Flatpicking, Family & Friends.

A conversation with seasoned bluegrass artist Larry Keel.

Around The Country recently had the chance to interview Larry Keel, a treasured bluegrass musician who’s seen a life of music. Here’s what he had to say:

What got you into flat-picking?  

Larry: I grew up in a very musical household, with both sides of my family having been musicians and music-lovers for generations. Very deep mountain traditions from the southwest corner of Virginia – my parents moved up from the family fold in Clintwood, Virginia, up to northern Virginia for work when the coal mines slowed way down in the 1970’s. My father played guitar and banjo and sang, my brother played guitar, my close uncle on my mother’s side played drop-thumb banjo and his band toured around with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys for years (Ralph Stanley is from Clintwood also). My grandfather Joe Mullins played banjo too… he’s reputed to have ‘penned’ the song “I Got a Mule to Ride,” that Ralph Stanley recorded and performed. There was always music in the house growing up, and musicians were always stopping by. I guess I was just born with it burning in my blood. I wanted to play music just like all the cool, interesting folks that were in my world. My brother bought me a guitar of my own when I was 7 and I’ve never set it down. As far as why I flat pick the guitar, it’s just the way I learned to play since that was the way my brother and dad played… and I loved the flat-picking style that I heard guitar greats like Doc Watson, Clarence White, and Tony Rice playing. That got me really fired up to get technically advanced like they were.  

Do you have any memorable shows you’ve played? 

Larry: Playing with Tony Rice at MerleFest, playing with my brother Gary at MerleFest, playing Carnegie Hall and Red Rocks Amphitheater. Getting to play with my wife and with friends and musical legends in some of the most beautiful places in the world… and I’m ready for more!

Photo courtesy of Angel Hendrix

Who are your favorite up-and-coming bluegrass artists?

Larry: I’m way into The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Sierra Hull, the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Songs From The Road Band and Front Country, just to name a few really talented acts and artists out there killin’ it.

I always love to learn about the recording process of albums. Tell me about the recording process of your latest album One.   

Larry: For this particular project, we recorded it in the basement of my road manager’s house, completely live. The setting was totally comfortable, familiar, relaxed, close to home, etc., so that automatically makes for a really natural and centered feel going into things. The ‘live’ part means that we didn’t use any studio layering of tracks, no separation booths, no gimmicks, no fixes of anything; what we played that day is exactly what you get in each song, as if you were hearing us perform right in front of you like at a live show. That is the truest representation of what we wanted to say with these tunes. Recording the album this way made it genuine and fun for us, hopefully, that comes through to the listener. The other important factor is the finishing stage of the process, which was having the recording mastered by Bill Woolf. The best!

Many thanks to Larry for taking the time to answer these questions! Catch him at any of his live shows through February!

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