.
"I just love playing out west," he said. "We’ve played a festival or two in Utah and have played other shows and private events as well.
"Utah is a very special place and I love it out there," Keel said.
It was his collaborations with Leftover Salmon and the Yonder Mountain String Band that led Keel to the west.
"Years ago, when Leftover Salmon started up, I was friends with the original banjo player, Mark Vann," he said. "They had a great following and toured out east. So, I asked if my band could open up and we did that."
Likewise, Keel made friends with the Yonder Mountain String Band.
"Those groups were definitely gaining momentum in the whole Western region back then and it was great to be able to align myself with them," Keel said. "Through those shows, I have also made some great friends out in Utah. We can’t wait to play for them and go fishing with them.
"You guys have some fine water out there," he said.
Fishing is another of Keels passions. So, a few years ago, he and a couple of friends decided to form a website, http://www.fishinandpickin.com .
"We have been playing music and fishing all of our lives and came up with the concept of starting a company that combined those two loves," Keel said. "We wanted to make videos and promote the events and draw like-minded people together."
The idea grew into two events: Trout & Tunes in West Virginia, and Bass & Grass in Georgia.
"We host music workshops with guitars, fiddles, mandolins and banjos during Trout & Tunes, where we sit down and teach people how to play music with other folks and help with their songwriting," Keel said. "Then we also try to get out there to do some fishing with the folks and give some fishing lessons on the water."
The lessons aren’t just about fishing.
"We talk about the water table and the importance of the environment," Keel said.
Bass & Grass works on the same idea.
"The fishing down there is right out of this world," Keel said. "We usually end up eating and picking all night long."
Keel said he hopes to present more of these events in other parts of the country.
"I would eventually like to do this at 50 different lakes," he said. "If I did that, I could call it my retirement plan."
Until that happens, Keel is happy to play music, a love that started when he was in grade school.
"When I was eight years old, my brother, who is a guitar player, bought me a guitar from a local music store," he said. "He brought it home and started showing me some chords."
Since his brother was versed in flatpicking, rather than fingerpicking, Keel just followed suit.
"I sort of picked up that style, and I would listen to records of Doc Watson, Tony Rice and Clarence White," he said. "I loved that sound and wanted to do that and ever since my first lesson, I haven’t been able to sit it down."
After learning the basics, Keel began dabbling into songwriting.
"I had a lot of stories that I wanted to tell," he said. "I have been inspired by people who are my friends and people who I have just met as well as places I have visited and stories that I’ve heard."
Throughout the years, Keel has made a lot of good friends in the songwriting scene and began collaborating with them on songs.
"One of those guys is David Via, a songwriter from Virginia, and I’ve worked with another fellow by the name of Steve McMurray who plays with the band called The Acoustic Syndicate," he said. "Of course I liked the songs of Ralph and Carter Stanley and the music of Bill Monroe."
These days Keel is keen on younger songwriters in the bluegrass, roots-music genre.
"It’s so nice to hear great music from new writers like Keller Williams, and a guy named Chris Thile who is known for his work in Nickel Creek," Keel said. "They both are great songwriters."
Although Keel has collaborated with bluegrass songwriters, he said he tries to keep his own music as original as possible.
"I have tried not to pigeonhole myself throughout my career, because I do like being original by being myself," he said. " Even when I’m covering a tune, I try to do it in that rowdy-rocking way.
"The goal I have right now is still to be able to perform and play my music and get the stories that I’m trying to tell out there," he said. "If I can get people to enjoy that, then that’s the greatest accomplishment I can do."
Larry Keel & Natural Bridge will perform Friday, July 5, at the Notch Pub, 2392 E. Mirror Lake Highway in Samak. The music will start at 7 p.m. with Honky Blue Tonky. Tickets are $30 and available by calling (435) 783-6244 or by visiting http://www.the notchpub.com.
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